We give very little thought these days to picking up a phone and calling anywhere in the world. Or texting. Or snapchatting. We are immensely connected to one another, a reality that has had monumental implications on our societies, economies, and more.
The world was entirely different just 140 years ago, when Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call to his assistant Thomas A. Watson, who was in the next room. (Couldn’t he just get up and walk over to his desk?!)
Bell, like several members of his family, devoted his life to the study of sound, specifically elocution, acoustics, and speech. His interest was motivated by the fact that both his mother and his wife were deaf.
In the years preceding Bell’s famous invention, telegraph communication was popular, consisting of tones transmitted via telegraph wire. However, it was clear that this form of communication would not suffice for long. From his laboratory in Boston, Bell went to work on developing a solution for transmitting sound via wire.
Initial experiments with transmitted sound produced promising, yet muffled results. To be effective, this technology would have to transmit the human voice clearly enough to be understood by someone on the receiving end.
As with many innovations, Bell was not the only inventor working to produce a feasible solution for transmitting vocal sound, but he was the first to patent the invention, issued on March 7, 1876, as U.S. patent #174,465, for “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically … by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound.”
Three days later, he demonstrated a working prototype of the telephone, by calling his assistant Watson. He said, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.”
And with that, the telephone was born!
(Curiously, Watson remembers the famous words slightly differently, as instead being “Mr. Watson – Come here – I want you,” so you could say that this was also the first game of telephone as well!)