As an adult, Bell became a teacher of the deaf. He had an amazing technique to teach deaf children to speak (which at the time was seen as a hopeless endeavor by most). Bell’s interest in the human voice and sound would later lead him in the pursuit of creating devices that could allow sound to travel great distances.
Bell began working on a device that would send multiple tones over a telegraph wire. At the time, he was calling this idea the “harmonic telegraph.” While Bell was working on the creation of this device, he brought on an assistant named Thomas Watson. Over the years, Watson would build many prototypes for Bell. The duo worked diligently on the harmonic telegraph while Bell continued his teaching duties as well. At one point, Bell even experimented with an actual human ear, trying to track the movements that sounds make as they are recognized by the ear.
While working on the harmonic telegraph, Bell came to a realization in 1875 that it would be a better idea to abandon the project. Instead, he began working on a device that would transmit a voice over a wire using electricity. Later that year, Bell and Watson were able to transmit the sounds of a human voice with their telephone. The words were unintelligible, but the two were making progress.
After more laborious work, the first message was sent over the telephone in March 1876. Bell and Watson each sat in separate rooms ready to test their newly modified device. As soon as Watson placed his ear to the receiver he distinctly heard Bell exclaim, “Mr. Watson! Come here, I want you!” Watson ran to Bell’s room, quickly telling him that he had heard every word. Bell was jubilant. As it were, Bell had spoken those famous words due to the fact he had split battery acid upon his trousers, and needed assistance from Watson. However once Watson had told Bell the terrific news, he completely forgot about the acid.
Bell premiered his newly created telephone at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in June 1876. The device made a large impression with the exposition judges. However in the early days of the telephone there were some critics. Some referred to the device as simply a toy, and that it would never become a necessity. As time passed, this of course, was proven false.
Throughout the rest of the year, Bell and Watson continued to perform experiments with the telephone, testing the distance that a clear message could travel. The telephone was here, and it was here to stay.
During the rest of his life, Bell worked on many other projects such as flying machines (many involving kites) and creating phonograph records made from wax. None of these projects would have the lasting impact of the telephone.
In 1915, Bell and Watson took part in the ceremonies for the opening of a transcontinental telephone line. Bell in New York spoke to Watson in San Francisco. Bell stepped up to the telephone and exclaimed to his friend, “Mr. Watson! Come here, I want you!” Watson told Bell that of course he would come, but it would take about a week.
To learn more about Alexander Graham Bell and telephone technology, visit the Museum of Independent Telephony, which is housed in the Dickinson County Heritage Center in Abilene, Kansas.