Throwback Thursday: When the First Telephone Call Was Made

Talk about #innovation.

If you’re reading this on your phone, give a nod to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.

On this day 140 years ago, he made the first-ever phone call in history. Bell was sitting in the laboratory above his home in Boston when he successfully spoke to his assistant, Thomas Watson, who was on the receiving end in a different room. The event is chronicled in a journal entry, now in the possession of the Library of Congress:

I then shouted into M [mouthpiece] the following sentence: “Mr. Watson, come here—I want to see you.” To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.

I asked him to repeat the words. He answered, “You said ‘Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you.'” We then changed places and I listened at S [speaker] while Mr. Watson read a few passages from a book into the mouthpiece M. It was certainly the case that articulate sounds proceeded from S. The effect was loud but indistinct and muffled.

Three days prior to his success on March 10, 1876, Bell had received his patent for the telephone. He beat another American inventor named Elisha Gray to the idea, who attempted to file a similar patent immediately after Bell did. A feud ensued in court, but Bell eventually won the battle. He formed the Bell Telephone Company in 1877, which became American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1899.

A Scottish immigrant, Bell was the son of a speech correction expert. He was trained to become a voice teacher, and moved to Boston in 1871 to introduce his father’s methods of speech instruction to teachers of the deaf. He opened his own school for teachers of the hearing impaired and worked as a professor of vocal physiology at BU before he began to experiment with the telephone.

Today, you can visit the spot where Bell made the famous first call, though this home at 109 Court Street no longer stands. Instead, a plaque is located in front of the John F. Kennedy Building on Cambridge Street near City Hall Plaza.