This Week in History


'M. Watson, come here, I want you!'

This story was initially published in 2000

On March 10, 1876, the first intelligible sentence transmitted by telephone was spoken. This marked a high point in Alexander Graham Bell's career as an inventor.

Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell
© LAC / C-17335

Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 3, 1847. When he was 12, his mother began to lose her hearing. This event, coupled with his father and grandfather being specialists in the "art of pronounciation," led to his work with deaf people. After reading a book called Sensations of Tone, Bell became convinced that the human voice could be transmitted on telegraph lines, which led to his later experiments.

Bell followed his parents to Canada, settling in Brantford, Ontario, in 1870. A year later, he took a position at the Sarah Fuller School in Boston. After working there and at other schools for deaf people, he founded a school of Vocal Physiology in 1873. He aimed to help deaf people learn to speak so they could function in "normal" society. The fathers of some of his students heard of Bell's experiments with the "vocal telegraph" and offered to sponsor him. With this funding, he hired an assistant, Thomas A. Watson. They came up with many inventions during this time, including types of hearing aids and devices to record sound waves.

"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!"
© Property of AT&T Archives.
Reprinted with permission of AT&T.

While visiting Brantford in 1874, Bell realized that if the human ear only needed one membrane (the eardrum), then his device should only need one as well. It was this realization that led to the telephone's invention, although Bell was still working on the vocal telegraph. The telephone was patented on March 3, 1876 and a week later the sentence, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!" became the first words spoken over it. That August, he made the first ever long-distance phone call from Paris, Ontario, to his parents' house in Brantford.

In 1877, Bell married Mabel Hubbard, the daughter of one of his sponsors and a former student. In the following decades, Bell was able, with his patent money, to become involved in creating flying machines, hydrofoils, and continuing work with the deaf. He died at his summer home, Beinn Bhreagh ("Beautiful Mountain"), near Baddeck, Nova Scotia, in 1922.

The Bell Homestead, in Brantford, Ontario, where many of Bell's experiments took shape, is a National Historic Site. The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, houses a museum with artefacts relating to Bell's career and achievements.

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