THE STORY OF THE TELEPHONE
“Mr Watson, come here please; I want you.” With these commonplace words a new era was ushered in. That sentence marked the achievement of a man who changed the face of the world in his lifetime. For the speaker was Alexander Graham Bell, and the sentence was the first to be spoken and received over the telephone.
Although telegrams had been in use for some time and the equipment was in some ways similar, the morse-code being tapped out on the same telegraph wires, it was not sophisticated enough to pick up speech. No other invention has surpassed the usefulness of the telephone. Alexander Bell was bom on March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh.
His genius was inherited from his father, who was a famous teacher of elocution, and an expert on phonetics. Even as a boy his mind was inventive, but in 1870 Bell’s health began to fail and there were fears of tuberculosis. So, he left his native country with his father and went to Canada.
Two years later he was in Boston, where he set up a school for training teachers of the deaf and he also gave instruction in the mechanics of speech. Here he started experimenting on a machine which he believed would make the deaf ‘hear’.
While he was doing this, he accidentally came across the clue for the correct principles of telephony. “If,” he said, “a current of electricity could be made to vary in intensity precisely as the air varies in density, during the production of sound, I should be able to transmit speech telegraphically. ” So, he turned to studying the workings of a deaf man’s ear, and the movement of air while a sound is produced.
By February 15, 1876, Bell had filed an application for a patent for his ‘improvement in telegraphy’ at the United States Patent Office. Only two hours later, Elisha Gray of Chicago filed an application for almost the same invention! The great Edison, A.E. Dolbear and Daniel Drawbraugh were all working in the same field: all claimed the invention or part of the invention of the telephone.
The great telephone war was on!
There was hardly any time to spare. Bell and his assistant, Watson, hid themselves in two rooms of a cheap Boston boarding house, rigged up apparatus and worked day and night trying to transmit and receive sentences spoken by the human voice over the telephone. On the afternoon of March 10, 1876, Watson was in the basement with the receiver to his ear. Suddenly he started. Words – real distinguishable words – had come through at last. Sharply and clearly the sentence came through, “Mr Watson, come here, please; I want you.”
Watson flung down the receiver, rushed up the stairs like a schoolboy, clearing them two at a time, and burst into Bell’s room, shouting, “I heard you; I could hear what you said!” That year Bell exhibited his telephone at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia.
Nobody thought much of the invention at first, until Don Pedro, the Emperor of Brazil, picked up the receiver. Bell at the other end of the wire, recited the famous soliloquy from ‘Hamlet’, “To be or not to be….”. “My God!” cried the Emperor, “It speaks!” The telephone was from that moment given pride of place in the exhibition.
Bell soon withdrew from active work on the telephone and settled down in a fine country home at Baddeck, Nova Scotia and devoted himself to invention. He interested himself in dynamic flight, sheep breeding and a universal language based on the phonetics of the English language. He perfected a hydroplane and claimed he had invented a breathing apparatus for explorers and travellers through the deserts.
Although nothing has come of any of these inventions, work is still being carried out on the telephone. Nowadays, of course, the telephone has developed in ways that Bell would never have imagined. Radio telephones, car telephones, international link-ups via satellite have all combined to allow immediate, clear communication between any two people anywhere in the world. But modern technology has not really done anything but improve on Bell’s original invention. It was Bell who made it possible for two people to talk to each other when separated by a great distance.
Years after Bell’s invention, there is a story told of a woman whom he met at a social gathering. When she was introduced to the great inventor, she expressed pleasure in meeting him and then said smilingly, “But often I wish you had never been born.” Bell looked startled and hurt and then he smiled and said, “I sympathise. I never use the beast.”
The most extraordinary thing is that Bell hated the telephone and he hardly ever used it. He stuffed his telephone bell with paper, to prevent it from interrupting his work.
Mark the best choice.
1. The words “Mr Watson, come here please; I want you,” were important because
a) they were the words of the first telephone call
b) Bell wanted to tell Watson about his new invention
c) they were spoken by Alexander Graham Bell
d) they were the words of the first telegram
2. Telegrams were similar to the telephone in that
a) they had been in use for some time
b) messages were sent by the tapping of the morse-code
c) both systems used the same wires
d) they were not sophisticated enough to pick up speech