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75th anniversary OF THE TELEPHONE
"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!”
With that urgent call for help, the first tele
phone was born seventy-five years ago.
The speaker was Alexander Graham Bell, a
young teacher for the deaf. Watson was his as
sistant. Together the two men were working by
gaslight in the attic of a Boston boarding house.
They were getting ready to try out a new device
which they hoped would send human speech over
a copper wire by electricity.
The device included a small cup of strong acid,
and while Bell was filling this cup he spilled some
of the acid on his clothes. Anxiously Bell called
out to his assistant in the next room where the
latter was listening at the first crude telephone re
Bell forgot his acid-drenched trousers when
Watson burst into the room exclaiming, "Mr. Bell,
I heard every word you said—distinctly!”
This was the dramatic birth of what has been
hailed as one of the most important inventions
From a single, short line, the telephone system
has grown within the span of a lifetime into a
giant reaching into all corners of the world and
serving more than seventy million telephones.
Fittingly, the United States—home of the tele
phone—has more telephones than all the rest of
the world combined. The Bell System, largest of
the several thousand telephone companies in this
country, serves thirty five and a half million tele
phones which carry an average of 140 million two-
way conversations daily.
Telephones operated by the independent com
panies increase the total in America to forty three
million and build the calling rate to 170,000,000
conversations a day.
The first commercial exchange in the world was
opened in New Haven, Connecticutt, in January,
1878. The first switchboard was made partly out
of steel corset stays and interconnected eight lines
and 21 subscribers. The first "Central Office” was
so successful it was followed in rapid order by
others in various parts of the country.
With the development of improved transmitters
by Berliner, Blake, Edison, and others, the tele
phone started to eat up distance. By 1892, tele
phone lines stretched from New York to Chicago.
This seemed about the longest telephone line
possible until the invention of the electronic
"audion” tube in 1912 by Lee De Forrest, a for
mer engineer of the Western Electric Company.
The Bell Telephone Laboratories purchased the
rights to the audion for telephony and developed
it into the vacuum-type radio tube which is so im
portant today to all forms of electrical communi
The principle of constant improvement and ex
pansion of the nation’s telephone service—laid
down by Bell and his backers—has given America
the biggest and best communications system in
In steady succession came lift-the-receiver tele
phones to replace crank-the-handle types, then dial,
and finally a long line of steadily improving,
Today, with the nation’s thoughts turning to
defense, the thousands of U. S. telephone com
panies stand ready and able to do their part.
The "electric speaking telephone” has come a
long way since it carried its first plea for help
seventy five years ago. During that time it has
earned the right to its motto, "Service to the na
tion, in peace and war.”
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