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By FLOYD L. DARROW
DO you realize that Armistice Day, 1921, will be remembered throughout the decades and the centuries to come as an historic occasion? As all the world knows, President Harding, speaking at Arlington Cemetery overthecasket of the Unknown Soldier, was heard by reverent thousands in Washington, New York, and San Francisco. Not only that, but the speeches of the foreign diplomats, the music, the singing of hymns, the beautiful burial service, the peals of artillery, and the sounding of taps were transmitted from ocean to ocean. The vast audiences in New York and San Francisco heard the whole program as well as did those who stood within the marble amphitheater at Arlington itself. Special telephone transmitters caught the sound-waves, and ordinary telephone-wires carried them to the extremes of the continent, where they were reproduced by vacuum-tube amplifiers and a newly invented loud-speaking projector. These same amplifying devices were used to enable the hundred thousand gathered on the slopes about the cemetery to hear the addresses and the music. It is now entirely possible for the President of this republic to be heard by every man, woman, and child from ocean to ocean and from the Gulf to the Lakes. This invention marks an epoch in the art of communication and the power of human speech. Its full meaning will grow with the years. These amplifying telephones, placed in legislative and convention halls, will enable the poorest speaker in the land to make his voice resound with the resonance and volume of a Demosthenes or a Daniel Webster.
AN AUTOMATIC TELEPHONE
THE INVENTOR AND HIS ASSISTANT
THE story of how the first feeble cry of the baby telephone, uttered in a garret nearly a half-century ago, has grown until it now fills the nation is one of the fascinating chapters in the history of American achievement.
On the afternoon of June 2, 1875, in the hot, stuffy attic of Williams' Electrical Shop at 109 Court Street, Boston, a man and an apprentice lad were hard at work over a balky piece of electrical mechanism. For many weeks this man and boy had been engaged on the invention of a musical telegraph, by which they hoped to be able to send a large number of messages over a single wire at the same time—in other words, a telegraph that would send not clicking signals, but musical notes. Yet despite every effort, the device stubbornly refused to operate as its inventor had long hoped and steadfastly believed it would. And then on this memorable afternoon, without knowing it, they were about to make history. A new voice was to take its place in the orchestra of human speech. The genius of the inventor was to find its reward in the birth of the telephone.
The man was Alexander Graham Bell, a young Scotsman who had come to this country a few years before to seek health and fortune in a new land. His assistant was Thomas A. Watson, an employee in the electrical shop of Charles Williams. As described by Watson, Bell was at this time “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.” For generations his people had been interested in human speech.
Adopting the profession of his family, Bell became a teacher of deaf-mutes by a system of “visible speech” (teaching speech by lipmovement) invented by his father. After completing his education, he went to London, where he made the acquaintance of Sir Charles Wheatstone, the inventor of the English telegraph. On this occasion he learned that the German physicist Helmholtz had vibrated tuning-forks by means of electromagnets. Fascinated as he always was with anything having to do with the production of sound, this fact deeply impressed Bell. If an electric current could be made to vibrate a tuning-fork, why could not a vibrating reed or fork be made to vary an electric current so as to reproduce sound? Thus, with the insight of true genius, did Bell grasp the idea of a musical telegraph. Why should
it not be possible to send as many messages over a single wire as there are notes on a piano? This was the big idea with which Bell started, and the nucleus about which the telephone grew. Shortly after coming to America, Bell was engaged by the Board of Education of Boston to introduce his system of visible speech
his wife, and her father, Gardiner Hubbard, a prominent lawyer of Boston, helped make a commercial success of Bell's invention. In his laboratory at Salem, Bell worked incessantly. Sleep was of no consideration. Sanders says: “Bell would often awaken me in the middle of the night, his black eyes blazing with excitement. Leaving me to go
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL, INVENTOR OF THE TELEPHONE
in a school for deaf-mutes that had just been established in that city. His work met with very great success, and he was soon appointed to a professorship in Boston University. A little later he established a school of his own, and absorbed in professional work, he had little time to think of a musical telegraph.
HOW BELL’S TWO PUPILS HELPED HIM
ABOUT this time there came into Bell's life two influences destined to have a profound effect upon his whole future career. He received as a private pupil a little deaf-mute, Georgie Sanders, who lived with his grandmother in Salem. As part payment for his services, Bell went to live in the Sanders home, where he was allowed to have a workshop in the basement. He also made a warm friend of the boy's father, Thomas Sanders, without whose sympathy and financial assistance the invention of the telephone would have been impossible. There also came to him at this time another private pupil, Mabel Hubbard, a girl of fifteen, who had lost her hearing in infancy. Not only did she take the keenest interest in his electrical experiments, but four years later she became
down to the cellar, he would rush wildly to the barn and begin to send me signals along his experimental wires. If I noticed any improvement in his apparatus, he would be delighted. He would leap and whirl around in one of his ‘war-dances,’ and then go contentedly to bed. But if the experiment was a failure, he would go back to his work-bench to try some different plan.” Slowly there dawned upon Bell's mind a still larger idea. “If I can make a deaf-mute talk,” he said, “I can make iron talk.” At first only a dream, this idea of sending the spoken word itself over an electrified wire grew into a deep conviction. His interest in a musical telegraph began to vanish. With an enthusiasm scarcely ever equaled, Bell set himself to the invention of an actual talking telegraph. But Sanders and Hubbard had no faith in his new project and refused further assistance unless he should devote at least a part of his time to the musical telegraph.
BELL's EXPERIMENTS IN THE PRODUCTION OF A TALKING TELEGRAPH
THEREFORE he divided his time between the two, working faithfully for a portion of each day upon his original idea. But his heart was in the invention of a telephone. At the same time, Bell had been trying to improve his system of visible speech. In these experiments he used a speakingtrumpet as transmitter and a harp as receiver. In this way he discovered that he could make sound-waves plainly visible by speaking against a membrane to which he had attached a short pointer or stylus. Dr. Clarence J.
HOME OF THOMAS SANDERS, SALEM, MASS. where BELL ExPERIMENTED
Blake, a Boston surgeon, suggested the use of a human ear-drum, and provided one for Bell's use. Bell moistened the drum with glycerin and attached to it a straw. Then he spoke so that the sound waves of his voice would strike the drum, at the same time drawing a smoked glass across the straw stylus. The result was a beautiful series of curves showing the vibrations of the human voice. In the weird light of his basement laboratory Bell must have presented a curious appearance as he shouted into this eardrum. Well might the inhabitants of Salem have thought that the witches of old had come back to disturb once more their peaceful town. But as though the “stars in their courses” were directing his work, this idea of a vibrating membrane was like the inspiration of genius to Bell at this point in the invention of the telephone. Here was the delicate ear-drum which, in response to the sound-waves of the human voice, sets into vibration the heavy bones behind it. “Why,” he asked himself, “should not a vibrating iron disc set an iron rod or an electrified wire into vibration?” How this was to be done, he did not know; but at last he was moving in the right direction.
These early days of Bell were beset with poverty. His professional income had practically vanished. His two remaining pupils barely supplied him with the necessities of life. Sanders and Hubbard provided funds for his experimental work only. He wrote his mother at this time:
I am now beginning to realize the cares and anxieties of being an inventor. I have had to put off all pupils and classes, for flesh and blood could not stand much longer such a strain as I have had put upon me.
This was in 1874, and Bell was then established in the attic of Williams’ Electrical Shop in Boston. Sanders and Hubbard were paying his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, nine dollars a week, and the inventors were dividing their time between the musical telegraph and the telephone.
JUNE 2, 1875
AND now we have reached the memorable afternoon to which we have already referred. Bell's telegraph comprised, among other things, clock-spring reeds which were vibrated by electromagnets, very much like the clappers of electric house-bells. Watson was sending, and Bell, receiving. As Watson pressed down the key to make the clockspring at the sending end of the wire vibrate, the contact points fused together. As a result, the clock-spring was held down by its electromagnet, just as an ordinary horseshoe magnet attracts and holds a needle. Watson tried to pluck the spring free. This made it vibrate over the electromagnet. Bell, with blazing eyes and alive with excitement, came rushing into the room. A feeble sound had at last passed over the wire and his keen ear had caught it. “What did you do then?” he demanded of Watson. “Don’t change anything. Let me see.” The first faint cry of the baby telephone had passed into history. In that moment a new epoch in the art of communication was born. The fundamental principle of the modern telephone was operating in that simple apparatus. By accident, the current was flowing continuously through the electromagnets and the line. The plucking of the spring had varied the intensity of this current and thrown into vibration the corresponding clock-spring at the receiving end of the line. The discovery had been made—one of the greatest in all history. The rest was a mere matter of detail and mechanical adjustment. It seems easy now. But the inventors worked for forty long weeks before they made their telephone talk. The very afternoon of the discovery, Bell gave Watson directions for making the first telephone. Watson says: “I was to mount a small drumhead of gold-beaters' 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. I made every part of that first telephone myself, but I did n’t realize while I was working on it what a tremendously important piece of work I was doing.”
Forty weeks of patient experimentation, and then, on March 10, 1876, Watson heard distinctly, through the telephone-receiver, this message, “Mr. Watson, please come here; I want you.” And this message will be as immortal as that other one, “What hath God wrought?”
Progress now became rapid and certain. Watson says, “The telephone was soon talking so well that one did n’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
THE fates were kind to Bell. The stage had already been set for the coming of his great invention. The Centennial Exposition was just opening in Philadelphia, and this afforded precisely the opportunity that he needed. Bell, himself, had not expected to attend the exposition. Overcome at the grief of his fiancée, when, at the railroad station, she learned that he would not accompany her, Bell rushed madly after the moving train and climbed aboard. Hubbard had secured for Bell for the exhibition of his apparatus, a small table in an out-of-the-way corner of the Education Building. But no one visited him. No one was interested in his invention. It was only a “toy.” “What if speech could be sent over a wire? Of what value could that be?” No one had the vision to see the tremendous possibilities hidden within this crude piece of mechanism. But Bell patiently awaited the judges' tour of inspection. At last they came. It was just at dusk. Tired and hungry after a long day of continuous observation, they were in no mood to waste time over a useless “plaything.” One or two approached the table, picked up the instru
ment, fingered it listlessly, and the group was about to pass on.
Just then one of the dramatic moments of history arrived. There was to be enacted a scene worthy of the brush and genius of a master artist. At that instant, Dom Pedro, who was then emperor of Brazil, followed by a company of gaily attired courtiers, appeared, and, rushing up to Bell, greeted him with great fervor. Dom Pedro had visited Bell's school for deaf-mutes years before, and had been much interested in his system of visible speech. He was now intensely interested in the new invention. Walking to the other end of the line, Dom Pedro placed the receiver to his ear. Bell spoke and the emperor dropped the instrument, exclaiming, “It talks!”
There in the twilight stood the judges, awed and silent witnesses of this picturesque, but momentous, event. One by one they came forward, utterly forgetful of weariness and hunger, each in his turn eager to test this latest marvel of science and invention. There were Joseph Henry and Sir William Thompson, the latter declaring it to be “the most wonderful thing he had seen in America.” From that moment, Bell's telephone became the most popular exhibit of the exposition, and overnight its inventor leaped to world fame.
EARLY WORK OF PUBLICITY
ALTHOUGH the telephone had taken rank as the most wonderful bit of mechanism ever produced, still the interest in it was only that of curiosity. No one could see any possible use for it. Its inventor might have won fame, but no fortune seemed to await him. The public was deeply skeptical. Therefore the public must be educated. To this task of winning popular favor, Gardiner G. Hubbard immediately devoted himself. With an enthusiasm and a breadth of vision scarcely equaled elsewhere in the history of invention, he became the apostle of the telephone. Hubbard's first step was to arrange a series of ten lectures, to be given by Bell and Watson. The first demonstration was given before the Essex Institute of Salem. Having no lines of their own, they borrowed the use of a telegraph-wire for the occasion. Bell gave the lecture, while Watson, located in the Boston laboratory, provided the entertainment. At the request of Bell, Watson played various musical instruments, and although not a singer, he was required to render such favorite songs as “Auld Lang Syne” and “Do not trust him, gentle lady.” The audience was delighted. Public skepticism vanished. Newspaper editors featured the performance. Invitations to repeat the lecture came like a flood. And yet the interest was still only that of curiosity. But these lectures did bear fruit. They acquainted the public with the telephone; and with their financial returns, Bell was able to marry and sail for Europe on his weddingtrip.
THE BELL COMPANY AND THE WESTERN UNION
WHILE Bell was in Europe, Hubbard organized the “Bell Telephone Association,” with Bell, Hubbard, Sanders, and Watson as partners. The first out-of-door telephone-line to be established was between the Williams' Electrical Shop in Boston and Mr. Williams's home in Somerville. But no one seemed to care for telephone service. Then the unexpected happened. A man from Charlestown, named Emery, came into Hubbard's office one afternoon and laid down twenty dollars for the lease of two telephones. This was the first money ever received for a commercial telephone. In the promise it gave of future rewards, it was worth more than a million dollars would have been a dozen years later.
Not realizing the value of his invention, Bell had already offered it to the powerful Western Union Telegraph Company for $100,000. But the “scientific toy” was rejected. The Western Union never dreamed that its monopoly of wire communication could be shaken. And then several of its New York patrons removed the printing telegraph-machines from their offices and replaced them with telephones. Alarmed at this invasion of their private domain, the Western Union immediately awoke. They at once organized the “American Speaking Telephone Company,” with a capital of $300,000, and enlisted the services of Gray, Edison, and Dolbear as electrical experts and inventors.
BELL’s RIVAL CLAIMANTS
THE only regrettable incidents of the telephone history are those connected with the attempts to rob Bell of his rights. On March 7, 1876, Bell had been granted a patent on
his invention. This has been described as the “most valuable single patent ever issued.” It is a remarkable fact that on the same day that Bell filed his application for a patent, Elisha Gray filed a claim for a similar one. Although Gray never perfected a successful telephone, the Western Union seized upon his claims and began suit against the Bell Company. The little group of telephone pioneers fought the attack with the ablest legal talent of Boston. They demonstrated conclusively that Bell was the rightful inventor of the telephone, and the Western Union made peace. They surrendered to the Bell people a monopoly of the telephone field. The result was magical. The Bell stock shot to $1,000 a share. At this point the original promoters sold out their interests, each receiving a comfortable fortune, and turned the business over to other men.
THEODORE N. VAIL
WHEN the Western Union attacked the Bell patents and public skepticism vanished, business grew so rapidly that a general manager became a necessity. For this post Hubbard selected a young man named Theodore N. Vail, the head of the government railway mail service. For executive ability and sheer genius for organization, Theodore Vail has never had a superior. He came to a bankrupt company whose affairs were in utter chaos. But his enthusiasm was unbounded. His faith in the possibilities of the telephone never faltered. In his prophetic vision he glimpsed the future as no other man has ever done. In 1879 he said, “I saw that if the telephone could talk one mile to-day, it would be talking a hundred miles tomorrow.” Under his direction, funds were raised, legal battles fought, agents licensed, exchanges established, and many hundreds of miles of wire strung. It was his dream to make the telephone the servant of the nation. His motto was, “One policy, one system, and universal service.” Without Theodore Vail, the Bell Company must have died in its infancy. Back in the midnight of financial chaos and legal battle, Edison had invented for the Western Union a transmitter that made their instruments vastly superior to those of the Bell Company. The Bell agents clamored for something just as good. But just at this critical moment Francis Blake, a young inventor of Boston, appeared with a microphone transmitter that was just as good as