America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

The Story of the Telephone

THERE was a great Exposition held in Philadelphia, in 1876. It was called the Centennial, because it celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Nearly every country in the world contributed to the exhibits, and people from every nation came to see the wonderful display of art and industry.

Among the visitors was Dom Pedro, the Emperor of Brazil. He was a man of great knowledge, and was much interested in invention. The officials of the Exposition showed him special attention. Among other things, he was asked to a room where the judges were passing on the objects offered for exhibition. A young man was speaking to the Committee.

"I have here a new invention," he said, "the purpose of which is to convey the human voice over a wire by electricity, so that it can be heard a long distance off. I call it a telephone."

The judges were tired, and the hour was late. They were about to dismiss the young man without even trying to see whether his invention would work. They did not put the receiver to their ears, nor did they speak in the mouth-piece when the inventor asked them to do so.

Dom Pedro stood in the doorway, and listened to what was going on. He saw the eagerness in the face of the young man, and noticed the indifference of the judges. He felt indignant that so much enthusiasm should meet with so great a rebuff.

Stepping into the room, he was surprised to recognize the young man as Alexander Graham Bell, whom he had met in Boston, and to whom he had already taken a great fancy.

"Let me examine your instrument, if you please," he said politely, and put the receiver to his ear.

Bell went into another room, where the other end of the wire was, and recited into the transmitter some lines from a great poem, which Dom Pedro heard distinctly.

"This is very wonderful," he said. "I think, gentlemen, you will make a mistake not to allow Mr. Bell to exhibit his telephone, for it is a very interesting device, and may some day be a serviceable one."

The judges were anxious to please their distinguished visitor, and so allowed the telephone to have space.

"It is merely a toy, and it might amuse the public, at any rate," said one.

But this toy proved to be one of the great attractions at the Exposition. Crowds came every day to hear the voices of their friends over the wire. The question asked by many was, "Have you tried the telephone yet?"

Alexander Graham Bell was a teacher of deaf-mutes. They were taught to know what others were saying by watching the motion of their lips. The system had been worked out by Bell's father, but young Bell had greatly improved upon it. He had succeeded in teaching persons, born deaf, and those who had become deaf in infancy, not only to understand the motion of lips, but also to speak.

One of his pupils was a young girl who had lost her hearing when a baby, and, in consequence, her speech also. She was a lovable, bright girl. Bell taught her to speak and to understand what others were saying. She afterwards became his wife, and helped him with his telephone.

Work on the telephone was done by the inventor at odd hours, after he had finished his day's teaching. He was very poor, and could not afford to buy material or tools. The first telephone was made out of an old cigar-box, two hundred feet of wire, and two magnets taken from a toy fish pond.

But the inventor kept on working, and, the year after the Centennial, the telephone was put into practical use by the public. People at first thought it was a luxury, and they were slow to adopt it. But, nowadays, it has become a household convenience and a business necessity. We speak from one city to another, and even across the continent. It is no longer regarded as a toy, but it has been added to the long list of American inventions that facilitate business and make life more comfortable.

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