The Story of Alexander Graham Bell

On October 9, 1876, the first outdoor telephone conversation between Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson happened. Bell communicated with a telegraph line by word of mouth from an office located in Boston, with Watson who was at a factory in Cambridge port-2 miles away. This article sheds more light on the road to the first telephone conversation ever.

The Early Life of Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell is a scientist, innovator, engineer and inventor born on 3rd March 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was popularly known for inventing the telephone. Bell became interested in the study of sound due to his background. His father and uncle were experts in speech correction and elocution for the deaf. In 1870, Bell and his parents decided to move from Scotland to Canada after his two elder brothers died of tuberculosis.

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Alexander Graham Bell and family, Graham Bell at far left, with father, mother, brother Melville Bell and brother Edward Bell, who died as a young man, 1870. Note: Image has been digitally colorized using a modern process. Colors may not be period-accurate. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).

On moving to Canada, the Bells built a speech therapy school specialized in teaching the deaf how to speak. Even though his principal source of income was from the school of the deaf, Bell’s inquisitive character and pursuit for knowledge made him pursue his studies of sound during his free time. This pursuit for knowledge led him to the invention of the photophone, metal detector, of course, the telephone.

From Telegraph to Telephone

Bell’s fantastic invention of the telephone came as a result of his previous endeavors to improve the telegraph. Just like the telephone, the telegraph is a wire-based electrical system. It was also used as a means of communication, but it was limited to receiving and sending one message at a time.

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In the centennial year of 1876, Alexander Graham Bell sent his first telephone message. Here he is 16 years later, surrounded by executives, making the first call between New York and Chicago. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Bell wanted to make it possible to send multiple messages with the telegraph at a time. People have talked about the idea of multiple telegraphs, but no one had been able to come up with anything tangible—until Bell. Bells telegraph was based on the fact that several sound signals could be sent simultaneously if the signals had different pitches.

Bell’s Groundbreaking Invention

During the latter part of Bell’s Telegraph project, he decided to tell his future father-in-law, Gardiner Green Hubbard, who gave him the money he needed to complete his “multiple telegraphs.” Hubbard was interested in his project because he saw it as an opportunity to end the monopoly of the Western Union Telegraph Company.

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American inventor Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) with one of his inventions, ca. 1910. Bell engineered the first intelligible electronic transmission of voice and patented the telephone, and was a founding member and president of the National Geographic Society. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

By June 1875, Bell and Watson were certain that they would be successful with their goal of creating a telephone. Their experiments proved that different tones would create different currents in a wire. Their next agenda was to build a device with a membrane that could convert those tones to varying electric currents and a receiver to convert the varying currents back to human sounds at the other end.

The First Telephone Call

It would happen that while Bell was working on his harmonic telegraph, he heard a sound over the wire. This was the sound of a vibrating clock spring.

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Alexander Graham Bell, the Scotsman who invented the telephone, experimented with giant man-carrying kites during the first decade of the 20th Century.

At that moment, Bell realized that a telephone invention was far better than that of the telegraph. The incident that day inspired him and Watson to increase their work speed. They kept on working till the next year. According to his work Journal, Bell recounted that breakthrough moment:

Bell spoke to his assistant Watson who was in another room, using the instrument and said: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Mr. Watson came to the room where Bell was and declared that he heard and understood him. That was the first telephone call.

The Big Fight

On 14 February 1876, Graham Bell filed the patent for his telephone at the United States Patent Office, 2 hours before a similar device developed by Elisha Gray. The two well-known inventors both independently designed devices that could transmit sound along electrical wires.

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Elisha’s telephone, dated 1896. Created by Elisha Gray (2nd August 1835 – 21st 1901), American inventor and competitor of Alexander Graham Bell. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

This caused a legal battle between both parties over the invention of the telephone, which Bell won in the end.

The Telephone Network Is Born

The news of the first telephone device spread like wildfire. The first telephone link from Boston to Somerville, Massachusetts was completed in 1877. Between 1877 and 1880, 47,900 telephones were being used in the United States.

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On 7 March 1876, Bell secured a patent for an electrical speech machine, which he called the telephone. After showing the instrument at the American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in June, news of the invention spread throughout Europe. He was asked to demonstrate the telephone to Queen Victoria (1819-1901) at Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. On the evening of 14th January, 1878 contact was made with nearby Osborne Cottage and terminals in Southampton and London. This telephone and terminal panel were used at Osborne Cottage. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

By 1881, the telephone service between Boston and Providence had been completed. Bell also went on to inaugurate a 1,520 km telephone link between Chicago and New York on 18 October 1892. Bell would then start his Telephone Company in 1877. After buying out major competitors, he would name the company American Telephone and Telegraph Co., which went on to become American only telephone company until 1984.

The First Telephone Exchange

In 1878, the first telephone exchanges were first established. Subscribers of telephones were required to connect their lines to each other. This was why early telephone were released in pairs.

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Experiments on the phone from Dr. Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), to transmit the human voice over long distances. Boston, 1877. The United States. 19th-century colored engraving. (Photo by Ipsumpix/Corbis via Getty Images)

11 years later, Almon B. Strowger developed a switch which made it easy for a line to connect any of other lines with the use of sliders and relays. Strowger was granted a patent for his device on Mach 11, 1891. It would go down in history as the first automatic telephone exchange. To place a call, subscribers had to tap a button a required number of times to produce the required number of impulses. The rotary dial in 1896 later replaced the button.

The Use of Pay Phones

Pay Phones were first introduced in 1889. William Gray invented it. He first installed it in Hartford Bank. Back then, people paid for the use of pay phones after the end of their calls.

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Woman Sitting and Using a Public Pay Telephone in Booth (Photo Credit Getty Images)

Pay Phones became very popular especially in the United States where there were over 100,000 payphones. At the start of the 21st century, there were more than 2 million pay phones in the US. However, since the rapid development of mobile technology, the use of pay phones has been on a steady decline.

The Advent of Cordless Phones

The very first cordless phones were used in 1986. In 1990, these phones were granted a frequency range of 900 MHz by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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Quick communication: Tom Warner and his ultra-modern cordless phone sit atop a slightly less modern telephone booth. (Photo by Mike Slaughter/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

This high-frequency range allowed these phones to run on less power and less interference. In 1994, digital cordless phones were introduced. A year later the digital spread spectrum was developed. These two developments enabled the security of cordless phones and prevented eavesdropping of telephone conversations. In 1998, digital cordless phones used a frequency range of 2.4 GHz. In the world we live in today, the frequency range of mobile phones is 5.8 GHz.

Mobile Phones Take-Over

Mobile phones were first designed for vehicles. AT&T launched them in 1946. They were not popularly used because they were big in size and had limited range. Cellular networks in 1980 replaced them.

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(Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)

Motorola introduced the first hand-held cellular phone in 1973, and since then the mobile phone network has continued to grow across the globe.