Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/November 1906/Notes on the Development of Telephone Service I

1453465Popular Science Monthly Volume 69 November 1906 — Notes on the Development of Telephone Service I1906Fred de Land




I. The Electric-Speaking Telephone

THE desire to transmit speech over long distances probably dates back to the first wide separation of loved and beloved. That many methods have been suggested for the transmission of speech is of record. That speech has been mechanically or acoustically transmitted over many hundred feet of taut string and practically straight wires, during several hundred years, is true. That the 'lover's telephone' is a toy that has amused several generations is well known. That there were musical (not speech) telephones and sound (not speech) microphones nearly a century ago is an interesting fact. That prior to 1876, many men devoted much thought to the problem of the electrical transmission of speech is granted.

Nevertheless, the facts are that no authentic record has been found proving the existence of a practical method of speech transmission over long-distances, either electrical or mechanical, prior to the invention of the electric-speaking telephone by Alexander Graham Bell.

Moreover, while certain devices not invented by him are in use on telephone lines, each and all are but refinements or conveniences of the system. The broad fundamental method conceived by Alexander Graham Bell, in 1874, underlies the electrical transmission of speech in any form, and in any portion of the world. And Bell's method has been in no wise changed since its promulgation in letters-patent, in 1876, though thousands of the brightest minds in all civilized countries have striven for nearly thirty years to find another way, some other way, any other way, to transmit speech electrically.

Eighteen months passed by after the method conceived and perfected by Alexander Graham Bell became public property, and tens of thousands of Bell's telephones went into daily commercial use, before the first of the many claimants publicly asserted a prior right to the discovery of the art of transmitting speech electrically. Yet, not one could make his apparatus convey speech, except through a utilization of Bell's method and, in some cases, only by using Bell's receiver.

Thus the only reasonable conclusion that men in search of the truth can arrive at is 'that for physical and mathematical reasons it is not possible to have any method except the way that Alexander Graham Bell found.' And that was the sworn testimony unwillingly given by the experts employed by the followers in his footsteps. For the evidence filed in a score of courts should satisfy all honest and unbiased minds that Bell's way is not only 'the only way' in which an electric-speaking telephone can transmit speech, but the absence of any earlier published description of a conception of a method similar in character to that first promulgated by Alexander Graham Bell proves that speech never was successfully transmitted electrically prior to its transmission by him.

After inventors, electricians and scientists had experimented with Bell's telephone for nearly two years, Dr. C. J. Blake told the eminent gentlemen who had gathered in London, in May, 1878, to hear his interesting lecture on the telephone:

When we consider the complex character of the waves resulting from the production of articulated sounds, and the loss in the excursions of the receiving disk (in the telephone), the wonder grows that this piece of metal can by its mechanical vibration reproduce so clearly and distinctly the delicate shades of quality of the human voice. That this should have been so perfectly accomplished is the result, not of inspiration, but of laborious research, and the instrument of which we reap the benefit to-day is the product, not merely of the genius, but of the patient and persistent labor of Alexander Graham Bell.

In other words, the achievement of the seemingly impossible in the invention of the electric-speaking telephone came not through utilizing the idea or suggestion of another, nor in improving a philosophical or experimental instrument advertised and sold for many years, prior to 1875, as a telephone; neither was it gained in a momentary inspiration, nor through automobilic rushes along the by-paths of superficial education.

This creation of a new art followed as the natural outcome of an original and magnificent conception that won the plaudits of scientists in all lands. The invention of the electric-speaking telephone (not the string telephone, nor the make-and-break musical telephone) followed in natural sequence. The combination of diaphragm and electromagnet was the outgrowth of conception and perfected theory, and formed a practical materialization of both. And conception, theory and apparatus were the honestly earned fruits not only of the inventor's 'intellectual capacity and precision of thought,' but of a thorough knowledge of the essential elements in every factor entering into the problem of speech transmission; a knowledge gained through long and patient research, through many experiments, through financial expenditures that involved personal deprivations and hardships and necessitated the strictest self-denial, and through discouraging criticisms and bitter ridicule on the folly of wasting time and money in inventing 'a scientific toy.'

The magnitude of the masterly conception of creating, controlling and varying the strength or flow of the electric current by the spoken words, and making that current the vehicle for the transmission of the form or quality as well as the pitch and strength of the spoken words, and of delivering at a distant point the same words, with the pitch, strength and quality unchanged; the comprehensive scope of the newly-created art of speech transmission; the remarkable transmitting qualities of the first of all electric-speaking telephones; and the promptness with which the inventor placed before the public a full and complete knowledge of his invention and of the essential steps leading to his application for letters-patent, all go to prove the possession in. 1874—6 of an unusual knowledge on the part of Alexander Graham Bell, the more remarkable in view of the slight grasp electricians then possessed of magnetic action and the interrelation of the magnetic field and the electric current.

II. The Telephone Exhibit at the Centennial Exposition

In 1874, Alexander Graham Bell evolved his magnificent conception of the transmission of speech over long distances by means of the electric-speaking telephone. Theoretically it was perfect; practically it had no tangible existence. Men eminent in their respective professions, to whom he confided his plans in the autumn of 1874, admitted that while in theory the undulating-current method 'was adequate to the transmission of speech,' yet the electrical effect produced by the vibration of a diaphragm-armature actuated only by the human voice 'would be entirely too small to accomplish the desired end.' In fact, so complete was the absence of practical knowledge concerning the electrical effect that would be produced by causing the spoken word to vibrate an armature in front of an electro-magnet that the experts, most competent to pass upon the value of such an invention as the electric-speaking telephone, testified that the state of the art was such at the date of the patent that it could hardly have been supposed that a magneto-generator moved by a force so slight as the spoken word, 'would under any circumstances be able to generate an electric current which would produce upon a receiving instrument any effect whatever which would be perceptible to the senses.'

Discouraging though the advice and the suggestions of his friends proved, and disheartened though he was by ill-health and the lack of funds to carry on his telephone experiments, never did the inventor allow aught to divert his firm purpose of transforming that marvelous theory into a tangible speech-transmitting telephone.

In 1874, Alexander Graham Bell occupied the chair of vocal physiology in the Boston University, and supplemented his lectures 'by experimental demonstration of the practicability of correcting stammering, stuttering, lisping, burring and other defects of speech.' To a class composed exclusively of teachers of the deaf who had been sent to Boston by various institutions for the deaf throughout the United States, he delivered courses of lectures upon the subject of teaching articulation to deaf pupils, experimentally demonstrating his methods by giving instruction to deaf-mutes. He also had a class of young women who desired to qualify as teachers of articulation in schools for the deaf. Then he had also undertaken the general education of a young deaf-mute child who came to him at the age of five years, in October, 1872.

Thus it was easy to understand how fully occupied the daylight hours were with his professional duties, and how any experimental and research work must necessarily be carried on late at night when most persons had retired. For while 'the income from his professional labors was a fairly good one it was his only means of support.' If he gave up his classes, he would have no income to expend upon experiments, nor even to live upon.

Yet that is what he did in 1875. At the end of the term he dismissed his classes and by the end of July, 1875, had given up all professional work save the education of the deaf lad and occasional lectures at the Boston University which he had long before been paid to deliver, and the income from which he had expended in telephone experiments. Thus the only income he was in receipt of at the end of July was for teaching the little deaf boy. He would not give up trying to solve the problem of speech transmission, and thus he borrowed what money generous friends would loan him, and started in to demonstrate the. practicability of his theory.

All the world knows how well he succeeded, and that no better way has been found during all the years that intervene. In October, 1875, he commenced to prepare the specifications for the patent office, and had his application ready for filing before the end of the year. Then he waited on friends in Canada who desired him to take no action that would be prejudicial to patents they proposed taking out in foreign countries. These friends failing to respond to his proposition, he finally decided to wait no longer. In December he submitted his application to the patent attorneys in Washington; it was signed and sworn to in Boston on January 20, 1876. and filed in the Patent Office early on February 14. On March 7, 1876, he was granted the fundamental patent covering both method and apparatus.

Early in November, 1875, the need of funds to enable him to live forced Alexander Graham Bell to again take up his professional work, and he was soon 'lecturing at various normal schools upon the subject of articulation teaching.' A little later he established a large normal class in Boston, and to be able to properly illustrate his methods, gave free instruction to such deaf-mutes as would serve as subjects for demonstration. Thus by the spring of 1876 he was again in receipt of a fair income and began to repay the sums friends had loaned to him.

On May 10, 1876. at the solicitation of his friends, he read a paper, entitled 'Researches in Telephony,' to the members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Therein he touched upon the inventions of Gray and Reis, and the discoveries of Page, Marrian, Beatson, Gassiot, De la Rive, Matteucci, Guillemin, Wertheim, Wartmann, Janniar, Joule, Laborde, Legat, Poggendorff, DuMoncel, Delezenne, Ferguson, Paul la Cour, Helmholtz, Gore, Sullivan and others, giving due credit to each. Then he described his undulating current and his electric-speaking telephone, for which letters-patent had been granted, and made it clear to his hearers that the essential factor in this problem was not the devising of a definite form of instrument or tube, nor an apparatus having definite structural peculiarities, nor the combining of a certain number of parts into an operating whole. It was to so cause the electric current to flow that the receiver would not only reproduce a few or a majority or about all of the spoken words that impinged on the diaphragm of the transmitter in the form of sound waves, but would reproduce each and all and every one of the variations in the articulations, loudness and pitch and quality, with all their varying characteristics, whether expressed in the slightest whisper, in the soft voice of the cultured woman, in the sonorous rounded sentences of the dignified professor, or in the quick, abrupt remarks of the man of affairs.

And it may be added that the discovery and practical application of the method so described by which the changes in the current strength in a telephone diaphragm were brought about forms the essential and underlying principle of every successful electric-speaking telephone designed since Alexander Graham Bell created the art of telephony, a composite art, combining magnetism, electricity, acoustics, phonetics, mechanics and engineering.

Gardiner Greene Hubbard was in charge of the Massachusetts educational exhibit at the Centennial Exposition. He insisted on placing the primitive telephones on exhibition in that section if no more suitable place could be secured. Alexander Graham Bell's time was too fully occupied with his professional work to give the subject any attention, and he really did not care whether the telephones were exhibited at the Centennial or not. Class examinations in his school were approaching, and he was far more interested in perfecting the knowledge of the members of his classes who were going forth to instruct deaf children in speech, and speech-reading, than in a mere display of an invention that he had completed, patented and had described in a public lecture. An exhibit meant more or less outlay. He was still in debt to his friends, and the funds to repay his friends must come from the income from his school. Therefore the school would be taken care of to the exclusion of the Centennial.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hubbard secured some telephones and certain telegraphic instruments, and placed them on a table in the space allotted to the department of education and science of Massachusetts, which occupied a portion of the gallery at the east end of the main building. This modest display was labeled 'Telegraphic and Telephonic Apparatus. By A. Graham Bell.' It included his system of harmonic telegraphy, and his method of transmitting articulate speech electrically. There were two membrane-diaphragm magneto-telephones, which could be used either as transmitters or as receivers. The only difference was that in one a single-pole electromagnet was used and a double-pole electromagnet in the other. The armature of each electromagnet consisted of a small piece of steel spring glued to the center of the membrane which was three inches in diameter. The castings were of brass, mounted on black-walnut base-boards, and the cones were of japanned tin (Fig. 1).[1] A third form of speaking telephone

Bell's Centennial Single Pole Magneto Telephone.
Section of Same.
Bell's Centennial Double Pole Magneto Telephone.

Fig. 1.

was shown, intended to be used only as a receiving instrument. The electromagnet was enclosed in a hollow box of iron, and a lid of iron was used as an armature. This lid formed a thin circular metallic diaphragm, resting by its edge upon the rim of the iron box, its central portion not quite touching the pole of the electromagnet underneath. This receiver could be placed in circuit with either one of the membrane telephones. Upon placing the ear against the lid of the box the articulation of the person speaking into the membrane telephone was audible, proceeding from the lid (Fig. 2). A fourth form of

Bell's Centennial Iron Box Magnet Receiver.

Fig. 2.

speaking telephone was shown, intended to be used only as a transmitter. It consisted of a metallic ring supported horizontally, carrying a stretched membrane, to the center of which was fastened a platinum wire clipping into a little cup containing acidulated water and was referred to as the liquid transmitter (Fig. 3). In addition

Bell's Centennial Liquid Transmitter.

Fig. 3.

to these telephones, one of Koenig's manometric capsules was shown, arranged for studying optically the peculiarities of the electrical current generated by the movements of the membrane in the telephone.

Of telegraphic and signaling apparatus there was an excellent display at the Centennial, as well as a historical collection of great value showing the evolution of magnetic and electric signaling. But of other electrical apparatus there was only a meager display. All was included in Group XXV., Instruments of Precision.

Learning that the Centennial judges had arranged for a special inspection of certain telegraph and electrical apparatus on Sunday, June 25, when only those specially invited would be present and the building would be comparatively quiet, Mr. Hubbard sent a telegram requesting Graham Bell to arrive in Philadelphia not later than Sunday morning. But the class examinations were of far more importance just then than any explanation he could give the judges. So Graham Bell decided not to go. Then he received a message that Mr. Hubbard's daughter, Mabel (who a year later became Mrs. Bell), was leaving for Philadelphia, and hurried to the station in Boston to bid her good-bye. Mabel was as anxious as was her father to have Graham Bell explain his invention to the judges at the Centennial, and when she found that his sense of duty to his classes outweighed her influence, woman-like she burst into tears just as the train started. This was more than Graham Bell could stand, so he jumped aboard the moving train and with neither ticket nor baggage went through to Philadelphia.

As the weather was excessively hot in Philadelphia on Saturday evening Mr. Hubbard went to his Washington home 'tired out.' Sunday was another hot day, and after the judges had completed their inspection of all the other exhibits, and 'when it was already late, and the allotted time very nearly exhausted,' and while 'it was very warm, and signs of impatience were becoming manifest on the part of some of those present,' Graham Bell extended an invitation to the judges to inspect his telephones.

After some delay and discussion the judges proceeded to the Massachusetts section, where the apparatus was exhibited on a small table in a narrow space 'between the stairway and the wall.' Accompanying the judges were a large number of distinguished visitors, including the emperor of Brazil. Fortunately, but a short time before, the emperor had visited Graham Bell's school in Boston and had become interested in the method of instruction and also in the telephone. When Graham Bell saw that the emperor was with the judges he did not dream that his brief interview would be recalled. But his majesty cordially greeted him and spoke so enthusiastically about the telephone, that, tired as the judges were, they concluded to investigate thoroughly its merits. And from that moment the future of the telephone was assured.

Chief among the judges was Sir William Thomson (now Lord Kelvin), then and now the world's leading electrical scientist. He listened at the receiver, while Graham Bell's assistant talked into the transmitter. Sir William then went to the distant transmitter and repeated certain lines from Hamlet, which were heard as the receiver passed from one visitor to another. Forgotten was all thought of fatigue, of heat and discomfort, and nearly every visitor was glad of the opportunity of going to the end of the line and talking into that crude transmitter.
The line extended from one part of the building to another, and the transmitting and receiving ends were sufficiently far apart to prevent the possibility of the speaker's voice being directly heard at the receiving end through the air.

Only the membrane magneto transmitter and the iron box receiver, were used. In recounting the enthusiasm that was aroused, Professor Barker said:

I was greatly astonished and delighted to hear for the first time the transmission of articulate speech electrically. The mode of operation of the instrument was obvious at once, as soon as it was exhibited: it was one of those marvelously simple inventions that causes one to wonder, on seeing it for the first time, that it had not been invented long before.

At the close of the inspection Sir William Thomson expressed his regret that his wife had not been present to participate in such a marvelous experiment as the electrical transmission of speech, and asked Graham Bell if similar experiments could be enjoyed the following evening. Graham Bell replied that the apparatus was at the disposal of the judges and that they might experiment to their heart's content; but that he must be in Boston Monday morning in order to take care of the class examinations. To him, his school was of far more importance at that moment than 'the scientific toy' he had been chaffed about for many months. He left for Boston that evening and never returned to the Centennial.

That same evening the eminent English scientist, T. Sterry Hunt, wrote to Graham Bell:

I am informed that you leave to-night for Boston, so I take this way of congratulating you on your success to-day. I returned to my hotel with Sir William Thomson, and dined with him. He speaks with much enthusiasm of your achievement. What yesterday he would have declared impossible he has to-day seen realized, and he declares it the most wonderful thing he has seen in America. You speak of it as an embryo invention, but to him it seems already complete: and he declares that, before long, friends will whisper their secrets over the electric wire. Your undulating current he declares a great and happy conception.

On the following day the telephones were removed to the judges' pavilion, and on that Monday evening many experiments were carried on. Wires were first run from a table in the private room of the special jury on instruments of precision to a table placed in the hallway near the main entrance. Owing to the thinness of the partitions, and the possibility of the loud-spoken words being heard over so short a distance, the wires were extended and the transmitter and table were carried some distance out-of-doors. Sir William Thomson and Lady Thomson were present and conversed with each other. Sentences were read from the New York Tribune, such as 'the American residents in London have decided to celebrate the Fourth of July,' and as each sentence was received Sir William Thomson would write it down in his note book and then go to the transmitting end of the line and compare what he had heard with what had been read. Most of the routine transmitting was done by Professor Watson, of Ann Arbor, whose voice appeared to transmit most readily. "The particular instruments actually used were the 'membrane telephones' as transmitters and the 'membrane telephone' and 'iron box magneto receiver' as receivers." At the end of the week these instruments were replaced in the exhibit space in the gallery.

During that week thorough experiments were carried out and at their conclusion an award was made to Graham Bell by the judges of the group, while a special report drawn by Sir William Thomson, and a general report prepared by Professor Joseph Henry, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and chairman of the judges, was published by the government.

Sir William Thomson said, in part:

In addition to his electric-phonetic multiple telegraph, Mr. Graham Bell exhibits apparatus by which he has achieved a result of transcendent scientific interest—the transmission of spoken words by electric currents through a telegraph wire. To obtain this result, or even to make the first step towards it—the transmission of different qualities of sounds, such as the vowel sounds—Mr. Bell perceived that he must produce a variation of strength of current in the telegraph wire as nearly as may be in exact proportion to the velocity of a particle of air moved by the sound; and he invented a method of doing so—a piece of iron attached to a membrane, and thus moved to and fro in the neighborhood of an electro-magnet—which has proved perfectly successful. . . . This, perhaps the greatest marvel hitherto achieved by the electric telegraph, has been obtained by appliances of quite a homespun and rudimentary character. With somewhat more advanced plans, and more powerful apparatus, we may confidently expect that Mr. Bell will give us the means of making voice and spoken words audible through the electric wire to an ear hundreds of miles distant.

The chairman, Professor Joseph Henry, in his official report, said:

The telephone of Mr. Bell aims at a still more remarkable result, that of transmitting audible speech through long telegraph lines. In the improved instrument the result is produced with striking effect, without the employment of an electrical current other than that produced by the mechanical action of the impulse of the breath as it issues from the lungs in producing articulate sounds. . . . Audible speech has in this way been transmitted to a distance of three hundred miles, perfectly intelligible to those who have become accustomed to the peculiarities of certain of the sounds. . . .

Another of the judges was Professor F. A. P. Barnard, president of Columbia College. A little later he publicly stated that

Of all instruments of precision and research which the group of Centennial judges was called upon to examine, there was none that occasioned greater interest or that they regarded as of higher novelty and importance than the speaking telephone of Professor A. Graham Bell,

and he was confident

that the name of the inventor of the telephone would be handed down to posterity with a permanent claim on the gratitude and remembrance of mankind.

Graham Bell was confident that he could transmit speech from Boston to Philadelphia, and, after his class examinations were over, he endeavored to secure the use of a telegraph circuit for that purpose, but failed because all 'were too busy.' Mr. Hubbard endeavored to secure a circuit from Philadelphia, but was unsuccessful for the same reason.

On July 11, 1876, Graham Bell varied the shape of the iron armature by attaching to the membrane a thin disk of Tagger's iron, almost as large as the membrane. The next day he gave one of these telephones to Sir William Thomson. It is said that during the trip home the armature became bent, and useless in that condition. Nevertheless, Sir William used it to illustrate to the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science how Graham Bell's telephone was the most marvelous of all the wonderful exhibits he had seen in America.

Graham Bell continued his experiments in improving the telephone, and finding that the large iron disk was far superior to the small armatures previously used, he concluded to dispense with the membrane altogether. This he did in October, 1876. On fastening a thin disk of steel in front of the electromagnet, conversation was carried on more easily than ever before. Referring to this improvement, Mr. Storrow said:

Perhaps the most important contribution which Mr. Bell made towards improving speaking telephony, after the great conception and original instrument of his first patent, consisted in the wonderful sensitiveness and quickness of operation which he introduced into the instrument of the second patent, in consequence of the conviction which he reached by study, thought and experiment, that by so proportioning and combining all his parts as to sacrifice absolute strength to absolute quickness, he could obtain the best results; and then his innumerable experiments led him to the surprising discovery that a piece of sheet iron was much quicker and more faithful in following the delicate changes required for speech than the most delicate membrane is.

Nine years later the commissioner of patents, under date of March 3, 1885, wrote:

Bell's patent was issued on the 17th of March, 1876. At the Centennial Exposition, held at Philadelphia that year (1876), he exhibited his telephone, and it was adjudged by such eminent scientists as Professor Henry, Sir William Thomson, of England, and Professor Gray, one of the contestants herein, to be a success, and the world recognized Bell as the first inventor of a speaking telephone. The indications are that it was not until the promised reward for so important a public service became visible that his claim of priority was called in question by any of the parties to this interference.

That all the efforts of the several contestants who had attempted to produce a speaking telephone were failures seems clear from the record: that Bell was the first to give to the world the art of transmitting articulate speech, and the apparatus by which it could be successfully practised, was substantially conceded tor a long period after his success in that behalf was placed beyond doubt. Whether or not these several contestants had the instrumentalities and appliances at that time from which success might have been realized if those instrumentalities had been better understood is of little consequence. The history of their experiments is a history of recorded failures.

III. Devising the Telephone Exchange System

Thirty years ago this summer the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held in Glasgow, Scotland. On that occasion men eminent in their respective professions listened with the deepest interest, while the president, Sir William Thomson (now Lord Kelvin), gave a vivid description of his visit to the Centennial, and stated that the most marvelous of all the wonderful exhibits he had seen in America was a pair of rudely-constructed telephones!

Then he explained to the members how surprising it all seemed when on that memorable Sabbath in June, 1876, to his listening ear came the words spoken at the distant end of the line; and he added:

All this my own ears heard, spoken to me with unmistakable distinctness by this circular disk armature of just such another little electro-magnet as this which I hold in my hand. . . . This, the greatest by far of all marvels of the electric telegraph, is due to a young countryman of our own, Mr. Graham Bell, now becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States. Who can but admire the hardihood of the invention which devised such a very slight means to realize the mathematical conception that, if electricity is to convey all the delicacies of quality which distinguish articulate speech, the strength of this current must vary continuously and as nearly as may be in simple proportion to the velocity of a particle of air engaged in constituting the sound?

Sir William Thomson was then and is now the leading electrician of the world. And it was this generous endorsement of Alexander Graham Bell's invention that brought the telephone to the attention of scientific bodies in all countries, and led learned men in all lands to investigate its merits and to strive to improve its technical value. For in its remarkable simplicity the invention was a disappointment to many men, until practical experience demonstrated that the more elaborate copies were no more serviceable as speech-transmitting devices than the primitive original instrument. Nor during all the intervening years that have elapsed since 1876 has any inventor or any mechanician or any scientist ever suggested a more complete or a simpler description of the conception of the electric-speaking telephone and its governing principles than Graham Bell embodied in his application for a patent.

Yet that simple invention has exerted a far more potent influence than any of the more attractive fruits of inventive genius in revolutionizing and enriching custom and method in almost every branch of industry, of commerce and of society. And no other invention has so marvelously increased the scope of human usefulness and intelligent activity. With its aid time and distance are virtually eliminated, and Maine and Missouri and Mississippi and Minnesota are distant from each other only the length of a telephone call.

Yet marvelous as was the achievement of inventing the electric-speaking telephone, equally meritorious was the breadth of mind that could entertain at a time when poverty was pressing a prophetic vision of one vast transcontinental telephone system uniting every important village, town and city with wire highways over which messages would speed as quickly as thoughts are spoken.

Had the telephone been sold outright, in place of being leased for use in designated territory, it is very doubtful if a transcontinental system could have been established, or the full intercommunicating value of the telephone developed. For it is one of the few natural monopolies. Foreign telephone experts say that the American telephone system has no equal in scope and efficiency, which is a gratifying endorsement, in view of the fact that the foundations of this American transcontinental system were not laid by men long skilled in an established art, or men who wielded the power inherent in great financial resources, but by men who strove against the combined forces of complete absence of telephonic experience, practise and knowledge, of the destructive power of the elements, and of human greed that would publicly rob vested right and good name.

Had these pioneers comprehended all that was to be endured, the losses, the bitter competition, the costly litigation, how many would have had the courage to imperil funds and business reputation in so hazardous an undertaking? For never before did an industry progress so rapidly as is recorded of the art of telephony, none ever had to face such costly, peculiar and ever-expanding demands, and none was ever so bitterly and so unjustly assailed.

These pioneers soon found that one set of telephone equipment would scarcely be installed by a local company before it would have to be displaced by improved apparatus, if the field was to be held. Or an unexpected marvelous growth in the number of subscribers would compel complete rebuilding of lines and the installation of more improved apparatus. Came storms of wind and sleet wrecking miles of pole line; flashed the lightning, burning out every coil in the plant; came the newly-invented electric lights rendering the service useless after night-fall until circuits were rearranged; came the trolley, making metallic circuits a technically and a judicially determined necessity; all in the brief span of eight years. 'Nothing is constant but change,' was a sentiment readily subscribed to by pioneer telephone men.

Yet notwithstanding discouragements, disasters and hardships, of a character unknown before, the dream of yesterday is the realization of to-day. For now there are nearly three million telephones connected to this one transcontinental system, receiving service over a total wire mileage exceeding five million miles, while the actual cash investment in new construction alone expended by the companies forming this great system during the past five years only aggregates two hundred millions of dollars.

How came the first commercial telephone exchange to be devised? is a question often asked. The idea of a central exchange telephone system was one of Graham Bell's earliest conceptions in connection with the possible utilization of the telephone. Thus it came in the natural development of so useful a public-service function as telephone service. Prior to the exhibition of the telephone at the Centennial Graham Bell had frequently discussed with his partners, Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Sanders, the great value of a telephone exchange system covering an entire city, while in the lectures delivered in various cities during the winter of 1876-7 Graham Bell outlined many of the principal features that later were embodied in the early telephone exchanges.

However, it should be borne in mind that by reason of the existence in the larger cities of local telegraph central offices or exchanges, operating on lines somewhat similar to the early telephone exchange, the probable usefulness of a telephone system should have appealed to many whose experience with an intercommunicating system might have enabled them to forecast the development of the telephone exchange system. But the contrary appears true.

The central district-telegraph offices were in existence ten years before the invention of Bell's electric-speaking telephone. Through one 'central' the banks and the clearing-house were connected. Stock quotations and the premiums on gold were sent to brokers through another. Many lawyers maintained a 'central' in one city. In a second city the steel mills and factories were thus connected; while in a third city the newspapers maintained a telegraph exchange.

But none of these systems afforded communication other than by electrical apparatus mechanically operated, as, for instance, a dial telegraph, or a printing telegraph system, or an ordinary Morse key and sounder; apparatus and methods in no wise requiring the aid of the complex exchange mechanism known as the modern telephone switchboard. Nor were there any known means prior to 1876, of distant oral communication, aside from the speaking-tube. Yet, in many cities, the telegraph 'central' was the nucleus from which the respective local telephone exchange was evolved.

For after the newspapers and the magazines had made known the high esteem in which Sir William Thomson and other scientists held Graham Bell's telephone, a number of these 'central district' companies, operating electrical communicating circuits investigated the advisability of adding this new device as a side issue, or were invited to make a trial of the telephone in the belief that it would prove a good revenue producer. After investigating the merits of 'Bell's scientific toy' as many called it, some of these electric-service companies could perceive no profit in introducing this 'toy,' placed no commercial value on its serviceability in affording communication over distance, or comprehended its usefulness. And it may be safely stated that, in 1877, less than a score of men foresaw the marvelous future of the telephone or could grasp the meaning of its revolutionizing possibilities, or ever dreamed of such a phenomenal growth in so short a period as a quarter of a century. Even so experienced a man in the world's work as a former president of the Western Union Telegraph Company declared, early in 1877, that 'the telephone could never be of any practical use in business affairs'; while men eminently successful in industrial and commercial circles ridiculed the inventor as 'the man who is trying to make the people believe you can talk through a wire,' and scoffed at his invention.

But Graham Bell's faith in the usefulness and the value of his invention and in its power to eliminate distance in many of the affairs of life never failed. He wasted no time lamenting over evil predictions of failure. To him life was rich in possibilities that come only in the dreams of the unselfish toiler for the welfare of others. And wisdom taught him that brooding never brought fruition. So, early in 1877, he and his partner, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, planned the telephone exchange system somewhat along the lines it developed later, including a trunking-system to connect the different exchanges in the same city, toll lines connecting adjoining cities, suggested the use of aerial cables and underground circuits, as a substitute for the many wires they clearly foresaw would be required in the near future, should the system prove a success, and discussed the advisability of adopting either a fixed rental or flat rate per month or of charging for each 'switch' or call, similar to modern measured-service methods.

And though several companies and many individuals failed in their efforts to successfully introduce the telephone in their respective localities, and gladly seized the opportunity to surrender the license previously obtained for a nominal payment, others were induced to continue in the telephone business, only through the earnest assurance of Graham Bell and his associates that they were planning a comprehensive system continental in its scope, and that, in perfecting these plans they were carefully considering every feature that would enable the public to rapidly derive the greatest possible benefit from Bell's invention.

That all these plans were thoughtfully considered and final decision made on a broad basis are clearly shown in the determination that the telephone should be leased and never sold, and that, while the installation of private lines yielded an immediate profit, the exchange system was the only true field for development. Thus it came about that gradually Graham Bell won staunch supporters to his way of thinking, who comprehended the true function of the telephone and perceived the commercial possibilities in the telephone exchange system. These broad-minded and enthusiastic adherents sought prospective customers among men who had long felt the need of a different method of communication from any then in vogue, and found these patrons on every hand.

As sufficient capital could not be secured in 1877-78 by Graham Bell's friends to enable one company to establish telephone exchange systems in a number of cities, the only recourse open was to afford every encouragement in the establishment of local plants by men of local influence or hustling ability, who shared in the optimistic views of Graham Bell and Mr. Hubbard. While this latter plan would provide the quickest method of meeting the universal demand that Graham Bell was confident would develop, it might not prove the best plan for the public in the long run. For it meant a large number of different companies, governed by as many different policies, and operating under an endless number of systems. While under one company only one policy would prevail, system, equipment and methods would be standardized, and interconnecting lines built as rapidly as the necessary funds could be procured. Thus it was to determine which was the better plan, that Bell licenses were at first issued only for limited periods of five or ten years, with the understanding that at the expiration of the agreed term, the Bell company could take over the local exchange system at cost price, if it so desired.

Again it was quickly perceived that the true value of the telephone was intimately interwoven in the breadth and scope of the exchange system, and that its sphere of usefulness would be seriously curtailed unless combined with all the rights and privileges that a corporation secures from borough and township, county and state, rights that include the building of pole lines on highways and streets, the stringing of aerial circuits and the placing of cables underground. In other words, that the local value of telephone service was in direct ratio to the physical expansion of the exchange system, and in its capacity for meeting the ever-varying requirements of local users. Without the telephone the exchange system would have no value; without the exchange system the telephone would have comparatively little value.

By reason of the very nature of the invention, the right to use the telephone had to be safeguarded as few other patents have been, not only for the protection of the owner, but also that the licensee company might not suffer. A mowing-machine is a self-contained piece of mechanism that can be operated in any field, regardless of the number of or the absence of other mowers. The fewer mowing machines in a county the greater the probable profit of the owner of a machine intended for general use, and the greater its usefulness in a farming community. On the contrary, the fewer telephones in a county the more limited the value of the service to the public. While the greater the number of telephones and the more comprehensive the scope of exchange and toll system, the richer the benefits conferred upon the public, provided all telephones in the county are intercommunicating.

(To be continued.)

  1. The illustrations shown (Figs. 1 to 5) are reproduced with permission from the general brief of the American Bell Telephone Company presented in 'The Telephone Appeals,' before the Supreme Court of the United States, October term, 1886.