The Telephone: An American Innovation

Alexander Graham Bell came to America as an immigrant from Scotland, having lived for a time in Canada. It was here, in a workshop in Boston, Massachusetts that he created his most famous invention: the telephone.

There are only a few truly revolutionary inventions. Certainly the wheel was one, although who created it has been lost to time. I would argue the telephone is another. Allowing the transmission of voices (and today, thanks to digital cellular phones, faces) across long distances, the telephone revolutionized the way we communicate.

Before the invention of the telephone, most communication was conducted over thin electrical wires using telegraph machines. Telegraph wires followed the burgeoning railroad lines, allowing people to send messages across the vastness of the continent, but it was limited. The telegraph could only transmit one message at a time, and only then in Morse code, a system of dots and dashes. It was rudimentary at best, akin to tapping on the side of a ship’s hull. 

Alexander Graham Bell began his invention of the telephone by initially attempting to improve the telegraph. He had an idea for a “harmonic telegraph” that would transmit more than one message at a time. As he worked on this, however, he discovered he could transmit more than dots and dashes; he could transmit sound.

On March 10, 1876, Bell uttered the now famous phrase to his assistant, “Watson come here, I need you” proving that his device worked. By the next year, commercial telephone service had begun, and the world would literally never be the same.

Today, telephones and telephone-based modems are everywhere, from people's pockets to built-in to many appliances. The telephone is even the backbone of the internet, leading directly to the cloud. The telephone was the precursor to the greatest era of technical innovation that continues today.

The telephone represented freedom, creativity, and American innovation. It allowed people to connect across long distances to do business, or merely say “hello.” Thanks to Alexander Graham Bell, the world became a smaller, less lonely place, and the long list of American innovations gained a momentous entry.

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