“Mr. Watson, Come Here…”
Alexander Graham Bell was born in 1847 in Scotland and grew up in England. His grandfather and father earned famed as teachers of the deaf, and Alexander likewise followed this career, continuing in it after the family immigrated to Canada in 1870. In 1872, Alexander Graham Bell became a professor of vocal physiology at Boston University. His profound interest in the nature of speech and sound was combined with a knack for things mechanical, and he began working on a device to record sound waves graphically in order to show his deaf students what they could not hear. Simultaneously, Bell was also trying to develop what he called the harmonic telegraph, a device capable of transmitting multiple telegraph messages simultaneously over a single line.
About 1874, the two inventions suddenly merged in his mind. Bell wrote in his notebook that if he could “make a current of electricity vary in intensity precisely as the air varies in density during the production of sound,” he could “transmit speech telegraphically.”
The insight was staggering: Convert one form of intelligible energy (sound) into another (modulated electric current). With his tireless assistant, Thomas Watson, Bell worked on the device for the next two frustrating years. One day, in 1876, while Watson maintained what he thought would be another fruitless vigil by the receiver unit in the next room, Bell made adjustments to the transmitter. In the process, Bell upset a container of battery acid, which spilled on his lap. Burned by the acid, he inadvertently made the world’s first phone call—a call for help: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” The telephone caught on quickly, and the Bell Telephone Company, founded by Alexander’s father-in-law, Gardner G. Hubbard, became a utility of vast proportions and incalculable importance.