1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vail, Theodore Newton
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Vail, Theodore Newton
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VAIL, THEODORE NEWTON (1845-1920), American capitalist, was born on a farm in Carroll county, O., July 16 1845. When a child, he moved with his parents to New Jersey, studied at the Morristown Academy, and for two years studied medicine with an uncle. Meanwhile he had become interested in telegraphy. In 1866 he went with his parents to a farm in Iowa, but two years later became station agent and telegraph operator on the Union Pacific at Pine Bluffs, Wyo. Then he was appointed clerk in the railway mail service and his efficiency led to his being called to Washington, D.C., in 1873, where he was made assistant-superintendent of railway mail service, rising in 1875 to general superintendent. In 1878 he was made general manager of the American Bell Telephone Co., and for the next seven years was actively engaged in the development of the telephone business, for which he foresaw a great future. In 1885 he resigned from the Bell Co., and was elected president of the newly organized American Telephone and Telegraph Co., which in 1900 acquired the American Bell Telephone Co. In 1887 because of ill health Vail retired and spent the next nine years in travel and on his farm at Lyndonville, Vt. During a visit to S. America he became interested in traction problems and in 1896 installed an electric railway system in Buenos Ayres, and later introduced telephone systems in many S. American cities, enlisting British capital for these enterprises. In 1904 he retired to his farm but in 1907 was again induced to accept the presidency of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. When this company in 1910 bought control of the Western Union Telegraph Co., Vail was made president of the latter also, and introduced many changes, including “night letters” at reduced rates. When in 1914, as the result of a threatened suit by the Government, the Western Union was again segregated, Vail remained president of his old company. After the taking over of the wires in Aug. 1918 by the Government as a war measure, he was appointed adviser by the Postmaster-General and urged unified control of all cables, telegraphs and telephones. When the wires were returned in 1919 to private ownership he was elected chairman of the board of directors of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. In 1920 the gross earnings of the company were $103,946,988, net earnings $70,686,904, number of miles of wire owned 23,377,404. Vail died in Baltimore April 16 1920. The value of his estate was estimated at about $2,000,000. He left $100,000 each to Princeton and Dartmouth, and $200,000 to be divided equally among Phillips Exeter Academy, Middlebury College, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To the last named he left also his large collection of books on electricity.
See A. B. Paine, In One Man's Life (1921).