10th March 1876

Alexander Graham Bell gets the telephone to work

Edinburgh-born inventor Alexander Graham Bell was aptly named. He developed the telephone and went on to establish the US phone company, AT&T (the American Telephone and Telegraph Company). AT&T was originally called the Bell Telephone Company.

Rival inventions

When Bell developed the telephone, he was far from the only inventor working along those lines. Italian Antonio Meucci was developing his own telephone apparatus in the same lab as Bell and although he formulated his ideas a couple of years in advance of Bell, his research was lost and Bell was awarded a patent for a concept, broadly similar to what we would recognise as the fundamentals of telephone today, on 7 March 1876. Three days later, he got the device to work for the first time. Famously, the first words spoken were by Bell to his assistant, Thomas Watson. They were, “Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you.” The first two-way conversation didn’t take place until 9 October.

First demonstration

The Hamilton Daily Times of 27 October described how “telephones were placed at either end of a telegraph line owned by the Walworth Manufacturing Co., 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. [A] 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 took notes of what was said and heard, and the comparison of the two records is interesting, showing the accuracy of the electrical transmission at either end of the wire.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Bell’s apparatus, though, was not just the fact that it could transmit the spoken word but that a single wire could host multiple calls at once. This was not possible with the Morse-based telegraph lines that it replaced.

Accidental discovery

In many ways, Bell and Watson made the crucial discovery that enabled the telephone by accident. Recounting their work in the 19 August 1922 edition of the Pall Mall Gazette, Watson recalled how “we were hard at work on Bell’s harmonic telegraph apparatus, I in one room trying to send messages and he in another receiving them, one of the transmitter springs stopped vibrating, and Bell, hearing a strange sound, immediately called me, ‘What did you do there?’ There and then he realised that the sound he had heard over the wire was the first real sound ever carried by electricity to the ear of man. The speaking telephone was born at that moment.”

Bell died on 2 August 1922 and, on 5 August, the entire telephone service in the United States and Canada was suspended for one minute as a mark of respect to its inventor.



Other events that occured in March

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