Vail Signs to Be Restored

Thanks to dedicated members of the Malvern Historical Society such as Stew Benedict, a significant reminder of Malvern’s past is coming to life once again.

The historical corporation limit markers acknowledging Malvern was the birthplace of Theodore Newton Vail will soon be re-erected at their sentinel posts at the east and west ends of the village along Canal Street. The signs, badly weathered by time, were last restored in late 1997 by historical society member Donald Eick. Stew is shown here sandblasting the historical corporation limit markers in prep for continued restoration. Photo credit: Pam Benedict.

The signs read: Father of Railway Mail and Long Distance Telephone Services. They were initially installed in 1973 with grand celebration.

We purposely chose today to feature Stew’s efforts in commemoration of the birth anniversary of Malvern’s own Theodore Vail who was born July 16, 1845.

A son of Dr. Davis and Phebe (Quinby) Vail, Theodore was born in downtown Malvern. The Vail home still stands, but not on its original location. It was first situated at 100 East Porter Street where now stands the Victoria Building, home of the Contini Insurance Agency. The Vail home (built by Dr. Davis Vail around 1840) was built on this site and was moved to its present location (119 Second Street) in 1903 when the three-story, brick Victoria Building was constructed.

An interesting fact: when the Vail home was situated on Malvern’s square, the family installed a water pump on their front porch which furnished the village with drinking water. Keep in mind, the home also served as the medical office for Dr. Vail, so it was a busy spot.

The historic birthplace of Vail suffered significant fire damage last year, however, the property owners have rescued the dwelling and remodeled, saving the structure from total loss.

Theodore only spent the first few years of his life in Malvern before the family relocated. Known as “Doe” and “Theo” by friends and family, Vail went on to make a memorable name for himself within the communication industry.

Some of Vail’s accomplishments include:
• Assistant General Superintendent of the Railway Postal Service in 1874. While in a position of leadership, Vail was responsible for inaugurating this faster delivery of mail service for the American people. Train service was initiated for the sole purpose of mail delivery with little stopping between destinations. He later became general superintendent of this service.
• In 1878, Vail was persuaded to leave his post at the governmental mail service and explore a professional career with Mr. Alexander Graham Bell.
• Under Vail’s leadership a nationwide campaign of telephone service was launched with local companies multiplying; telephones could not be constructed fast enough!
• Vail was the first general manager of the Bell Telephone Company.
• He significantly assisted with establishing the Western Electric Company which was organized to manufacture the Bell telephone.
• President of AT&T.
• Vail’s dream of transcontinental telephone service came to fruition in 1915.
Theodore Vail’s ideas were decades ahead of his time as other financiers of the day focused on maximizing profit with rapid expansion; Vail wanted focus on integration and quality of service.

The panic of 1907: Up until this point (Vail had resigned by this time due to frustration with the developing industry’s business practices), Bell Telephone was borrowing tremendous amounts of money to keep up and lenders were getting hard to find. The banking systems of the U.S. demanded management invite Vail back to run things…Vail returned. His reputation alone restored the financial community’s confidence in the Bell Telephone Company. Vail then was determined to buy out rival telephone companies or sell out if that was his only option for the advancement of one nationwide system.

Vail’s focus on quality of service helped coin the phrase: “Theodore Newton Vail – he made neighbors of 100 million people.”

Other quotes of unknown origin have surfaced which lend credence to his reputation:

“Thanks to Alexander Graham Bell, all nations have telephones; thanks to Theodore Newton Vail, the U.S. has the best telephone system.”

Society member Stew Benedict is feverishly bringing new life to Malvern's Theodore Vail signs.
Society member Stew Benedict is feverishly bringing new life to Malvern’s Theodore Vail signs.

Author: Jason Lombardi

A native of Malvern, Jason's love of history developed at an early age. He became self-appointed caretaker of the Hardesty Cemetery in Malvern at the age of approximately ten-years-old. While researching those interred at the burial ground, Jason made connections with numerous Malvern residents who experienced its history, building a foundational knowledge of historical events and data associated with the village. He served as historian of the Malvern United Methodist Church for a number of years which further perpetuated research of the area. While scouring the community for historical information, Jason connected with Malvern native Mrs. Frances L. (Thomas) Montella. Their joint efforts and common desire to preserve Malvern's past led to the formation of the Malvern Historical Society, Inc. in 1994.