Thirty-five short years, and presto! the newborn art of telephony is fullgrown. Three million telephones are now scattered abroad in foreign countries, and seven millions are massed here, in the land of its birth.
So entirely has the telephone outgrown the ridicule with which, as many people can well remember, it was first received, that it is now in most places taken for granted, as though it were a part of the natural phenomena of this planet. It has so marvelously extended the facilities of conversation--that "art in which a man has all mankind for competitors"--that it is now an indispensable help to whoever would live the convenient life. The disadvantage of being deaf and dumb to all absent persons, which was universal in pre-telephonic days, has now happily been overcome; and I hope that this story of how and by whom it was done will be a welcome addition to American libraries.
It is such a story as the telephone itself might tell, if it could speak with a voice of its own. It is not technical. It is not statistical. It is not exhaustive. It is so brief, in fact, that a second volume could readily be made by describing the careers of telephone leaders whose names I find have been omitted unintentionally from this book--such indispensable men, for instance, as William R. Driver, who has signed more telephone cheques and larger ones than any other man; Geo. S. Hibbard, Henry W. Pope, and W. D. Sargent, three veterans who know telephony in all its phases; George Y. Wallace, the last survivor of the Rocky Mountain pioneers; Jasper N. Keller, of Texas and New England; W. T. Gentry, the central figure of the Southeast, and the following presidents of telephone companies: Bernard E. Sunny, of Chicago; E. B. Field, of Denver; D. Leet Wilson, of Pittsburg; L. G. Richardson, of Indianapolis; Caspar E. Yost, of Omaha; James E. Caldwell, of Nashville; Thomas Sherwin, of Boston; Henry T. Scott, of San Francisco; H. J. Pettengill, of Dallas; Alonzo Burt, of Milwaukee; John Kilgour, of Cincinnati; and Chas. S. Gleed, of Kansas City.
I am deeply indebted to most of these men for the information which is herewith presented; and also to such pioneers, now dead, as O. E. Madden, the first General Agent; Frank L. Pope, the noted electrical expert; C. H. Haskins, of Milwaukee; George F. Ladd, of San Francisco; and Geo. F. Durant, of St. Louis.
H. N. C. PINE HILL, N. Y., June 1, 1910.
I THE BIRTH OF THE TELEPHONE
II THE BUILDING OF THE BUSINESS
III THE HOLDING OF THE BUSINESS
IV THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ART
V THE EXPANSION OF THE BUSINESS
VI NOTABLE USERS OF THE TELEPHONE
VII THE TELEPHONE AND NATIONAL EFFICIENCY
VIII THE TELEPHONE IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES
IX THE FUTURE OF THE TELEPHONE
THE HISTORY OF THE TELEPHONE
THE BIRTH OF THE TELEPHONE In that somewhat distant year 1875, when the telegraph and the Atlantic cable were the most wonderful things in the world, a tall young professor of elocution was desperately busy in a noisy machine-shop that stood in one of the narrow streets of Boston, not far from Scollay Square. It was a very hot afternoon in June, but the young professor had forgotten the heat and the grime of the workshop. He was wholly absorbed in the making of a nondescript machine, a sort of crude harmonica with a clock-spring reed, a magnet, and a wire. It was a most absurd toy in appearance. It was unlike any other thing that had ever been made in any country. The young professor had been toiling over it for three years and it had constantly baffled him, until, on this hot afternoon in June, 1875, he heard an almost inaudible sound--a faint TWANG--come from the machine itself.
For an instant he was stunned. He had been expecting just such a sound for several months, but it came so suddenly as to give him the sensation of surprise. His eyes blazed with delight, and he sprang in a passion of eagerness to an adjoining room in which stood a young mechanic who was assisting him.
"Snap that reed again, Watson," cried the apparently irrational young professor. There was one of the odd-looking machines in each room, so it appears, and the two were connected by an electric wire. Watson had snapped the reed on one of the machines and the professor had heard from the other machine exactly the same sound. It was no more than the gentle TWANG of a clock-spring; but it was the first time in the history of the world that a complete sound had been carried along a wire, reproduced perfectly at the other end, and heard by an expert in acoustics.
That twang of the clock-spring was the first tiny cry of the newborn telephone, uttered in the clanging din of a machine-shop and happily heard by a man whose ear had been trained to recognize the strange voice of the little newcomer. There, amidst flying belts and jarring wheels, the baby telephone was born, as feeble and helpless as any other baby, and "with no language but a cry."
The professor-inventor, who had thus rescued the tiny foundling of science, was a young Scottish American. His name, now known as widely as the telephone itself, was Alexander Graham Bell. He was a teacher of acoustics and a student of electricity, possibly the only man in his generation who was able to focus a knowledge of both subjects upon the problem of the telephone. To other men that exceedingly faint sound would have been as inaudible as silence itself; but to Bell it was a thunder-clap. It was a dream come true. It was an impossible thing which had in a flash become so easy that he could scarcely believe it. Here, without the use of a battery, with no more electric current than that made by a couple of magnets, all the waves of a sound had been carried along a wire and changed back to sound at the farther end. It was absurd. It was incredible. It was something which neither wire nor electricity had been known to do before. But it was true.
No discovery has ever been less accidental. It was the last link of a long chain of discoveries. It was the result of a persistent and deliberate search. Already, for half a year or longer, Bell had known the correct theory of the telephone; but he had not realized that the feeble undulatory current generated by a magnet was strong enough for the transmission of speech. He had been taught to undervalue the incredible efficiency of electricity.
Not only was Bell himself a teacher of the laws of speech, so highly skilled that he was an instructor in Boston University. His father, also, his two brothers, his uncle, and his grandfather had taught the laws of speech in the universities of Edinburgh, Dublin, and London. For three generations the Bells had been professors of the science of talking. They had even helped to create that science by several inventions. The first of them, Alexander Bell, had invented a system for the correction of stammering and similar defects of speech. The second, Alexander Melville Bell, was the dean of British elocutionists, a man of creative brain and a most impressive facility of rhetoric. He was the author of a dozen text-books on the art of speaking correctly, and also of a most ingenious sign-language which he called "Visible Speech." Every letter in the alphabet of this language represented a certain action of the lips and tongue; so that a new method was provided for those who wished to learn foreign languages or to speak their own language more correctly. And the third of these speech-improving Bells, the inventor of the telephone, inherited the peculiar genius of his fathers, both inventive and rhetorical, to such a degree that as a boy he had constructed an artificial skull, from gutta-percha and India rubber, which, when enlivened by a blast of air from a hand-bellows, would actually pronounce several words in an almost human manner.
The third Bell, the only one of this remarkable family who concerns us at this time, was a young man, barely twenty-eight, at the time when his ear caught the first cry of the telephone. But he was already a man of some note on his own account. He had been educated in Edinburgh, the city of his birth, and in London; and had in one way and another picked up a smattering of anatomy, music, electricity, and telegraphy. Until he was sixteen years of age, he had read nothing but novels and poetry and romantic tales of Scottish heroes. Then he left home to become a teacher of elocution in various British schools, and by the time he was of age he had made several slight discoveries as to the nature of vowel-sounds. Shortly afterwards, he met in London two distinguished men, Alexander J. Ellis and Sir Charles Wheatstone, who did far more than they ever knew to forward Bell in the direction of the telephone.
Ellis was the president of the London Philological Society. Also, he was the translator of the famous book on "The Sensations of Tone," written by Helmholtz, who, in the period from 1871 to 1894 made Berlin the world-centre for the study of the physical sciences. So it happened that when Bell ran to Ellis as a young enthusiast and told his experiments, Ellis informed him that Helmholtz had done the same things several years before and done them more completely. He brought Bell to his house and showed him what Helmholtz had done--how he had kept tuning-forks in vibration by the power of electro-magnets, and blended the tones of several tuning-forks together to produce the complex quality of the human voice.
Now, Helmholtz had not been trying to invent a telephone, nor any sort of message-carrier. His aim was to point out the physical basis of music, and nothing more. But this fact that an electro-magnet would set a tuning-fork humming was new to Bell and very attractive. It appealed at once to him as a student of speech. If a tuning-fork could be made to sing by a magnet or an electrified wire, why would it not be possible to make a musical telegraph--a telegraph with a piano key-board, so that many messages could be sent at once over a single wire? Unknown to Bell, there were several dozen inventors then at work upon this problem, which proved in the end to be very elusive. But it gave him at least a starting-point, and he forthwith commenced his quest of the telephone.
As he was then in England, his first step was naturally to visit Sir Charles Wheatstone, the best known English expert on telegraphy. Sir Charles had earned his title by many inventions. He was a simple-natured scientist, and treated Bell with the utmost kindness. He showed him an ingenious talking-machine that had been made by Baron de Kempelin. At this time Bell was twenty-two and unknown; Wheatstone was sixty-seven and famous. And the personality of the veteran scientist made so vivid a picture upon the mind of the impressionable young Bell that the grand passion of science became henceforth the master-motif of his life.
From this summit of glorious ambition he was thrown, several months later, into the depths of grief and despondency. The White Plague had come to the home in Edinburgh and taken away his two brothers. More, it had put its mark upon the young inventor himself. Nothing but a change of climate, said his doctor, would put him out of danger. And so, to save his life, he and his father and mother set sail from Glasgow and came to the small Canadian town of Brantford, where for a year he fought down his tendency to consumption, and satisfied his nervous energy by teaching "Visible Speech" to a tribe of Mohawk Indians.
By this time it had become evident, both to his parents and to his friends, that young Graham was destined to become some sort of a creative genius. He was tall and supple, with a pale complexion, large nose, full lips, jet-black eyes, and jet-black hair, brushed high and usually rumpled into a curly tangle. In temperament he was a true scientific Bohemian, with the ideals of a savant and the disposition of an artist. He was wholly a man of enthusiasms, more devoted to ideas than to people; and less likely to master his own thoughts than to be mastered by them. He had no shrewdness, in any commercial sense, and very little knowledge of the small practical details of ordinary living. He was always intense, always absorbed. When he applied his mind to a problem, it became at once an enthralling arena, in which there went whirling a chariotrace of ideas and inventive fancies.
He had been fascinated from boyhood by his father's system of "Visible Speech." He knew it so well that he once astonished a professor of Oriental languages by repeating correctly a sentence of Sanscrit that had been written in "Visible Speech" characters. While he was living in London his most absorbing enthusiasm was the instruction of a class of deaf-mutes, who could be trained to talk, he believed, by means of the "Visible Speech" alphabet. He was so deeply impressed by the progress made by these pupils, and by the pathos of their dumbness, that when he arrived in Canada he was in doubt as to which of these two tasks was the more important--the teaching of deaf-mutes or the invention of a musical telegraph.
At this point, and before Bell had begun to experiment with his telegraph, the scene of the story shifts from Canada to Massachusetts. It appears that his father, while lecturing in Boston, had mentioned Graham's exploits with a class of deaf-mutes; and soon afterward the Boston Board of Education wrote to Graham, offering him five hundred dollars if he would come to Boston and introduce his system of teaching in a school for deaf-mutes that had been opened recently. The young man joyfully agreed, and on the first of April, 1871, crossed the line and became for the remainder of his life an American.
For the next two years his telegraphic work was laid aside, if not forgotten. His success as a teacher of deaf-mutes was sudden and overwhelming. It was the educational sensation of 1871. It won him a professorship in Boston University; and brought so many pupils around him that he ventured to open an ambitious "School of Vocal Physiology," which became at once a profitable enterprise. For a time there seemed to be little hope of his escaping from the burden of this success and becoming an inventor, when, by a most happy coincidence, two of his pupils brought to him exactly the sort of stimulation and practical help that he needed and had not up to this time received.
One of these pupils was a little deaf-mute tot, five years of age, named Georgie Sanders. Bell had agreed to give him a series of private lessons for $350 a year; and as the child lived with his grandmother in the city of Salem, sixteen miles from Boston, it was agreed that Bell should make his home with the Sanders family. Here he not only found the keenest interest and sympathy in his air-castles of invention, but also was given permission to use the cellar of the house as his workshop.
For the next three years this cellar was his favorite retreat. He littered it with tuningforks, magnets, batteries, coils of wire, tin trumpets, and cigar-boxes. No one outside of the Sanders family was allowed to enter it, as Bell was nervously afraid of having his ideas stolen. He would even go to five or six stores to buy his supplies, for fear that his intentions should be discovered. Almost with the secrecy of a conspirator, he worked alone in this cellar, usually at night, and quite oblivious of the fact that sleep was a necessity to him and to the Sanders family.
"Often in the middle of the night Bell would wake me up," said Thomas Sanders, the father of Georgie. "His black eyes would be blazing with excitement. Leaving me to go down to the cellar, he would rush wildly to the barn and begin to send me signals along his experimental wires. If I noticed any improvement in his machine, he would be delighted. He would leap and whirl around in one of his `war-dances' and then go contentedly to bed. But if the experiment was a failure, he would go back to his workbench and try some different plan."
The second pupil who became a factor--a very considerable factor--in Bell's career was a fifteen-year-old girl named Mabel Hubbard, who had lost her hearing, and consequently her speech, through an attack of scarlet-fever when a baby. She was a gentle and lovable girl, and Bell, in his ardent and headlong way, lost his heart to her completely; and four years later, he had the happiness of making her his wife. Mabel Hubbard did much to encourage Bell. She followed each step of his progress with the keenest interest. She wrote his letters and copied his patents. She cheered him on when he felt himself beaten. And through her sympathy with Bell and his ambitions, she led her father--a widely known Boston lawyer named Gardiner G. Hubbard--to become Bell's chief spokesman and defender, a true apostle of the telephone.
Hubbard first became aware of Bell's inventive efforts one evening when Bell was visiting at his home in Cambridge. Bell was illustrating some of the mysteries of acoustics by the aid of a piano. "Do you know," he said to Hubbard, "that if I sing the note G close to the strings of the piano, that the G-string will answer me?" "Well, what then?" asked Hubbard. "It is a fact of tremendous importance," replied Bell. "It is an evidence that we may some day have a musical telegraph, which will send as many messages simultaneously over one wire as there are notes on that piano."
Later, Bell ventured to confide to Hubbard his wild dream of sending speech over an electric wire, but Hubbard laughed him to scorn. "Now you are talking nonsense," he said. "Such a thing never could be more than a scientific toy. You had better throw that idea out of your mind and go ahead with your musical telegraph, which if it is successful will make you a millionaire."
But the longer Bell toiled at his musical telegraph, the more he dreamed of replacing the telegraph and its cumbrous sign-language by a new machine that would carry, not dots and dashes, but the human voice. "If I can make a deafmute talk," he said, "I can make iron talk." For months he wavered between the two ideas. He had no more than the most hazy conception of what this voice-carrying machine would be like. At first he conceived of having a harp at one end of the wire, and a speaking-trumpet at the other, so that the tones of the voice would be reproduced by the strings of the harp.
Then, in the early Summer of 1874, while he was puzzling over this harp apparatus, the dim outline of a new path suddenly glinted in front of him. He had not been forgetful of "Visible Speech" all this while, but had been making experiments with two remarkable machines--the phonautograph and the manometric capsule, by means of which the vibrations of sound were made plainly visible. If these could be improved, he thought, then the deaf might be taught to speak by SIGHT--by learning an alphabet of vibrations. He mentioned these experiments to a Boston friend, Dr. Clarence J. Blake, and he, being a surgeon and an aurist, naturally said, "Why don't you use a REAL EAR?"
Such an idea never had, and probably never could have, occurred to Bell; but he accepted it with eagerness. Dr. Blake cut an ear from a dead man's head, together with the ear-drum and the associated bones. Bell took this fragment of a skull and arranged it so that a straw touched the ear-drum at one end and a piece of moving smoked glass at the other. Thus, when Bell spoke loudly into the ear, the vibrations of the drum made tiny markings upon the glass.
It was one of the most extraordinary incidents in the whole history of the telephone. To an uninitiated onlooker, nothing could have been more ghastly or absurd. How could any one have interpreted the gruesome joy of this young professor with the pale face and the black eyes, who stood earnestly singing, whispering, and shouting into a dead man's ear? What sort of a wizard must he be, or ghoul, or madman? And in Salem, too, the home of the witchcraft superstition! Certainly it would not have gone well with Bell had he lived two centuries earlier and been caught at such black magic.
What had this dead man's ear to do with the invention of the telephone? Much. Bell noticed how small and thin was the ear-drum, and yet how effectively it could send thrills and vibrations through heavy bones. "If this tiny disc can vibrate a bone," he thought, "then an iron disc might vibrate an iron rod, or at least, an iron wire." In a flash the conception of a membrane telephone was pictured in his mind. He saw in imagination two iron discs, or ear-drums, far apart and connected by an electrified wire, catching the vibrations of sound at one end, and reproducing them at the other. At last he was on the right path, and had a theoretical knowledge of what a speaking telephone ought to be. What remained to be done was to construct such a machine and find out how the electric current could best be brought into harness.
Then, as though Fortune suddenly felt that he was winning this stupendous success too easily, Bell was flung back by an avalanche of troubles. Sanders and Hubbard, who had been paying the cost of his experiments, abruptly announced that they would pay no more unless he confined his attention to the musical telegraph, and stopped wasting his time on ear-toys that never could be of any financial value. What these two men asked could scarcely be denied, as one of them was his best-paying patron and the other was the father of the girl whom he hoped to marry. "If you wish my daughter," said Hubbard, "you must abandon your foolish telephone." Bell's "School of Vocal Physiology," too, from which he had hoped so much, had come to an inglorious end. He had been too much absorbed in his experiments to sustain it. His professorship had been given up, and he had no pupils except Georgie Sanders and Mabel Hubbard. He was poor, much poorer than his associates knew. And his mind was torn and distracted by the contrary calls of science, poverty, business, and affection. Pouring out his sorrows in a letter to his mother, he said: "I am now beginning to realize the cares and anxieties of being an inventor. I have had to put off all pupils and classes, for flesh and blood could not stand much longer such a strain as I have had upon me."
While stumbling through this Slough of Despond, he was called to Washington by his patent lawyer. Not having enough money to pay the cost of such a journey, he borrowed the price of a return ticket from Sanders and arranged to stay with a friend in Washington, to save a hotel bill that he could not afford. At that time Professor Joseph Henry, who knew more of the theory of electrical science than any other American, was the Grand Old Man of Washington; and poor Bell, in his doubt and desperation, resolved to run to him for advice.
Then came a meeting which deserves to be historic. For an entire afternoon the two men worked together over the apparatus that Bell had brought from Boston, just as Henry had worked over the telegraph before Bell was born. Henry was now a veteran of seventy-eight, with only three years remaining to his credit in the bank of Time, while Bell was twenty-eight. There was a long half-century between them; but the youth had discovered a New Fact that the sage, in all his wisdom, had never known.
"You are in possession of the germ of a great invention," said Henry, "and I would advise you to work at it until you have made it complete."
"But," replied Bell, "I have not got the electrical knowledge that is necessary."
"Get it," responded the aged scientist.
"I cannot tell you how much these two words have encouraged me," said Bell afterwards, in describing this interview to his parents. "I live too much in an atmosphere of discouragement for scientific pursuits; and such a chimerical idea as telegraphing VOCAL SOUNDS would indeed seem to most minds scarcely feasible enough to spend time in working over."
By this time Bell had moved his workshop from the cellar in Salem to 109 Court Street, Boston, where he had rented a room from Charles Williams, a manufacturer of electrical supplies. Thomas A. Watson was his assistant, and both Bell and Watson lived nearby, in two cheap little bedrooms. The rent of the workshop and bedrooms, and Watson's wages of nine dollars a week, were being paid by Sanders and Hubbard. Consequently, when Bell returned from Washington, he was compelled by his agreement to devote himself mainly to the musical telegraph, although his heart was now with the telephone. For exactly three months after his interview with Professor Henry, he continued to plod ahead, along both lines, until, on that memorable hot afternoon in June, 1875, the full TWANG of the clock-spring came over the wire, and the telephone was born.
From this moment, Bell was a man of one purpose. He won over Sanders and Hubbard. He converted Watson into an enthusiast. He forgot his musical telegraph, his "Visible Speech," his classes, his poverty. He threw aside a profession in which he was already locally famous. And he grappled with this new mystery of electricity, as Henry had advised him to do, encouraging himself with the fact that Morse, who was only a painter, had mastered his electrical difficulties, and there was no reason why a professor of acoustics should not do as much.
The telephone was now in existence, but it was the youngest and feeblest thing in the nation. It had not yet spoken a word. It had to be taught, developed, and made fit for the service of the irritable business world. All manner of discs had to be tried, some smaller and thinner than a dime and others of steel boiler-plate as heavy as the shield of Achilles. In all the books of electrical science, there was nothing to help Bell and Watson in this journey they were making through an unknown country. They were as chartless as Columbus was in 1492. Neither they nor any one else had acquired any experience in the rearing of a young telephone. No one knew what to do next. There was nothing to know.
For forty weeks--long exasperating weeks-the telephone could do no more than gasp and make strange inarticulate noises. Its educators had not learned how to manage it. Then, on March 10, 1876, IT TALKED. It said distinctly-
"MR. WATSON, COME HERE, I WANT YOU." Watson, who was at the lower end of the wire, in the basement, dropped the receiver and rushed with wild joy up three flights of stairs to tell the glad tidings to Bell. "I can hear you!" he shouted breathlessly. "I can hear the WORDS."
It was not easy, of course, for the weak young telephone to make itself heard in that noisy workshop. No one, not even Bell and Watson, was familiar with its odd little voice. Usually Watson, who had a remarkably keen sense of hearing, did the listening; and Bell, who was a professional elocutionist, did the talking. And day by day the tone of the baby instrument grew clearer--a new note in the orchestra of civilization.
On his twenty-ninth birthday, Bell received his patent, No. 174,465--"the most valuable single patent ever issued" in any country. He had created something so entirely new that there was no name for it in any of the world's languages. In describing it to the officials of the Patent Office, he was obliged to call it "an improvement in telegraphy," when, in truth, it was nothing of the kind. It was as different from the telegraph as the eloquence of a great orator is from the sign-language of a deaf-mute.
Other inventors had worked from the standpoint of the telegraph; and they never did, and never could, get any better results than signs and symbols. But Bell worked from the standpoint of the human voice. He cross-fertilized the two sciences of acoustics and electricity. His study of "Visible Speech" had trained his mind so that he could mentally SEE the shape of a word as he spoke it. He knew what a spoken word was, and how it acted upon the air, or the ether, that carried its vibrations from the lips to the ear. He was a third-generation specialist in the nature of speech, and he knew that for the transmission of spoken words there must be "a pulsatory action of the electric current which is the exact equivalent of the aerial impulses."
Bell knew just enough about electricity, and not too much. He did not know the possible from the impossible. "Had I known more about electricity, and less about sound," he said, "I would never have invented the telephone." What he had done was so amazing, so foolhardy, that no trained electrician could have thought of it. It was "the very hardihood of invention," and yet it was not in any sense a chance discovery. It was the natural output of a mind that had been led to assemble just the right materials for such a product.
As though the very stars in their courses were working for this young wizard with the talking wire, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia opened its doors exactly two months after the telephone had learned to talk. Here was a superb opportunity to let the wide world know what had been done, and fortunately Hubbard was one of the Centennial Commissioners. By his influence a small table was placed in the Department of Education, in a narrow space between a stairway and a wall, and on this table was deposited the first of the telephones.
Bell had no intention of going to the Centennial himself. He was too poor. Sanders and Hubbard had never done more than pay his room-rent and the expense of his experiments. For his three or four years of inventing he had received nothing as yet--nothing but his patent. In order to live, he had been compelled to reorganize his classes in "Visible Speech," and to pick up the ravelled ends of his neglected profession.
But one Friday afternoon, toward the end of June, his sweetheart, Mabel Hubbard, was taking the train for the Centennial; and he went to the depot to say good-bye. Here Miss Hubbard learned for the first time that Bell was not to go. She coaxed and pleaded, without effect. Then, as the train was starting, leaving Bell on the platform, the affectionate young girl could no longer control her feelings and was overcome by a passion of tears. At this the susceptible Bell, like a true Sir Galahad, dashed after the moving train and sprang aboard, without ticket or baggage, oblivious of his classes and his poverty and of all else except this one maiden's distress. "I never saw a man," said Watson, "so much in love as Bell was."
As it happened, this impromptu trip to the Centennial proved to be one of the most timely acts of his life. On the following Sunday afternoon the judges were to make a special tour of inspection, and Mr. Hubbard, after much trouble, had obtained a promise that they would spend a few minutes examining Bell's telephone. By this time it had been on exhibition for more than six weeks, without attracting the serious attention of anybody.
When Sunday afternoon arrived, Bell was at his little table, nervous, yet confident. But hour after hour went by, and the judges did not arrive. The day was intensely hot, and they had many wonders to examine. There was the first electric light, and the first grain-binder, and the musical telegraph of Elisha Gray, and the marvellous exhibit of printing telegraphs shown by the Western Union Company. By the time they came to Bell's table, through a litter of schooldesks and blackboards, the hour was seven o'clock, and every man in the party was hot, tired, and hungry. Several announced their intention of returning to their hotels. One took up a telephone receiver, looked at it blankly, and put it down again. He did not even place it to his ear. Another judge made a slighting remark which raised a laugh at Bell's expense. Then a most marvellous thing happened--such an incident as would make a chapter in "The Arabian Nights Entertainments."
Accompanied by his wife, the Empress Theresa, and by a bevy of courtiers, the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro de Alcantara, walked into the room, advanced with both hands outstretched to the bewildered Bell, and exclaimed: "Professor Bell, I am delighted to see you again." The judges at once forgot the heat and the fatigue and the hunger. Who was this young inventor, with the pale complexion and black eyes, that he should be the friend of Emperors? They did not know, and for the moment even Bell himself had forgotten, that Dom Pedro had once visited Bell's class of deaf-mutes at Boston University. He was especially interested in such humanitarian work, and had recently helped to organize the first Brazilian school for deaf-mutes at Rio de Janeiro. And so, with the tall, blond-bearded Dom Pedro in the centre, the assembled judges, and scientists--there were fully fifty in all-entered with unusual zest into the proceedings of this first telephone exhibition.
A wire had been strung from one end of the room to the other, and while Bell went to the transmitter, Dom Pedro took up the receiver and placed it to his ear. It was a moment of tense expectancy. No one knew clearly what was about to happen, when the Emperor, with a dramatic gesture, raised his head from the receiver and exclaimed with a look of utter amazement: "MY GOD--IT TALKS!"
Next came to the receiver the oldest scientist in the group, the venerable Joseph Henry, whose encouragement to Bell had been so timely. He stopped to listen, and, as one of the bystanders afterwards said, no one could forget the look of awe that came into his face as he heard that iron disc talking with a human voice. "This," said he, "comes nearer to overthrowing the doctrine of the conservation of energy than anything I ever saw."
Then came Sir William Thomson, latterly known as Lord Kelvin. It was fitting that he should be there, for he was the foremost electrical scientist at that time in the world, and had been the engineer of the first Atlantic Cable. He listened and learned what even he had not known before, that a solid metallic body could take up from the air all the countless varieties of vibrations produced by speech, and that these vibrations could be carried along a wire and reproduced exactly by a second metallic body. He nodded his head solemnly as he rose from the receiver. "It DOES speak," he said emphatically. "It is the most wonderful thing I have seen in America."
So, one after another, this notable company of men listened to the voice of the first telephone, and the more they knew of science, the less they were inclined to believe their ears. The wiser they were, the more they wondered. To Henry and Thomson, the masters of electrical magic, this instrument was as surprising as it was to the man in the street. And both were noble enough to admit frankly their astonishment in the reports which they made as judges, when they gave Bell a Certificate of Award. "Mr. Bell has achieved a result of transcendent scientific interest," wrote Sir William Thomson. "I heard it speak distinctly several sentences. . . . I was astonished and delighted. . . . It is the greatest marvel hitherto achieved by the electric telegraph."
Until nearly ten o'clock that night the judges talked and listened by turns at the telephone. Then, next morning, they brought the apparatus to the judges' pavilion, where for the remainder of the summer it was mobbed by judges and scientists. Sir William Thomson and his wife ran back and forth between the two ends of the wire like a pair of delighted children. And thus it happened that the crude little instrument that had been tossed into an out-of-the-way corner became the star of the Centennial. It had been given no more than eighteen words in the official catalogue, and here it was acclaimed as the wonder of wonders. It had been conceived in a cellar and born in a machine-shop; and now, of all the gifts that our young American Republic had received on its one-hundredth birthday, the telephone was honored as the rarest and most welcome of them all.