First Transcontinental Telephone Call
- January 25th 1915 -
Alexander Graham Bell in New York and Thomas Watson in San Francisco make a record telephone transmission. The New York Times said the following:
“On October 9th 1876 Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson talked by telephone to each other over a two-mile wire stretched between Cambridge and Boston. It was the first wire conversation ever held. Yesterday afternoon the same two men talked by telephone to each other over a 3,400-mile wire between New York and San Francisco. Dr Bell, the veteran inventor of the telephone, was in New York and Mr. Watson, his former associate, was on the other side of the continent. They heard each other much more distinctly than they did in their first talk thirty eight years ago.”
Born on March 3 1847 in Edinburgh, Bell was home schooled until the age of 11 when he attended Edinburgh’s Royal High School. He enjoyed science but did not excel academically. His father was a professor of speech elocution at the University of Edinburgh. Bell furthered his father’s work on Visible Speech for the deaf. His mother and wife were both deaf influencing the type of work with which he got involved.
Bell, an excellent piano player from a young age, was given the middle name ‘Bell’ as an 11th Birthday present as he was disappointed he didn’t have a middle name like his brothers. When just 12 years old he was playing at a flour mill and found that the work of de-husking the wheat grains was very boring. Thus he invented a machine that would do the work for you and it was used at the mill for a further three years. He moved to Canada with his parents at the age of 23 after both his brothers had died of tuberculosis. Here he studied the human voice with various deaf schools. He built a workshop at the family home and tried converting music into an electrical signal. With the financial help from two wealthy investors he continued to develop his ideas and brought in help from Thomas Watson – a skilled electrical engineer. Aged 25 it was felt he needed to protect his ideas using patents. This was done in the UK and only when that was granted did he apply in the USA.
It was on 14th February 1876 that he filed for a patent with the US Patent Office for the transmission of sounds telegraphically. On the very same day Elisha Gray, an American engineer, also filed his patent. Bell won the day and his first words with the working telephone were: “Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you.” After fending off nearly 600 lawsuits he was acknowledged as the inventor of the telephone.
By 1886 more than 150000 people owned telephones but long distance communication was still someway off.
He died in 1922 on August 2 in Novia Scotia, Canada. During his funeral every phone in North America was silenced. The unit of sound intensity, the bel, more usually heard of in the smaller unit a ‘decibel’ was named after him.