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Title: The Birth and Babyhood of the Telephone
Author: Watson, Thomas A.
Language: English
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                          BIRTH _and_ BABYHOOD
                                 OF THE

                            Thomas A. Watson
                  _Assistant to Alexander Graham Bell_

    (An address delivered before the Third Annual Convention of the
      Telephone Pioneers of America at Chicago, October 17, 1913)

                        _Information Department_

    [Illustration: _Thomas A. Watson_

                             _Biography of
                           THOMAS A. WATSON_

Thomas A. Watson was born on January 18, 1854, in Salem, Massachusetts,
and died December 13, 1934, at more than four-score years. At the age of
13 he left school and went to work in a store. Always keenly interested
in learning more and in making the most of all he learned, every new
experience was to him, from his childhood on, an opening door into a
larger, more beautiful and more wonderful world. This was the key to the
continuous variety that gave interest to his life.

In 1874 he obtained employment in the electrical shop of Charles
Williams, Jr., at 109 Court Street, Boston. Here he met Alexander Graham
Bell, and the telephone chapter in his life began. This he has told in
the little book herewith presented. In 1881, having well earned a rest
from the unceasing struggle with the problems of early telephony, and
being now a man of means, he resigned his position in the American Bell
Telephone Company and spent a year in Europe. On his return he started a
little machine shop for his own pleasure, at his place in East
Braintree, Massachusetts. From this grew the Fore River Ship and Engine
Company, which did its large share of building the U. S. Navy of the
Spanish War. In 1904 he retired from active business.

When 40 years of age and widely known as a shipbuilder, he went to
college, taking special courses in geology and biology at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the same time he specialized
in literature. These studies dominated his later years, leading him in
extensive travels all over the world, and at home extending to others
the inspiration of a genial simplicity of life and of a love for
science, literature and all that is fine in life.

                The Birth and Babyhood of the Telephone

                         _By_ Thomas A. Watson

I am to speak to you of the birth and babyhood of the telephone, and
something of the events which preceded that important occasion. These
are matters that must seem to you ancient history; in fact, they seem so
to me, although the events all happened less than 40 years ago, in the
years 1874 to 1880.

The occurrences of which I shall speak, lie in my mind as a splendid
drama, in which it was my great privilege to play a part. I shall try to
put myself back into that wonderful play, and tell you its story from
the same attitude of mind I had then—the point of view of a mere boy,
just out of his apprenticeship as an electro-mechanician, intensely
interested in his work, and full of boyish hope and enthusiasm.
Therefore, as it must be largely a personal narrative, I shall ask you
to excuse my many “I’s” and “my’s” and to be indulgent if I show how
proud and glad I am that I was chosen by the fates to be the associate
of Alexander Graham Bell, to work side by side with him day and night
through all these wonderful happenings that have meant so much to the

                   The Williams’ Electrical Workshop

I realize now what a lucky boy I was, when at 13 years of age I had to
leave school and go to work for my living, although I didn’t think so at
that time. I am not advising my young friends to leave school at this
age, for they may not have the opportunity to enter college as I did at
40. There’s a “tide in the affairs of men,” you know, and that was the
beginning of its flood in my life, for after trying several
vocations—clerking, bookkeeping, carpentering, etc.—and finding them all
unattractive, I at last found just the job that suited me in the
electrical work-shop of Charles Williams, at 109 Court Street,
Boston—one of the best men I have ever known. Better luck couldn’t
befall a boy than to be brought so early in life under the influence of
such a high-minded gentleman as Charles Williams.

I want to say a few words about my work there, not only to give you a
picture of such a shop in the early ’70s, but also because in this shop
the telephone had its birth and a good deal of its early development.

    [Illustration: _Thomas A. Watson in 1874_]

I was first set to work on a hand lathe turning binding posts for $5 a
week. The mechanics of to-day with their automatic screw machines,
hardly know what it is to turn little rough castings with a hand tool.
How the hot chips used to fly into our eyes! One day I had a fine idea.
I bought a pair of 25-cent goggles, thinking the others would hail me as
a benefactor of mankind and adopt my plan. But they laughed at me for
being such a sissy boy and public opinion forced me back to the old
time-honored plan of winking when I saw a chip coming. It was not an
efficient plan, for the chip usually got there first. There was a
liberal education in it for me in manual dexterity. There was no
specializing in these shops at that time. Each workman built everything
there was in the shop to build, and an apprentice also had a great
variety of jobs, which kept him interested all the time, for his tools
were poor and simple and it required lots of thought to get a job done

                        Studies and Experiments

There were few books on electricity published at that time. Williams had
copies of most of them in his showcase, which we boys used to read
noons, but the book that interested me most was Davis’ Manual of
Magnetism, published in 1847, a copy of which I made mine for 25 cents.
If you want to get a good idea of the state of the electrical art at
that time, you should read that book. I found it very stimulating and
that same old copy in all the dignity of its dilapidation has a place of
honor on my book shelves to-day.

My promotion to higher work was rapid. Before two years had passed, I
had tried my skill on about all the regular work of the
establishment—call bells, annunciators, galvanometers, telegraph keys,
sounders, relays, registers and printing telegraph instruments.

Individual initiative was the rule in Williams’ shop—we all did about as
we pleased. Once I built a small steam engine for myself during working
hours, when business was slack. No one objected. That steam engine, by
the way, was the embryo of the biggest shipbuilding plant in the United
States to-day, which I established some ten years later with telephone
profits, and which now employs more than 4,000 men.

    [Illustration: _Alexander Graham Bell in 1876_]

Such were the electrical shops of that day. Crude and small as they
were, they were the forerunners of the great electrical works of to-day.
In them were being trained the men who were among the leaders in the
wonderful development of applied electricity which began soon after the
time of which I am to speak. Williams, although he never had at that
time more than 30 or 40 men working for him, had one of the largest and
best fitted shops in the country. I think the Western Electric shop at
Chicago was the only larger one. That was also undoubtedly better
organized and did better work than Williams’. When a piece of machinery
built by the Western Electric came into our shop for repairs, we boys
always used to admire the superlative excellence of the workmanship.

                       Experience with Inventors

Besides the regular work at Williams’, there was a constant stream of
wild-eyed inventors, with big ideas in their heads and little money in
their pockets, coming to the shop to have their ideas tried out in brass
and iron. Most of them had an “angel” whom they had hypnotized into
paying the bills. My enthusiasm, and perhaps my sympathetic nature, made
me a favorite workman with those men of visions, and in 1873-74 my work
had become largely making experimental apparatus for such men. Few of
their ideas ever amounted to anything, but I liked to do the work, as it
kept me roaming in fresh fields and pastures new all the time. Had it
not been, however, for my youthful enthusiasm—always one of my chief
assets—I fear this experience would have made me so skeptical and
cynical as to the value of electrical inventions that my future
prospects might have been injured.

    [Illustration: _Thomas Sanders in 1878, at the Time He Was the Sole
    Financial Backer of the Telephone_]

I remember one limber-tongued patriarch who had induced some men to
subscribe $1,000 to build what he claimed to be an entirely new electric
engine. I had made much of it for him. There was nothing new in the
engine, but he intended to generate his electric current in a series of
iron tanks the size of trunks, to be filled with nitric acid with the
usual zinc plates suspended therein. When the engine was finished and
the acid poured into the tanks for the first time, no one waited to see
the engine run, for inventor, “angel,” and workmen all tried to see who
could get out of the shop quickest. I won the race as I had the best

I suppose there is just such a crowd of crude minds still besieging the
work-shops, men who seem incapable of finding out what has been already
done, and so keep on, year after year, threshing old straw.

                        The “Harmonic Telegraph”

All the men I worked for at that time were not of that type. There were
a few very different. Among them, dear old Moses G. Farmer, perhaps the
leading practical electrician of that day. He was full of good ideas,
which he was constantly bringing to Williams to have worked out. I did
much of his work and learned from him more about electricity than ever
before or since. He was electrician at that time for the United States
Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island, and in the early winter of
1874 I was making for him some experimental torpedo exploding apparatus.
That apparatus will always be connected in my mind with the telephone,
for one day when I was hard at work on it, a tall, slender,
quick-motioned man with pale face, black side whiskers, and drooping
mustache, big nose and high sloping forehead crowned with bushy, jet
black hair, came rushing out of the office and over to my work bench. It
was Alexander Graham Bell, whom I saw then for the first time. He was
bringing to me a piece of mechanism which I had made for him under
instructions from the office. It had not been made as he had directed
and he had broken down the rudimentary discipline of the shop in coming
directly to me to get it altered. It was a receiver and a transmitter of
his “Harmonic Telegraph,” an invention of his with which he was then
endeavoring to win fame and fortune. It was a simple affair by means of
which, utilizing the law of sympathetic vibration, he expected to send
six or eight Morse messages on a single wire at the same time, without

    [Illustration: _Home of Mrs. Mary Ann (Brown) Sanders, Salem, Mass.,
    where Professor Bell carried on experiments for three years which
    led to the discovery of the principle of the telephone_]

Although most of you are probably familiar with the device, I must, to
make my story clear, give you a brief description of the instruments,
for though Bell never succeeded in perfecting his telegraph, his
experimenting on it led to a discovery of the highest importance.

    [Illustration: _The Birthplace of the Telephone, 109 Court Street,
    Boston.—On the top floor of this building, in 1875, Prof. Bell
    carried on his experiments and first succeeded in transmitting
    speech by electricity_]

The essential parts of both transmitter and receiver were an
electro-magnet and a flattened piece of steel clock spring. The spring
was clamped by one end to one pole of the magnet, and had its other end
free to vibrate over the other pole. The transmitter had, besides this,
make-and-break points like an ordinary vibrating bell which, when the
current was on, kept the spring vibrating in a sort of nasal whine, of a
pitch corresponding to the pitch of the spring. When the signalling key
was closed, an electrical copy of that whine passed through the wire and
the distant receiver. There were, say, six transmitters with their
springs tuned to six different pitches and six receivers with their
springs tuned to correspond. Now, theoretically, when a transmitter sent
its electrical whine into the line wire, its own faithful receiver
spring at the distant station would wriggle sympathetically but all the
others on the same line would remain coldly quiescent. Even when all the
transmitters were whining at once through their entire gamut, making a
row as if all the miseries this world of trouble ever produced were
concentrated there, each receiver spring along the line would select its
own from that sea of troubles and ignore all the others. Just see what a
simple, sure-to-work invention this was; for just break up those various
whines into the dots and dashes of Morse messages and one wire would do
the work of six, and the “Duplex” telegraph that had just been invented
would be beaten to a frazzle. Bell’s reward would be immediate and rich,
for the “Duplex” had been bought by the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph
Company, giving them a great advantage over their only competitor, the
Western Union Company, and the latter would, of course, buy Bell’s
invention and his financial problems would be solved.

    [Illustration: _The Garret, 109 Court St., Boston, where Bell
    Verified the Principle of Electrical Speech Transmission_]

All this was, as I have said, theoretical, and it was mighty lucky for
Graham Bell that it was, for had his harmonic telegraph been a well
behaved apparatus that always did what its parent wanted it to do, the
speaking telephone might never have emerged from a certain marvelous
conception, that had even then been surging back of Bell’s high forehead
for two or three years. What that conception was, I soon learned, for he
couldn’t help speaking about it, although his friends tried to hush it
up. They didn’t like to have him get the reputation of being visionary,
or—something worse.

To go on with my story; after Mr. Farmer’s peace-making machines were
finished, I made half a dozen pairs of the harmonic instruments for
Bell. He was surprised, when he tried them, to find that they didn’t
work as well as he expected. The cynical Watson wasn’t at all surprised
for he had never seen anything electrical yet that worked at first the
way the inventor thought it would. Bell wasn’t discouraged in the least
and a long course of experiments followed which gave me a steady job
that winter and brought me into close contact with a wonderful
personality that did more to mould my life rightly than anything else
that ever came into it.

I became mightily tired of those “whiners” that winter. I called them by
that name, perhaps, as an inadequate expression of my disgust with their
persistent perversity, the struggle with which soon began to take all
the joy out of my young life, not being endowed with the power of
Macbeth’s weird sisters to

  “Look into the seeds of time,
  And say which grain will grow and which will not.”

Let me say here, that I have always had a feeling of respect for Elisha
Gray, who, a few years later, made that harmonic telegraph work, and
vibrate well-behaved messages, that would go where they were sent
without fooling with every receiver on the line.

Most of Bell’s early experimenting on the harmonic telegraph was done in
Salem, at the home of Mrs. George Sanders, where he resided for several
years, having charge of the instruction of her deaf nephew. The present
Y. M. C. A. building is on the site of that house. I would occasionally
work with Bell there, but most of his experimenting in which I took part
was done in Boston.

                  Bell’s Theory of Transmitting Speech

Mr. Bell was very apt to do his experimenting at night, for he was busy
during the day at the Boston University, where he was Professor of Vocal
Physiology, especially teaching his father’s system of visible speech,
by which a deaf mute might learn to talk—quite significant of what Bell
was soon to do in making mute metal talk. For this reason I would often
remain at the shop during the evening to help him test some improvement
he had had me make on the instruments.

One evening when we were resting from our struggles with the apparatus,
Bell said to me: “Watson, I want to tell you of another idea I have,
which I think will surprise you.” I listened, I suspect, somewhat
languidly, for I must have been working that day about sixteen hours,
with only a short nutritive interval, and Bell had already given me,
during the weeks we had worked together, more new ideas on a great
variety of subjects, including visible speech, elocution and flying
machines, than my brain could assimilate, but when he went on to say
that he had an idea by which he believed it would be possible to talk by
telegraph, my nervous system got such a shock that the tired feeling
vanished. I have never forgotten his exact words; they have run in my
mind ever since like a mathematical formula. “_If_,” he said, “_I could
make a current of electricity vary in intensity, precisely as the air
varies in density during the production of a sound, I should be able to
transmit speech telegraphically_.” He then sketched for me an instrument
that he thought would do this, and we discussed the possibility of
constructing one. I did not make it; it was altogether too costly, and
the chances of its working too uncertain to impress his financial
backers—Mr. Gardiner G. Hubbard and Mr. Thomas Sanders—who were
insisting that the wisest thing for Bell to do was to perfect the
harmonic telegraph; then he would have money and leisure enough to build
air castles like the telephone.

                              June 2, 1875

I must have done other work in the shop besides Bell’s during the winter
and spring of 1875, but I cannot remember a single item of it. I do
remember that when I was not working for Bell I was thinking of his
ideas. All through my recollection of that period runs that
nightmare—the harmonic telegraph, the ill working of which got on my
conscience, for I blamed my lack of mechanical skill for the poor
operation of an invention apparently so simple. Try our best, we could
not make that thing work rightly, and Bell came as near to being
discouraged as I ever knew him to be.

But this spring of 1875 was the dark hour just before the dawn.

If the exact time could be fixed, the date when the conception of the
undulatory or speech-transmitting current took its perfect form in
Bell’s mind would be the greatest day in the history of the telephone,
but certainly June 2, 1875, must always rank next; for on that day the
mocking fiend inhabiting that demonic telegraph apparatus, just as a
now-you-see-it-and-now-you-don’t sort of satanic joke, opened the
curtain that hides from man great Nature’s secrets and gave us a glimpse
as quick as if it were through the shutter of a snap-shot camera, into
that treasury of things not yet discovered. That imp didn’t do this in
any kindly, helpful spirit—any inventor knows he isn’t that kind of a
being—he just meant to tantalize and prove that a man is too stupid to
grasp a secret, even if it is revealed to him. But he hadn’t properly
estimated Bell, though he had probably sized me up all right. That
glimpse was enough to let Bell see and seize the very thing he had been
dreaming about and drag it out into the world of human affairs.

    [Illustration: _Gardiner G. Hubbard in 1876_]

                           The Telephone Born

Coming back to earth, I’ll try and tell you what happened that day. In
the experiments on the harmonic telegraph, Bell had found that the
reason why the messages got mixed up was inaccuracy in the adjustment of
the pitches of the receiver springs to those of the transmitter. Bell
always had to do this tuning himself, as my sense of pitch and knowledge
of music were quite lacking—a faculty (or lackulty) which you will hear
later became quite useful. Mr. Bell was in the habit of observing the
pitch of a spring by pressing it against his ear while the corresponding
transmitter in a distant room was sending its intermittent current
through the magnet of that receiver. He would then manipulate the tuning
screw until that spring was tuned to accord with the pitch of the whine
coming from the transmitter. All this experimenting was carried on in
the upper story of the Williams building, where we had a wire connecting
two rooms perhaps sixty feet apart looking out on Court Street.

    [Illustration: _Prof. Bell’s Vibrating Reed—Used for a Receiver_]


On the afternoon of June 2, 1875, we were hard at work on the same old
job, testing some modification of the instruments. Things were badly out
of tune that afternoon in that hot garret, not only the instruments,
but, I fancy, my enthusiasm and my temper, though Bell was as energetic
as ever. I had charge of the transmitters as usual, setting them
squealing one after the other, while Bell was retuning the receiver
springs one by one, pressing them against his ear as I have described.
One of the transmitter springs I was attending to stopped vibrating and
I plucked it to start it again. It didn’t start and I kept on plucking
it, when suddenly I heard a shout from Bell in the next room, and then
out he came with a rush, demanding, “What did you do then? Don’t change
anything. Let me see!” I showed him. It was very simple. The contact
screw was screwed down so far that it made permanent contact with the
spring, so that when I snapped the spring the circuit had remained
unbroken while that strip of magnetized steel by its vibration over the
pole of its magnet was generating that marvelous conception of Bell’s—a
current of electricity that varied in intensity precisely as the air was
varying in density within hearing distance of that spring. That
undulatory current had passed through the connecting wire to the distant
receiver which, fortunately, was a mechanism that could transform that
current back into an extremely faint echo of the sound of the vibrating
spring that had generated it, but what was still more fortunate, the
right man had that mechanism at his ear during that fleeting moment, and
instantly recognized the transcendent importance of that faint sound
thus electrically transmitted. The shout I heard and his excited rush
into my room were the result of that recognition. The speaking telephone
was born at that moment. Bell knew perfectly well that the mechanism
that could transmit all the complex vibrations of one sound could do the
same for any sound, even that of speech. That experiment showed him that
the complex apparatus he had thought would be needed to accomplish that
long dreamed result was not at all necessary, for here was an extremely
simple mechanism operating in a perfectly obvious way, that could do it
perfectly. All the experimenting that followed that discovery, up to the
time the telephone was put into practical use, was largely a matter of
working out the details. We spent a few hours verifying the discovery,
repeating it with all the differently tuned springs we had, and before
we parted that night Bell gave me directions for making the first
electric speaking telephone. I was to mount a small drumhead of
gold-beater’s skin over one of the receivers, join the center of the
drumhead to the free end of the receiver spring and arrange a mouthpiece
over the drumhead to talk into. His idea was to force the steel spring
to follow the vocal vibrations and generate a current of electricity
that would vary in intensity as the air varies in density during the
utterance of speech sounds. I followed these directions and had the
instrument ready for its trial the very next day. I rushed it, for
Bell’s excitement and enthusiasm over the discovery had aroused mine
again, which had been sadly dampened during those last few weeks by the
meagre results of the harmonic experiments. I made every part of that
first telephone myself, but I didn’t realize while I was working on it
what a tremendously important piece of work I was doing.

                        The First Telephone Line

The two rooms in the attic were too near together for the test, as our
voices would be heard through the air, so I ran a wire especially for
the trial from one of the rooms in the attic down two flights to the
third floor where Williams’ main shop was, ending it near my work bench
at the back of the building. That was the first telephone line. You can
well imagine that both our hearts were beating above the normal rate
while we were getting ready for the trial of the new instrument that
evening. I got more satisfaction from the experiment than Mr. Bell did,
for shout my best I could not make him hear me, but I could hear his
voice and almost catch the words. I rushed downstairs and told him what
I had heard. It was enough to show him that he was on the right track,
and before he left that night he gave me directions for several
improvements in the telephones I was to have ready for the next trial.

    [Illustration: _Alexander Graham Bell’s First Telephone_]

I hope my pride in the fact that I made the first telephone, put up the
first telephone wire and heard the first words ever uttered through a
telephone, has never been too ostentatious and offensive to my friends,
but I am sure that you will grant that a reasonable amount of that human
weakness is excusable in me. My pride has been tempered to quite a
bearable degree by my realization that the reason why I heard Bell in
that first trial of the telephone and he did not hear me, was the vast
superiority of his strong vibratory tones over any sound my undeveloped
voice was then able to utter. My sense of hearing, however, has always
been unusually acute, and that might have helped to determine this

The building where these first telephone experiments were made is still
in existence. It is now used as a theater. The lower stories have been
much altered, but that attic is still quite unchanged and a few weeks
ago I stood on the very spot where I snapped those springs and helped
test the first telephone thirty-seven years and seven months before.

  (_Editor’s Note: The old building was finally replaced by new
  construction in 1931.)_

   Mr. Watson Heard the First Sentence Ever Spoken Over the Telephone

Of course in our struggle to expel the imps from the invention, an
immense amount of experimenting had to be done, but it wasn’t many days
before we could talk back and forth and hear each other’s voice. It is,
however, hard for me to realize now that it was not until the following
March that I heard a complete and intelligible sentence. It made such an
impression upon me that I wrote that first sentence in a book I have
always preserved. The occasion had not been arranged and rehearsed as I
suspect the sending of the first message over the Morse telegraph had
been years before, for instead of that noble first telegraphic
message—“What hath God wrought?” the first message of the telephone was:
“Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” Perhaps, if Mr. Bell had realized
that he was about to make a bit of history, he would have been prepared
with a more sounding and interesting sentence.

Soon after the first telephones were made, Bell hired two rooms on the
top floor of an inexpensive boarding house at No. 5 Exeter Place,
Boston, since demolished to make room for mercantile buildings. He slept
in one room; the other he fitted up as a laboratory. I ran a wire for
him between the two rooms and after that time practically all his
experimenting was done there. It was here one evening when I had gone
there to help him test some improvement and to spend the night with him,
that I heard the first complete sentence I have just told you about.
Matters began to move more rapidly, and during the summer of 1876 the
telephone was talking so well that one didn’t have to ask the other man
to say it over again more than three or four times before one could
understand quite well, if the sentences were simple.

                       The Centennial Exposition

This was the year of the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, and Bell
decided to make an exhibit there. I was still working for Williams, and
one of the jobs I did for Bell was to construct a telephone of each form
that had been devised up to that time. These were the first nicely
finished instruments that had been made. There had been no money nor
time to waste on polish or non-essentials. But these Centennial
telephones were done up in the highest style of the art. You could see
your face in them. These aristocratic telephones worked finely, in spite
of their glitter, when Sir William Thompson tried them at Philadelphia
that summer. I was as proud as Bell himself, when I read Sir William’s
report, wherein he said after giving an account of the tests: “I need
hardly say I was astonished and delighted, so were the others who
witnessed the experiment and verified with their own ears the electric
transmission of speech. This, perhaps, the greatest marvel hitherto
achieved by electric telegraph, has been obtained by appliances of quite
a homespun and rudimentary character.” I have never forgiven Sir William
for that last line. Homespun!


However, I recovered from this blow, and soon after Mr. Gardiner G.
Hubbard, afterwards Mr. Bell’s father-in-law, offered me an interest in
Bell’s patents if I would give up my work at Williams’ and devote my
time to the telephone. I accepted, although I wasn’t altogether sure it
was a wise thing to do from a financial standpoint. My contract
stipulated that I was to work under Mr. Bell’s directions, on the
harmonic telegraph as well as on the speaking telephone, for the two men
who were paying the bills still thought there was something in the
former invention, although very little attention had been given to its
vagaries after the June 2nd discovery.

    [Illustration: 1876 BELL TELEPHONE
    _Telephone Apparatus Patented in 1876 by Prof. Bell, Models Made
    from Figure 7 in Bell’s Original Patent_]

I moved my domicile from Salem to another room on the top floor at 5
Exeter Place, giving us the entire floor, and as Mr. Bell had lost most
of his pupils by wasting so much of his time on telephones, he could
devote nearly all his time to the experimenting. Then followed a period
of hard and continuous work on the invention. I made telephones with
every modification and combination of their essential parts that either
of us could think of. I made and we tested telephones with all sizes of
diaphragms made of all kinds of materials—diaphragms of boiler iron
several feet in diameter, down to a miniature affair made of the bones
and drum of a human ear, and found that the best results came from an
iron diaphragm of about the same size and thickness as is used to-day.
We tested electro magnets and permanent magnets of a multitude of sizes
and shapes, with long cores and short cores, fat cores and thin cores,
solid cores and cores of wire, with coils of many sizes, shapes and
resistances, and mouthpieces of an infinite variety. Out of the hundreds
of experiments there emerged practically the same telephone you take off
the hook and listen with to-day, although it was then transmitter as
well as receiver.

    [Illustration: _Reprint from the Boston Advertiser describing the
    Telephone Talk between Boston and Cambridgeport, October 9, 1876_]




The following account of an experiment made on the evening of October 9
by Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson is interesting, as being
the record of the first conversation ever carried on by word of mouth
over a telegraph wire. Telephones placed at either end of a telegraph
line owned by the Walworth Manufacturing Company, extending from their
office in Boston to their factory in Cambridgeport, a distance of about
two miles. The company’s battery, consisting of nine Daniels cells, was
removed from the circuit and another of ten carbon elements substituted.
Articulate conversation then took place through the wire. The sounds, at
first faint and indistinct, became suddenly quite loud and intelligible.
Mr. Bell in Boston and Mr. Watson in Cambridge then took notes of what
was said and heard and the comparison of the two records is most
interesting, as showing the accuracy of the electrical transmission:—

                             BOSTON RECORD.

Mr. Bell—What do you think was the matter with the instruments?

Mr. Watson—There was nothing the matter with

                         CAMBRIDGEPORT RECORD.

Mr. Bell—What do you think is the matter with the instruments?

Mr. Watson—There is nothing the matter with them.

                   “Talking” from Boston to Cambridge

Progress was rapid, and on October 9, 1876, we were ready to take the
baby outdoors for the first time. We got permission from the Walworth
Manufacturing Company to use their private wire running from Boston to
Cambridge, about two miles long. I went to Cambridge that evening with
one of our best telephones, and waited until Bell signalled from the
Boston office on the Morse sounder. Then I cut out the sounder and
connected in the telephone and listened. Not a murmur came through!
Could it be that, although the thing worked all right in the house, it
wouldn’t work under practical line conditions? I knew that we were using
the most complex and delicate electric current that had ever been
employed for a practical purpose and that it was extremely “intense,”
for Bell had talked through a circuit composed of 20 or 30 human beings
joined hand to hand. Could it be, I thought, that these high tension
vibrations leaking off at each insulator along the line, had vanished
completely before they reached the Charles River? That fear passed
through my mind as I worked over the instrument, adjusting it and
tightening the wires in the binding posts, without improving matters in
the least. Then the thought struck me that perhaps there was another
Morse sounder in some other room. I traced the wires from the place they
entered the building and sure enough I found a relay with a high
resistance coil in the circuit. I cut it out with a piece of wire across
the binding posts and rushed back to my telephone and listened. That was
the trouble. Plainly as one could wish came Bell’s “ahoy,” “ahoy!”[1] I
ahoyed back, and the first long distance telephone conversation began.
Skeptics had been objecting that the telephone could never compete with
the telegraph as its messages would not be accurate. For this reason
Bell had arranged that we should make a record of all we said and heard
that night, if we succeeded in talking at all. We carried out this plan
and the entire conversation was published in parallel columns in the
next morning’s _Advertiser_, as the latest startling scientific
achievement. Infatuated with the joy of talking over an actual telegraph
wire, we kept up our conversation until long after midnight. It was a
very happy boy that traveled back to Boston in the small hours with the
telephone under his arm done up in a newspaper. Bell had taken his
record to the newspaper office and was not at the laboratory when I
arrived there, but when he came in there ensued a jubilation and war
dance that elicited next morning from our landlady, who wasn’t at all
scientific in her tastes, the remark that we’d have to vacate if we
didn’t make less noise nights.

Tests on still longer telegraph lines soon followed—the success of each
experiment being in rather exact accordance with the condition of the
poor, rusty-joined wires we had to use. Talk about imps that baffle
inventors! There was one of an especially vicious and malignant type in
every unsoldered joint of the old wires. The genial Tom Doolittle hadn’t
even thought of his hard-drawn copper wire then, with which he later
eased the lot of the struggling telephone men.

                           Our Many Visitors

Meanwhile the fame of the invention had spread rapidly abroad and all
sorts of people made pilgrimages to Bell’s laboratory to hear the
telephone talk. A list of the scientists who came to the attic of that
cheap boarding house to see the telephone would read like the roster of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science. My old
electrical mentor, Moses G. Farmer, called one day to see the latest
improvements. He told me then with tears in his eyes when he first read
a description of Bell’s telephone he couldn’t sleep for a week, he was
so mad with himself for not discovering the thing years before.
“Watson,” said he, “that thing has flaunted itself in my very face a
dozen times within the last ten years and every time I was too blind to
see it. But,” he continued, “if Bell had known anything about
electricity he would never have invented the telephone.”

    [Illustration: _Prof. Bell’s Original Centennial Magneto

Two of our regular visitors were young Japanese pupils of Professor
Bell—very polite, deferential, quiet, bright-eyed little men, who saw
everything and made cryptic notes. They took huge delight in proving
that the telephone could talk Japanese. A curious effect of the
telephone I noticed at that time was its power to paralyze the tongues
of men otherwise fluent enough by nature and profession. I remember a
prominent lawyer who, when he heard my voice in the telephone making
some such profound remark to him as “How do you do?” could only reply,
after a long pause, “Rig a jig jig and away we go.”

                         A “Wireless Telephone”

Men of quite another sort came occasionally. Mr. Hubbard received a
letter one day from a man who wrote that he could put us on the track of
a secret that would enable us to talk any distance without a wire. This
interested Mr. Hubbard and he made an appointment for the man to meet
me. At the appointed time, a stout, rather unkempt man made his
appearance. He didn’t take the least interest in the telephone; he said
that was already a back number, and if we would hire him for a small sum
per week we would soon learn how to telephone without any apparatus or
any wires. He went on to tell in a most convincing way how two prominent
theatrical men in New York, whom he had never seen, had got his brain so
connected into their circuit that they could talk with him at any time,
day or night, and make all sorts of fiendish suggestions to him. He
didn’t know yet how they did it, but he was sure I could find out their
secret, if I would just take the top off his head and examine his brain.
It dawned on me then that I was dealing with an insane man. I got rid of
him as soon as I could by promising to experiment on him when I could
find time. The next I heard of the poor fellow he was in the violent
ward of an insane asylum. Several similar cases of insanity attracted by
the fame of Bell’s occult (!) invention called on us or wrote to us
within a year of that time.

    [Illustration: _Prof. Bell’s Original Centennial Receiver_]

                        Telephone Installations

We began to get requests for telephone installations long before we were
ready to supply them. In April, 1877, the first outdoor telephone line
was run between Mr. Williams’ office at 109 Court Street and his house
in Somerville. Professor Bell and I were present and participated in the
important ceremony of opening the line and the event was a headliner in
the next morning’s papers.

                           Financial Problems

At about this time Professor Bell’s financial problems had begun to
press hard for solution. We were very much disappointed because the
President of the Western Union Telegraph Company had refused, somewhat
contemptuously, Mr. Hubbard’s offer to sell him all the Bell patents for
the exorbitant sum of $100,000. It was an especially hard blow to me,
for while the negotiations were pending I had had visions of a sumptuous
office in the Western Union Building in New York, which I was expecting
to occupy as Superintendent of the Telephone Department of the great
telegraph company. However, we recovered even from that facer. Two years
later the Western Union would gladly have bought those patents for

    [Illustration: _Original Box Telephone Introduced Commercially in

But before that happy time there were lots of troubles of all the old
and of several new varieties to be surmounted. Professor Bell’s
particular trouble in the spring of 1877 arose from the fact that he had
fallen in love with a most charming young lady. I had never been in love
myself at that time and that was my first opportunity of observing what
a serious matter it can be, especially when the father isn’t altogether
enthusiastic. I rather suspected at that time that that shrewd but
kind-hearted gentleman put obstacles in the course of that true love, in
order to stimulate the young man to still greater exertion in perfecting
his inventions. But he might have thought as Prospero did:

  “They are both in either’s power; but this swift business
  I must uneasy make, lest too light winning
  Make the prize light.”

Bell’s immediate financial needs were solved, however, by the demand
that began at this time for public lectures by him on the telephone. It
is hard to realize to-day what an intense and widespread interest there
was then in the telephone. I don’t believe any new invention could stir
the public to-day as the telephone did then, surfeited as we are now
with the wonderful things that have been invented since.

                Leasing Instruments a Far-Sighted Policy

These lectures are important for another reason than that they solved a
temporary money problem. They obviated the necessity of selling
telephones outright, instead of leasing them so as to retain control—a
policy Mr. Hubbard afterwards adopted which made possible the splendid
universal service Mr. Vail with your help has given the Bell system
to-day. Some of the ladies deeply interested in the immediate outcome
were strenuously advocating at this critical juncture making and selling
the telephones at once in the largest possible quantities—imperfect as
they were. Fortunately, for the future of the business the returns from
the lectures that began at this very time obviated this danger.

                           Telephone Lectures

Bell’s first lecture, as I have said, was given before a well-known
scientific society—the Essex Institute—at Salem, Mass. They were
especially interested in the telephone because Bell was living in Salem
during the early telephone experiments. The first lecture was free to
members of the society, but it packed the hall and created so much
interest that Bell was requested to repeat it for an admission fee. This
he did to an audience that again filled the house. Requests for lectures
poured in upon Bell after that. Such men as Oliver Wendell Holmes and
Henry W. Longfellow signed the request for the Boston lectures. The
Salem lectures were soon followed by a lecture in Providence to an
audience of 2,000, by a course of three lectures at the largest hall in
Boston—all three packed—by three in Chickering Hall, New York, and by
others in most of the large cities of New England. They all took place
in the spring and early summer of 1877, during which time there was
little opportunity for experimenting for either Bell or myself, which I
think now was rather a good thing, for we had become quite stale and
needed a change that would give us a new influx of ideas. My part in the
lectures was important, although entirely invisible as far as the
audience was concerned. I was always at the other end of the wire,
generating and transmitting to the hall where Professor Bell was
speaking, such telephonic phenomena as he needed to illustrate his
lectures. I would have at my end circuit breakers—rheotomes, we called
them—that would utter electric howls of various pitches, a lusty cornet
player, sometimes a small brass band, and an electric organ with Edward
Wilson to play on it, but the star performer was the young man who two
years before didn’t have voice enough to let Bell hear his own
telephone, but in whom that two years of strenuous shouting into
mouthpieces of various sizes and shapes had developed a voice with the
carrying capacity of a steam calliope. My special function in these
lectures was to show the audience that the telephone could really talk.
Not only that, I had to do all the singing, too, for which my musical
deficiencies fitted me admirably.

    [Illustration: _Facsimile of Flier Advertising Prof. Bell’s Lecture
    at Lawrence, Mass., Monday Evening, May 28, 1877_]

                       CITY HALL, LAWRENCE, MASS.
                         Monday Evening, May 28
                              THE MIRACLE
                          WONDERFUL DISCOVERY
                               OF THE AGE

Prof. A. Graham Bell, assisted by Mr. Frederic A. Gower, will give an
exhibition of his wonderful and miraculous discovery The Telephone,
before the people of Lawrence as above, when Boston and Lawrence will be
connected via the Western Union Telegraph and vocal and instrumental
music and conversation will be transmitted a distance of 27 miles and
received by the audience in the City Hall.

Prof. Bell will give an explanatory lecture with this marvellous

                      Cards of Admission, 35 cents
                        Reserved Seats, 50 cents
          Sale of seats at Stratton’s will open at 9 o’clock.

                       My Telephone Entertainers

Professor Bell would have one telephone by his side on the stage, where
he was speaking, and three or four others of the big box variety we used
at that time would be suspended about the hall, all connected by means
of a hired telegraph wire with the place where I was stationed, from
five to twenty-five miles away. Bell would give the audience, first, the
commonplace parts of the show and then would come the thrillers of the
evening—my shouts and songs. I would shout such sentences as, “How do
you do?” “Good evening,” “What do you think of the telephone?” which
they could all hear, although the words issued from the mouthpieces
rather badly marred by the defective talking powers of the telephones of
that date. Then I would sing “Hold the Fort,” “Pull for the Shore,”
“Yankee Doodle,” and as a delicate allusion to the Professor’s
nationality, “Auld Lang Syne.” My sole sentimental song was “Do Not
Trust Him, Gentle Lady.” This repertoire always brought down the house.
After every song I would listen at my telephone for further directions
from the lecturer, and always felt the artist’s joy when I heard in it
the long applause that followed each of my efforts. I was always encored
to the limit of my repertoire and sometimes had to sing it through

I have always understood that Professor Bell was a fine platform
speaker, but this is entirely hearsay on my part for, although I spoke
at every one of his lectures, I have never yet had the pleasure of
hearing him deliver an address.

                        First Sound-Proof Booth

In making the preparations for the New York lectures I incidentally
invented the sound-proof booth, but as Mr. Lockwood was not then
associated with us, and for other reasons, I never patented it. It
happened thus: Bell thought he would like to astonish the New Yorkers by
having his lecture illustrations sent all the way from Boston. To
determine whether this was practicable, he made arrangements to test the
telephone a few days before on one of the Atlantic and Pacific wires.
The trial was to take place at midnight. Bell was at the New York end, I
was in the Boston laboratory. Having vividly in mind the strained
relations already existing with our landlady, and realizing the carrying
power of my voice when I really let it go, as I knew I should have to
that night, I cast about for some device to deaden the noise. Time was
short and appliances scarce, so the best I could do was to take the
blankets off our beds and arrange them in a sort of loose tunnel, with
the telephone tied up in one end and the other end open for the operator
to crawl into. Thus equipped I awaited the signal from New York
announcing that Bell was ready. It came soon after midnight. Then I
connected in the telephone, deposited myself in that cavity, and shouted
and listened for two or three hours. It didn’t work as well as it might.
It is a wonder some of my remarks didn’t burn holes in the blankets. We
talked after a fashion but Bell decided it wasn’t safe to risk it with a
New York audience. My sound-proof booth, however, was a complete
success, as far as stopping the sound was concerned, for I found by
cautious inquiry next day that nobody had heard my row. Later inventors
improved my booth, making it more comfortable for a pampered public but
not a bit more sound-proof.

    [Illustration: _Box Telephone with Watson Hammer Signal_]

    [Illustration: _Watson Type of Ringer_]

                    “The Supposititious Mr. Watson”

One of those New York lectures looms large in my memory on account of a
novel experience I had at my end of the wire. After hearing me sing, the
manager of the lectures decided that while I might satisfy a Boston
audience I would never do for a New York congregation, so he engaged a
fine baritone soloist—a powerful negro, who was to assume the singing
part of my program. Being much better acquainted with the telephone than
that manager was, I had doubts about the advisability of this change in
the cast. I didn’t say anything, as I didn’t want to be accused of
professional jealousy, and I knew my repertoire would be on the spot in
case things went wrong. I was stationed that night at the telegraph
office at New Brunswick, New Jersey, and I and the rest of the usual
appliances of that end of the lecture went down in the afternoon to get
things ready. I rehearsed my rival and found him a fine singer, but had
difficulty in getting him to crowd his lips into the mouthpiece. He was
handicapped for the telephone business by being musical, and he didn’t
like the sound of his voice jammed up in that way. However, he promised
to do what I wanted when it came to the actual work of the evening, and
I went to supper. When I returned to the telegraph office, just before
eight o’clock, I found to my horror that the young lady operator had
invited six or eight of her dear friends to witness the interesting
proceedings. Now, besides my musical deficiencies, I had another
qualification as a telephone man—I was very modest; in fact, in the
presence of ladies, extremely bashful. It didn’t trouble me in the least
to talk or sing to a great audience, provided, of course, it was a few
miles away, but when I saw those girls, the complacency with which I had
been contemplating the probable failure of my fine singer was changed to
painful apprehension. If he wasn’t successful a very bashful young man
would have a new experience. I should be obliged to sing myself before
those giggling, unscientific girls. This world would be a better place
to live in if we all tried to help our fellow-men succeed, as I tried
that night, when the first song was called for, to make my musical
friend achieve a lyrical triumph on the Metropolitan stage. But he sang
that song for the benefit of those girls, not for Chickering Hall, and
it was with a heavy heart that I listened for Bell’s voice when he
finished it. The blow fell. In his most delightful platform tones, Bell
uttered the fatal words I had foreboded, “Mr. Watson, the audience could
not hear that. Won’t you please sing?” Bell was always a kind-hearted
man, but he didn’t know. However, I nerved myself with the thought that
that New York audience, made skeptical by the failure of that song,
might be thinking cynical things about my beloved leader and his
telephone, so I turned my back on those girls and made that telephone
rattle with the stirring strains of “Hold the Fort,” as it never had
before. Then I listened again. Ah, the sweetness of appreciation! That
New York audience was applauding vigorously. When it stopped, the same
voice came with a new note of triumph in it. “Mr. Watson, the audience
heard that perfectly and call for an encore.” I sang through my entire
repertoire and began again on “Hold the Fort,” before that audience was
satisfied. That experience did me good, I have never had stage fright
since. But the “supposititious Mr. Watson,” as they called me then, had
to do the singing at all of Bell’s subsequent lectures. Nobody else had
a chance at the job; one experience was enough for Mr. Bell.

My baritone had his hat on his head and a cynical expression on his
face, when I finished working on those songs. “Is that what you wanted?”
he asked. “Yes.” “Well, boss, I couldn’t do that.” Of course he

                       An Exhibition in Lawrence

Another occasion is burnt into my memory that wasn’t such a triumph over
difficulties. In these lectures we always had another trouble to contend
with, besides the rusty joints in the wires; that was the operators
cutting in, during the lectures, their highest resistance relays, which
enabled them to hear some of the intermittent current effects I sent to
the hall. Inductance, retardation, and all that sort of thing which you
have so largely conquered since were invented long before the telephone
was, and were awaiting her on earth all ready to slam it when Bell came
along. Bell lectured at Lawrence, Massachusetts, one evening in May, and
I prepared to furnish him with the usual program from the laboratory in

    [Illustration: _Watson’s “Buzzer”_]

But the wire the company assigned us was the worst yet. It worked fairly
well when we tried it in the afternoon, but in the evening every station
on the line had evidently cut in its relay, and do my best I couldn’t
get a sound through to the hall.

The local newspaper generally sent a reporter to my end of the wire to
write up the occurrences there. This is the report of such an envoy as
it appeared in the Lawrence paper the morning after Bell’s lecture

“Mr. Fisher returned this morning. He says that Watson, the organist and
himself occupied the laboratory, sitting in their shirt sleeves with
their collars off. Watson shouted his lungs into the telephone
mouthpiece, ‘Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!’ and receiving no response, inquired of
Fisher if he pardoned for a little ‘hamburg edging’ on his language. Mr.
Fisher endeavored to transmit to his Lawrence townsman the tune of
‘Federal Street’ played upon the cornet, but the air was not
distinguishable here. About 10 P.M., Watson discovered the ‘Northern
Lights’ and found his wires alive with lightning, which was not included
in the original scheme of the telephone. He says the loose electricity
abroad in the world was too much for him.”

                           Waiting for Watson

The next morning a poem appeared in the Lawrence paper. The writer must
have sat up all night to write it. It was entitled “Waiting for Watson,”
and as I am very proud of the only poem I ever had written about me, I
am going to ask your permission to read it. Please notice the great
variety of human feeling the poet put into it. It even suggests
missiles, though it flings none.

Lawrence, Mass., _Daily American_, Tuesday, May 29, 1877.

                           WAITING FOR WATSON

  To the great hall we strayed,
  Fairly our fee we paid,
  Seven hundred there delayed,
    But, where was Watson?

  Was he out on his beer?
  Walked he off on his ear?
  Something was wrong, ’tis clear.
    What was it, Watson?

  Seven hundred souls were there,
  Waiting with stony stare,
  In that expectant air—
    Waiting for Watson.

  Oh, how our ears we strained,
  How our hopes waxed and waned,
  Patience to dregs we drained,
    Yes, we did, Watson!

  Softly the bandmen played,
  Rumbled the Night Brigade,
  For this our stamps we paid,
    Only this, Watson!

  But, Hope’s by fruitage fed,
  Promise and Act should wed,
  Faith without works is dead,
    Is it not, Watson?

  Give but one lusty groan,
  For bread we’ll take a stone,
  Ring your old telephone!
    Ring, brother Watson.

  Doubtless ’tis very fine,
  When, all along the line,
  Things work most superfine—
    Doubtless ’tis Watson.

  Let’s hear the thrills and thrums,
  That your skilled digit drums,
  Striking our tympanums—
    Music from Watson.

  We know that, every day,
  Schemes laid to work and pay,
  Fail and “gang aft a-gley”—
    Often, friend Watson.

  And we’ll not curse, or fling,
  But, next time, do the thing
  And we’ll all rise and sing,
    “Bully for Watson!”

  Or, by the unseen powers,
  Hope in our bosom sours,
  No telephone in ours—
    “Please, Mr. Watson.”

    [Illustration: _The First Telephone Advertisement, Used the Year
    Following the Issuance of the Original Patent, Offered to Furnish
    Telephones “for the Transmission of Articulate Speech Through
    Instruments Not More Than Twenty Miles Apart.”_]

                             The Telephone.

The proprietors of the Telephone, the invention of Alexander Graham
Bell, for which patents have been issued by the United States and Great
Britain, are now prepared to furnish Telephones for the transmission of
articulate speech through instruments not more than twenty miles apart.
Conversation can be easily carried on after slight practice and with the
occasional repetition of a word or sentence. On first listening to the
Telephone, though the sound is perfectly audible, the articulation seems
to be indistinct; but after a few trials the ear becomes accustomed to
the peculiar sound and finds little difficulty in understanding the

The Telephone should be set in a quiet place, where there is no noise
which would interrupt ordinary conversation.

The advantages of the Telephone over the Telegraph for local business

1st. That no skilled operator is required, but direct communication may
be had by speech without the intervention of a third person.

2d. That the communication is much more rapid, the average number of
words transmitted a minute by Morse Sounder being from fifteen to
twenty, by Telephone from one to two hundred.

3d. That no expense is required either for its operation, maintenance,
or repair. It needs no battery, and has no complicated machinery. It is
unsurpassed for economy and simplicity.

The Terms for leasing two Telephones for social purposes connecting a
dwelling-house with any other building will be $20 a year, for business
purposes $40 a year, payable semiannually in advance, with the cost of
expressage from Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, or San
Francisco. The instruments will be kept in good working order by the
lessors, free of expense, except from injuries resulting from great

Several Telephones can be placed on the same line at an additional
rental of $10 for each instrument; but the use of more than two on the
some line where privacy is required is not advised. Any person within
ordinary hearing distance can hear the voice calling through the
Telephone. If a louder call is required one can be furnished for $5.

Telegraph lines will be constructed by the proprietors if desired. The
price will vary from $100 to $150 a mile; any good mechanic can
construct a line; No. 9 wire costs 8½ cents a pound, 320 pounds to the
mile; 34 insulators at 25 cents each; the price of poles and setting
varies in every locality; stringing wire $5 per mile; sundries $10 per

Parties leasing the Telephones incur no expense beyond the annual rental
and the repair of the line wire. On the following pages are extracts
from the Press and other sources relating to the Telephone.

                                                    GARDINER G. HUBBARD.

Cambridge, Mass., May, 1877.

For further information and orders address

                                 THOS. A. WATSON, 109 Court St., Boston.

                       My Last Public Appearance

But my vacation was about over. Besides raising the wind, the lectures
had stirred up a great demand for telephone lines. The public was ready
for the telephone long before we were ready for the public, and this
pleasant artistic interlude had to stop; I was needed in the shop to
build some telephones to satisfy the insistent demand. Fred Gower, a
young newspaper man of Providence, had become interested with Mr. Bell
in the lecture work. He had an unique scheme for a dual lecture with my
illustrations sent from a central point to halls in two cities at the
same time. I think my last appearance in public was one of these
dualities. Bell lectured at New Haven and Gower gave the talk at
Hartford, while I was in between at Middletown, Conn., with my
apparatus, including my songs. It didn’t work very well. The two
lecturers didn’t speak synchronously. Gower told me afterwards that I
was giving him, “How do you do,” when he wanted “Hold the Fort,” and
Bell said I made it awkward for him by singing “Do Not Trust Him, Gentle
Lady,” when he needed the trombone solo.

                       The “Gower-Bell” Telephone

In the following August, Professor Bell married and went to England,
taking with him a complete set of up-to-date telephones, with which he
intended to start the trouble in that country. Fred Gower became so
fascinated with lecturing on the telephone that he gave up an exclusive
right Mr. Hubbard had granted him for renting telephones all over New
England, for the exclusive privilege of using the telephone for lecture
purposes all over the United States. But it wasn’t remunerative after
Bell and I gave it up. The discriminating public preferred Mr. Bell as
speaker—and I always felt that the singing never reached the early

    [Illustration: _Magneto Wall Set (Williams’ Coffin)_]

Gower went to England later. There he made some small modification of
Bell’s telephone, called it the “Gower-Bell” telephone, and made a
fortune out of his hyphenated atrocity. Later he married Lillian
Nordica, although she soon separated from him. He became interested in
ballooning. The last scene in his life before the curtain dropped showed
a balloon over the waters of the English Channel. A fishing boat hails
him, “Where are you bound?” Gower’s voice replies, “To London.” Then the
balloon and its pilot drifted into the mist forever.

          Developing a Calling Apparatus; the Watson “Buzzer”

    [Illustration: _Francis Blake_]

As I said, I went back to work, and my next two years was a continuous
performance. It began to dawn on us that people engaged in getting their
living in the ordinary walks of life couldn’t be expected to keep the
telephone at their ear all the time waiting for a call, especially as it
weighed about ten pounds then and was as big as a small packing case, so
it devolved on me to get up some sort of a call signal. Williams on his
line used to call by thumping the diaphragm through the mouthpiece with
the butt of a lead pencil. If there was someone close to the telephone
at the other end, and it was very still, it did pretty well, but it
seriously damaged the vitals of the machine and therefore I decided it
wasn’t really practical for the general public; besides, we might have
to supply a pencil with every telephone and that would be expensive.
Then I rigged a little hammer inside the box with a button on the
outside. When the button was thumped the hammer would hit the side of
the diaphragm where it could not be damaged, the usual electrical
transformation took place, and a much more modest but still unmistakable
thump would issue from the telephone at the other end.

That was the first calling apparatus ever devised for use with the
telephone, not counting Williams’ lead pencil, and several with that
attachment were put into practical use. But the exacting public wanted
something better, and I devised the Watson “Buzzer”—the only practical
use we ever made of the harmonic telegraph relics. Many of these were
sent out. It was a vast improvement on the Watson “Thumper,” but still
it didn’t take the popular fancy. It made a sound quite like the
horseradish grater automobile signal we are so familiar with nowadays,
and aroused just the same feeling of resentment which that does. It
brought me only a fleeting fame for I soon superseded it by a
magneto-electric call bell that solved the problem, and was destined to
make a long-suffering public turn cranks for the next fifteen years or
so, as it never had before, or ever will hereafter.

    [Illustration: _The Blake Transmitter_]

Perhaps I didn’t have any trouble with the plaguy thing! The generator
part of it was only an adaptation of a magneto shocking machine I found
in Davis’ Manual of Magnetism and worked well enough, but I was guilty
of the jingling part of it. At any rate, I felt guilty when letters
began to come from our agents reciting their woes with the thing, which
they said had a trick of sticking and failing on the most important
occasions to tinkle in response to the frantic crankings of the man who
wanted you. But I soon got it so it behaved itself and it has been good
ever since, for Chief Engineer Carty told me the other day that nothing
better has ever been invented, that they have been manufactured by the
millions all over the world, and that identical jingler to-day does
practically all the world’s telephone calling.

                          “Williams’ Coffins”

For some reason, my usual good luck I presume, the magneto call bells
didn’t get my name attached to them. I never regretted this, for the
agents, who bought them from Williams, impressed by the long and narrow
box in which the mechanism was placed, promptly christened them
“Williams’ Coffins.” I always thought that a narrow escape for me!

The first few hundreds of these call bells were a continuous shock to me
for other reasons than their failure to respond. I used on them a
switch, that had to be thrown one way by hand, when the telephone was
being used, and then thrown back by hand to put the bell in circuit
again. But the average man or woman wouldn’t do this more than half the
time, and I was obliged to try a series of devices, which culminated in
that remarkable achievement of the human brain—the automatic switch—that
only demanded of the public that it should hang up the telephone after
it got through talking. This the public learned to do quite well after a
few years of practice.

    [Illustration: _The First Commercial Telephone Switchboard, Used in
    New Haven, Conn., in 1878 with Eight Lines and Twenty-one

                         The Blake Transmitter

You wouldn’t believe me if I should tell you a tithe of the difficulties
we got into by flexible cords breaking inside the covering, when we
first began to use hand telephones!

Then they began to clamor for switchboards for the first centrals, and
individual call bells began to keep me awake nights. The latter were
very important then, for such luxuries as one station lines were scarce.
Six to twenty stations on a wire was the rule, and we were trying hard
to get a signal that would call one station without disturbing the whole
town. All of these and many other things had to be done at once, and, as
if this was not enough, it suddenly became necessary for me to devise a
battery transmitter. The Western Union people had discovered that the
telephone was not such a toy as they had thought, and as our $100,000
offer was no longer open for acceptance, they decided to get a share of
the business for themselves, and Edison evolved for them his
carbon-button transmitter. This was the hardest blow yet.

    [Illustration: _Theodore N. Vail in 1878_]

We were still using the magneto transmitter, although Bell’s patent
clearly covered the battery transmitter. Our transmitter was doing much
to develop the American voice and lungs, making them powerful but not
melodious. This was, by the way, the telephone epoch when they used to
say that all the farmers waiting in a country grocery would rush out and
hold their horses when they saw any one preparing to use the telephone.
Edison’s transmitter talked louder than the magnetos we were using and
our agents began to clamor for them, and I had to work nights to get up
something just as good. Fortunately for my constitution, Frank Blake
came along with his transmitter. We bought it and I got a little sleep
for a few days. Then our little David of a corporation sued that big
Goliath, the Western Union Company, for infringing the Bell patents, and
I had to devote my leisure to testifying in that suit, and making
reproductions of the earliest apparatus to prove to the court that they
would really talk and were not a bluff, as our opponents were asserting.

Then I put in the rest of my leisure making trips among our agents this
side of the Mississippi to bring them up to date and see what the enemy
were up to. I kept a diary of those trips. It reads rather funnily
to-day, but I won’t go into that. It would detract from the seriousness
of this discourse.

                             Wire Troubles

Nor must I forget an occasional diversion in the way of a sleet storm
which, combining with our wires then beginning to fill the air with
house top lines and pole lines along the sidewalks, would make things
extremely interesting for all concerned. I don’t remember ever going out
to erect new poles and run wires after such a catastrophe. I think I
must have done so, but such a trifling matter naturally would have made
but little impression upon me.

Is it any wonder that my memory of those two years seems like a
combination of the Balkan war, the rush hours on the subway and a panic
on the stock market?

    [Illustration: _Location of the First Telephone Switchboard in
    Boston—Holmes Burglar Alarm Building_]


I was always glad I was not treasurer of the company, although I filled
about all the other offices during those two years. Tom Sanders was our
treasurer, and a mighty good one he made. Had it not been for his pluck
and optimism, we might all of us have failed to attain the prosperity
that came to us later. The preparation of this paper has aroused in me
many delightful memories, but with them have been mixed sad thoughts,
too, for friends who have gone. Jovial Tom Sanders! How everybody loved
him! No matter how discouraging the outlook was the skies cleared
whenever he came into the shop. I can hear his ringing laugh now!

It was a red-letter day for me when he hired the first bookkeeper the
telephone business ever had—the keen, energetic, systematic Robert W.
Devonshire. You must not forget “Dev.” I never shall, for after he came
I didn’t have to keep the list of telephone leases in my head any more.

Then Thomas D. Lockwood was hired to take part of my engineering load,
but he developed such an extraordinary faculty for comprehending the
intricacies of patents and patent law, that our lawyers captured him
very soon, and kept him at work until he practically captured their job.
And how proud I was when the company could afford the extravagance of a
clerk for me. He is still working for the company—Mr. George W. Pierce.

I suppose I did have some fun during this time, but the only diversion
that lingers in my mind is arranging telephones in a diver’s helmet for
the first time, and finding that the diver could not hear when he was
under water, going down myself to see what the matter was. I still feel
the pathos of the moment, when, arrayed for the descent, just before I
disappeared beneath the limpid waters of Boston harbor, my usually
undemonstrative assistant put his arm around my inflated neck and kissed
me on the glass plate.

                     The Coming of Theodore N. Vail

But matters soon began to straighten out—the clouds gradually cleared
away. The Western Union tornado ceased to rage, and David found to his
delight that he had hit Goliath squarely in the forehead with a rock
labelled Patent No. 174465. Then for the first time stock in the Bell
Company began to be worth something on the stock market.

    [Illustration: _Wooden Hand Telephone Used Commercially in 1877. It
    Resembles the Present Desk Telephone Receiver_]

Something else happened about that time fully as important. The Company
awoke to the fact that the Watson generator was overloaded, and that it
ought to get a new dynamo. Watson could still hold up the engineering
end perhaps, but we must have a business manager. President Hubbard said
he knew just the man for us—a thousand horsepower steam engine wasting
his abilities in the United States Railway Mail Service, and he sent me
down to Washington to investigate and report.

I must have been impressed, for I telegraphed to Mr. Hubbard to hire the
man if he could raise money enough to pay his salary. He did so. This
was one of the best things I ever helped to do. When the new manager
came to work a short time later, he said to me: “Watson, I want my desk
alongside of yours for a few months until I learn the ropes.” But the
balance of the conceit that previous two years had not knocked out of me
vanished, when in about a fortnight, I found he knew all I had learned,
and that at the end of a month I was toddling along in the rear trying
to catch up, which I never did. He has still quite an important position
in the business. His name is Theodore N. Vail. May his light never dim
for many and many a year!

  (_Editor’s Note: Mr. Vail died Apr. 16, 1920._)

                            The Bell System

The needs of the new business attracted other men with good ideas who
entered our service, such men as Emile Berliner and George L. Anders and
many others. Every agency became a center of inventive activity, each
with its special group of ingenious, thinking men—every one of whom
contributed something, and sometimes a great deal to the improvement of
apparatus or methods. I remember particularly Ed. Gilliland, of
Indianapolis, an ingenious man and excellent mechanic, who improved the
generator of my magneto call bell, shortening the box and making it less

He did much also for central office switchboards.

This was the beginning of the great wave of telephonic activity, not
only in electrical and mechanical invention, but also in business and
operative organization, which has been increasing in its force ever
since, to which men in this audience have made and are making splendid
contributions. To-day that wave has become a mighty flood on which the
great Bell system floats majestically as it moves ever onward to new

                      Turning to Other Activities

My connection with the telephone business ceased in 1881. The strenuous
years I had passed through had fixed in me a habit of not sleeping
nights as much as I should, and a doctor man told me I would better go
abroad for a year or two for a change. There was not the least need of
this, but as it coincided exactly with my desires, and as the telephone
business had become, I thought, merely a matter of routine, with nothing
more to do except pay dividends and fight infringers, I resigned my
position as General Inspector of the Company, and went over the ocean
for the first time.

When I returned to this country a year or so later, I found the
telephone business had not suffered in the least from my absence, but
there were so many better men doing the work that I had been doing, that
I didn’t care to go into it again.

I was looking for more trouble in life and so I went into shipbuilding,
where I found all I needed.

Before Mr. Bell went to England on his bridal trip, we agreed that as
soon as the telephone became a matter of routine business he and I would
begin experimenting on flying machines, on which subject he was full of
ideas at that early time. I never carried out this agreement. Bell did
some notable work on airships later, but I turned my attention to

                           My Greatest Pride

Such is my very inadequate story of the earliest days of the telephone
so far as they made part of my life. To-day when I go into a central
office or talk over a long distance wire or read the annual report of
the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, filled with figures up in
the millions and even billions, when I think of the growth of the
business, and the marvelous improvements that have been made since the
day I left it, thinking there was nothing more to do but routine, I must
say that all that early work I have told you about seems to shrink into
a very small measure, and, proud as I always shall be, that I had the
opportunity of doing some of that earliest work myself, my greatest
pride is that I am one of the great army of telephone men, every one of
whom has played his part in making the Bell Telephone service what it is

I thank you.

                   Early Chronology of the Telephone

  1847,   March 3—Birth of Alexander Graham Bell at Edinburgh, Scotland.
  1854,   January 18—Birth of Thomas A. Watson at Salem, Mass.
  1870,   August 1—Bell moves to America with his parents, arriving in
          Canada on this date, and settling at Brantford, Ontario.
  1872,   October 1—Permanent residence in the United States taken up
          by Bell at 35 West Newton Street, Boston.
  1875,   February 27—Written agreement between Bell, Sanders, and
          Hubbard forming “Bell Patent Association” to promote
          inventor’s work in telegraph field.
          June 2—Bell completes the invention of the Telephone,
          electrically transmitting overtones for the first time and
          verifying his principle of the electrical transmission of
          speech at 109 Court Street, Boston.
          June 3—First telephone instrument constructed by Watson
          according to Bell’s specifications.
          September—Bell at Brantford begins writing specifications for
          a telephone patent.
  1876,   February 14—Application for telephone patent filed with U. S.
          Patent Office, Washington, D. C.
          March 7—U. S. Patent 174,465 issued to Bell, covering
          fundamental principles of the Electric Speaking Telephone.
          March 10—First complete sentence transmitted by telephone by
          Bell to Watson, “Mr. Watson, come here; I want you.” Between
          two rooms at 5 Exeter Place, Boston.
          June 25—Bell exhibits his Telephone to the Judges of the
          Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, on which he is awarded
          the Exhibition’s medal.
          August 10—Experimental one-way talk—8 miles, Brantford to
          Paris, Ontario.
          September 1—Contract with Thomas A. Watson for one-half his
          time—the beginning of telephone research laboratories.
          October 9—First experimental two-way telephone conversation
          between different towns—2 miles, between Boston and
          Cambridgeport, Mass.
          November 26—Conversation over railroad telegraph wires—16
          miles, Boston to Salem.
  1877,   February 12—Bell’s first public lecture and demonstration of
          his new invention given before the Essex Institute in Salem,
          where he had lived and had done some of his experimenting.
          April 4—First outdoor line for regular telephone use
          installed—Boston to Somerville.
          May 17—Telephone lines first interconnected by means of an
          experimental switchboard at 342 Washington Street, Boston.
          July 9—“Bell Telephone Co., Gardiner G. Hubbard, Trustee,”
          the first telephone organization, formed.
          August 1—First stock issue—5,000 shares—dividing interest in
          the business between seven original stockholders: A. G. Bell,
          Mrs. Bell, G. G. Hubbard, Mrs. Hubbard, C. E. Hubbard, Thomas
          Sanders and Thomas A. Watson.
          August 10—First Bell telephone employee hired in
          Boston—Robert W. Devonshire.
  1878,   January 28—Opening of first commercial telephone exchange at
          New Haven, Conn., serving 8 lines and 21 telephones.
          May 22—Theodore N. Vail accepts General Managership of Bell
          Telephone Company.
  1879,   March 13—Certificate of Incorporation filed in Boston for
          National Bell Telephone Company for purpose of unifying
          telephone development throughout the country.
          November 10—Agreement signed by Western Union Telegraph Co.
          admitting validity of Bell’s basic telephone patents.
  1880,   December 31—47,900 Bell telephones in the United States.
  1881,   January 1—First telephone dividend, inaugurating a continuous
          regular series of payments to stockholders.
          January 10—Formal opening of telephone service by overhead
          wire between Boston and Providence—45 miles. A metallic
          circuit was first successfully tried out on this route by J.
          J. Carty.
  1882,   April 16—Experimental laying of underground telephone cable—5
          miles, Attleboro to West Mansfield, Mass.
  1884,   March 27—Telephone service opened experimentally between
          Boston and New York by overhead wires of hard-drawn
          copper—235 miles.
  1885,   March 3—Certificate of Incorporation filed in Albany, N. Y.,
          for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company for the
          purpose of effecting intercommunication “with one or more
          points in each and every other city, town or place in said
          State, and in each and every other of the United States, and
          in Canada and Mexico—and also by cable and other appropriate
          means with the rest of the known world.”

                          Telephone Milestones

  1892    Service opened between New York and Chicago, 900 miles.
  1902    First long-distance underground cable in use, 10 miles—New
          York to Newark.
  1915    First conversation from coast to coast, 3,650 miles—Boston to
          San Francisco.
  1921    Opening of deep sea cable, 115 miles—Key West, Fla., to
          Havana, Cuba.
  1927    Transatlantic telephone service opened between New York and
          London, 3,500 miles.
          First public demonstration of television by wire and radio.
  1929    Ship-to-shore telephone service established.
  1931    Teletypewriter exchange service inaugurated.
  1935    First telephone call around the world.
  1937    Connections possible to 93% of world’s telephones.
  1938    Direct radio telephone circuit established between San
          Francisco and Australia.

    [Illustration: _The map shows areas served generally by the
    principal telephone subsidiaries of the American Telephone and
    Telegraph Company; also areas served by The Southern New England
    Telephone Company and The Cincinnati and Suburban Bell Telephone
    Company, which companies are not controlled but have license
    contract arrangements with the American Company. Other telephone
    companies also operate in nearly all of these areas and have
    connecting arrangements with Bell System companies._]

                         BELL SYSTEM STATISTICS

                           Dec. 31, 1920  Dec. 31, 1925  Dec. 31, 1930  Dec. 31, 1935  Dec. 31, 1938

 Number of Telephones[2]       8,133,759     11,909,571     15,187,296     13,573,025     15,761,095
 Number of Central                 5,767          6,147          6,639          6,896          6,975
 Miles of Pole Lines             362,481        394,529        428,212        407,454        399,368
 Miles of Wire:
    In Underground Cable      14,207,000     27,769,000     45,116,000     47,639,000     50,783,000
    In Aerial Cable            6,945,000     12,835,000     23,777,000     26,425,000     28,072,000
    Open Wire                  3,711,000      4,339,000      5,231,000      4,562,000      4,590,000
 Total                        24,863,000     44,943,000     74,124,000     78,626,000     83,445,000
 Per Cent Total Wire                85.1           90.3           92.9           94.2           94.5
   Mileage in Cable
 Average Daily Telephone
    Exchange                  31,818,000     48,051,000     61,150,000     58,066,000     67,400,000
    Toll and Long              1,307,000      2,090,000      2,884,000      2,224,000      2,497,000
 Total                        33,125,000     50,141,000     64,034,000     60,290,000     69,897,000
 Total Plant              $1,373,802,000 $2,566,809,000 $4,028,836,000 $4,187,790,000 $4,489,078,000
 Number of Employees[4]          228,943        292,902        318,119        241,169        257,443
 Number of A.T.&T. Co.           139,448        362,179        567,694        657,465        646,882


[1]“Ahoy!” was the first telephone shout, and was used during the
    experiments, but “hello!” superseded it when the telephone got into
    practical use.

[2]Excludes private line telephones numbering 79,612 on December 31,
    1938. Including telephones of about 6,500 connecting companies and
    more than 25,000 connecting rural lines, the total number of
    telephones in the United States which can be interconnected is
    approximately 19,885,000.

[3]For year ending December 31.

[4]The employees of the Western Electric Company, Inc., and the Bell
    Telephone Laboratories, Inc., numbering 34,910 on December 31, 1938,
    are not included.

                         PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.

    [Illustration: 109 Court Street, Boston, Where Bell Discovered the
    Principle of the Speaking Telephone]

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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