The story behind the first words spoken using a telephone…
Have you ever tried to make a tin can telephone for yourself? It is often used as a toy in which two ends of a string are connected to the bottoms of metal cans, paper cups or even match boxes.
The idea of carrying sound waves as mechanical vibrations along a string from one diaphragm to the other has actually existed for centuries. Why then were commercially successful telephones made only in the late nineteenth century? We would have to turn our attention towards Alexander Graham Bell to find that out.
Bell began his research on the mechanics of speech at a very young age. It came as no surprise, as both his father and grandfather were experts in the field of elocution. Add to it Bell’s lifelong commitment towards educating deaf-mutes (term used historically for a person who is deaf and cannot speak) and his natural flair for music, and you have the perfect recipe for the man who will go on to be credited as the inventor of the first practical telephone.
Like in the case of the fax machine, the telephone was also an offshoot of the telegraph. Though highly successful, the telegraph was limited to one message at a time, paving the way for devices that could handle more than one.
Bell received financial backing for his idea of a “harmonic telegraph” that could send many notes along the same wire simultaneously provided the signals differed in pitch. Along with Thomas Watson, a young electrician working as his assistant, Bell set to work not only on the multiple telegraphs, but also on a device to electrically transmit speech.
By June 1875, they had not only proven that different tones would correspond to varying strengths of electric current along the wire, but had also come up with a simple receiver that converted electricity to sound. All that was needed now was to build a transmitter producing variable electric currents and a receiver that would reproduce these variations into speech.
On March 10, 1876, three days after obtaining his patent, Bell conducted a successful demonstration, and recorded the details in his notebook. Speaking through the telephone to Watson, who was in the next room, Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” These words have become immortalised with the passage of time as the first words spoken using a telephone.
Unlike Marguerite Catherine Perey whose discovery of the element Francium was undisputed, the invention of the telephone, like many other inventions, is often shrouded in a cloud of mystery. This is mainly because many others were simultaneously working on a similar device and was also successful, leading to parallel claims.
Patent wars ensued. Dialogues and debates continue to rage on even to this day. But only one thing is for certain: the telephone has undergone development at such a rapid pace that it is now inextricably woven into our lives.
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