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"Mr. Watson, Come Here. I Want You.": How One Sentence Changed the Course of History.

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

#46 Science in History

10th March 1876

Today in 1876, the Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell recorded his first successful experiment with the telephone, communicating to his assistant Thomas Watson who was in a nearby room.

He was the son of Alexander Melville Bell, a teacher of elocution, and possibly the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Professor Higgins’. Bell's early work was focused on teaching the deaf, and he saw the telephone as a way to improve communication for deaf people. Bell's mother was deaf, and he spent much of his life studying and researching hearing loss. In 1876, he patented an improved version of the telegraph, which he called the "harmonic telegraph." This device allowed him to transmit multiple messages over a single wire, and it laid the foundation for his work on the telephone.

Bell's invention of the telephone revolutionized communication, and it is difficult to overstate its impact on society. Prior to the telephone, communication over long distances was slow and unreliable, relying on telegraph wires and messenger services. The telephone made it possible to communicate instantly over great distances, and it transformed the way people conducted business and made social connections. Bell, however, considered the telephone to be an annoyance and was surprised by the massive commercial success of the invention.

The American engineer Elisha Gray was also working on a similar device, and the two men filed patents for their inventions on the same day. The patent office ultimately awarded the patent to Bell, and he became known as the inventor of the telephone. Over the following years, Bell was to face hundreds of court challenges to his invention - all of which were unsuccessful.

Bell's work went beyond the telephone, however, and he was involved in many other scientific and engineering projects. He believed his greatest invention was the photophone, which transmitted sound on a beam of light. Bell also developed a metal detector, which was used to try to locate a bullet lodged in the chest of U.S. President James Garfield (the detector failed to locate the bullet since the bed frame and springs that the President was laid on interfered with signals to the device!)

On August 2, 1922, Alexander Graham Bell died at his home in Nova Scotia with his wife by his side. In honour of this remarkable inventor, the telephones in North America fell silent for one minute.

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