Friday 10 March 2017

Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.

These days we mostly use our phones for Facebook, Candy Crush, and cat videos, but that wasn't always so. The telephone's development had a profound impact on the way we interact with each other. On March 10th, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell wrote in his journal about the first successful telephone conversation, which took place in Brantford, Ontario.
"Mr. Watson was stationed in one room with the Receiving Instrument. He pressed one ear closely against S and closed his other ear with his hand. The Transmitting Instrument was placed in another room and the doors of both rooms were closed.
"I then shouted into M 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 exchanged places and I listened at S while Mr. Watson read a few passages from a book into the mouth piece M. It was certainly the case that articulate sounds proceeded from S. The effect was loud but indistinct and muffled. If I had read beforehand the passage given by Mr. Watson I should have recognized every word. As it was I could not make out the sense - but an occasional word here and there was quite distinct. I made out "to" "and" "out" and "further", and finally, the sentence "Mr Bell do you understand what I say? DO -YOU-UNDER-STAND-WHAT-I-SAY" came quite clearly and intelligibly." 

By 1877 private telephone lines were being sold to the public. An August 13th, 1877 ad in the Globe explained,
"The SPEAKING TELEPHONE of Prof. Alexander Graham Bell has now attained to such simplicity and cheapness, as renders it universally available for public, private, social, or business communications. It needs no battery, and has no moving machinery, and no skill is required, except to speak plainly and listen attentively. The instrument is neat and portable, and an ornament to any room or office.
"The Telephone conveys the quality of the voice, so that the person speaking can be recognized at the other end of the line. It enables the manufacturer to talk with his factory superintendent, the main office with the branch office, the house with the store, the country residence with the stables or any part of the grounds, the mouth of the mine with its remotest workings, or, in short, any given point with any other point, although many miles apart
"The yearly cost to the lessee for a set of Telephones - one at each end of his line - is twenty dollars. The Proprietors keep the instruments in repair, without charge, and the lessee has no expense in working them." 

A review of the year 1878 published in the Globe on January 1st, 1879 had this to say:
"Wonderful improvements have been made in the telephone and phonograph, both of them inventions of the year before last, but dating their usefulness from 1878 ... The telephone is coming into extensive use in all the large cities."

A directory of Toronto's telephone subscribers was first published on April 1st, 1879.

Here in the archives, the earliest records we have of a telephone line date from 1887. The Bell Telephone Company of Canada charged thirty dollars per year to rent a "telephone apparatus" at St. John's Grove, where Bishop Lynch lived.

Bell Telephone Company telephone apparatus rent receipt.

L AN01b

July 26th, 1887
Archbishop Lynch Fonds

In November of that year, the house paid $1.20 for long distance calls to Peterborough, St. Catharines, Pickering and Bradford.

Long distance bill.

L AN01b

November 1st, 1887
Archbishop Lynch Fonds

You can read more about the development of the telephone in Toronto here, here, here and here.

Bonus: A report of a dinner at the University of Toronto in the June 11th, 1879 issue of the Globe included an eerily accurate speech about the future of universities:
"With the wonderful advancement that science was making, the time would no doubt come when the whole Dominion would be taught by a University located among the Rocky Mountains, with connections by telephone from Vancouver Island to Cape Breton. (Laughter.) ... Then the tranquil professor would quietly sit in his study and teach the classes who sat around their telephones in far distant cities. The student also by means of the phonograph might have the words of the lecturer continually in his ear, even after the worthy old gentleman had passed away."

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