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The History of the Telephone by Herbert N. Casson

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The Western Union had lost its case, for several
very simple reasons: It had tried to operate
a telephone system on telegraphic lines, a plan
that has invariably been unsuccessful, it had a
low idea of the possibilities of the telephone business;
and its already busy agents had little time or
knowledge or enthusiasm to give to the new enterprise.
With all its power, it found itself outfought
by this compact body of picked men, who
were young, zealous, well-handled, and protected
by a most invulnerable patent.

The Bell Telephone now took its place with the
Telegraph, the Railroad, the Steamboat, the
Harvester, and the other necessities of a civilized
country. Its pioneer days were over. There
was no more ridicule and incredulity. Every one
knew that the Bell people had whipped the West-
ern Union, and hastened to join in the grand Te
Deum of applause. Within five months from
the signing of the agreement, there had to be a
reorganization; and the American Bell Telephone
Company was created, with six million dollars
capital. In the following year, 1881, twelve hundred
new towns and cities were marked on the
telephone map, and the first dividends were paid
--$178,500. And in 1882 there came such a telephone
boom that the Bell System was multiplied
by two, with more than a million dollars of gross

At this point all the earliest pioneers of the
telephone, except Vail, pass out of its history.
Thomas Sanders sold his stock for somewhat less
than a million dollars, and presently lost most of
it in a Colorado gold mine. His mother, who had
been so good a friend to Bell, had her fortune
doubled. Gardiner G. Hubbard withdrew from
business life, and as it was impossible for a man
of his ardent temperament to be idle, he plunged
into the National Geographical Society. He was
a Colonel Sellers whose dream of millions (for
the telephone) had come true; and when he died,
in 1897, he was rich both in money and in the
affection of his friends. Charles Williams, in
whose workshop the first telephones were made,
sold his factory to the Bell Company in 1881 for
more money than he had ever expected to possess.
Thomas A. Watson resigned at the same time,
finding himself no longer a wage-worker but a
millionaire. Several years later he established a
shipbuilding plant near Boston, which grew
until it employed four thousand workmen and
had built half a dozen warships for the United
States Navy.

As for Bell, the first cause of the telephone
business, he did what a true scientific Bohemian
might have been expected to do; he gave all his
stock to his bride on their marriage-day and
resumed his work as an instructor of deaf-mutes.
Few kings, if any, had ever given so rich a wedding
present; and certainly no one in any country
ever obtained and tossed aside an immense
fortune as incidentally as did Bell. When the
Bell Company offered him a salary of ten thousand
dollars a year to remain its chief inventor,
he refused the offer cheerfully on the ground that
he could not "invent to order." In 1880, the
French Government gave him the Volta Prize of
fifty thousand francs and the Cross of the Legion
of Honor. He has had many honors since then,
and many interests. He has been for thirty
years one of the most brilliant and picturesque
personalities in American public life. But none
of his later achievements can in any degree compare
with what he did in a cellar in Salem, at
twenty-eight years of age.

They had all become rich, these first friends
of the telephone, but not fabulously so. There
was not at that time, nor has there been since,
any one who became a multimillionaire by the sale
of telephone service. If the Bell Company had
sold its stock at the highest price reached, in 1880,
it would have received less than nine million
dollars--a huge sum, but not too much to pay
for the invention of the telephone and the building
up of a new art and a new industry. It
was not as much as the value of the eggs laid
during the last twelve months by the hens of

But, as may be imagined, when the news of the
Western Union agreement became known, the
story of the telephone became a fairy tale of success.
Theodore Vail was given a banquet by his
old-time friends in the Washington postal service,
and toasted as "the Monte Cristo of the Telephone."
It was said that the actual cost of the
Bell plant was only one-twenty-fifth of its capital,
and that every four cents of investment had thus
become a dollar. Even Jay Gould, carried beyond
his usual caution by these stories, ran up to
New Haven and bought its telephone company,
only to find out later that its earnings were less
than its expenses.

Much to the bewilderment of the Bell Company,
it soon learned that the troubles of wealth
are as numerous as those of poverty. It was
beset by a throng of promoters and stock-jobbers,
who fell upon it and upon the public like a swarm
of seventeen-year locusts. In three years, one
hundred and twenty-five competing companies
were started, in open defiance of the Bell patents.
The main object of these companies was not, like
that of the Western Union, to do a legitimate
telephone business, but to sell stock to the public.
The face value of their stock was $225,000,000,
although few of them ever sent a message. One
company of unusual impertinence, without money
or patents, had capitalized its audacity at

How to HOLD the business that had been established
--that was now the problem. None of the
Bell partners had been mere stock-jobbers. At
one time they had even taken a pledge not to sell
any of their stock to outsiders. They had
financed their company in a most honest and
simple way; and they were desperately opposed
to the financial banditti whose purpose was to
transform the telephone business into a cheat and
a gamble. At first, having held their own against
the Western Union, they expected to make short
work of the stock-jobbers. But it was a vain
hope. These bogus companies, they found, did
not fight in the open, as the Western Union had

All manner of injurious rumors were presently
set afloat concerning the Bell patent. Other
inventors--some of them honest men, and some
shameless pretenders--were brought forward
with strangely concocted tales of prior invention.
The Granger movement was at that time a strong
political factor in the Middle West, and its blind
fear of patents and "monopolies" was turned
aggressively against the Bell Company. A few
Senators and legitimate capitalists were lifted up
as the figureheads of the crusade. And a loud
hue-and-cry was raised in the newspapers against
"high rates and monopoly" to distract the minds
of the people from the real issue of legitimate
business versus stock-company bubbles.

The most plausible and persistent of all the
various inventors who snatched at Bell's laurels,
was Elisha Gray. He refused to abide by the
adverse decision of the court. Several years
after his defeat, he came forward with new
weapons and new methods of attack. He became
more hostile and irreconcilable; and until his
death, in 1901, never renounced his claim to be the
original inventor of the telephone.

The reason for this persistence is very evident.
Gray was a professional inventor, a highly competent
man who had begun his career as a blacksmith's
apprentice, and risen to be a professor of
Oberlin. He made, during his lifetime, over five
million dollars by his patents. In 1874, he and
Bell were running a neck-and-neck race to see
who could first invent a musical telegraph--
when, presto! Bell suddenly turned aside, because
of his acoustical knowledge, and invented
the telephone, while Gray kept straight ahead.
Like all others who were in quest of a better
telegraph instrument, Gray had glimmerings of
the possibility of sending speech by wire, and by
one of the strangest of coincidences he filed a
caveat on the subject on the SAME DAY that Bell
filed the application for a patent. Bell had
arrived first. As the record book shows, the
fifth entry on that day was: "A. G. Bell, $15";
and the thirty-ninth entry was "E. Gray, $10."

There was a vast difference between Gray's
caveat and Bell's application. A caveat is a
declaration that the writer has NOT invented a
thing, but believes that he is about to do so; while
an APPLICATION is a declaration that the writer has
already perfected the invention. But Gray
could never forget that he had seemed to be, for
a time, so close to the golden prize; and seven
years after he had been set aside by the Western
Union agreement, he reappeared with claims
that had grown larger and more definite.

When all the evidence in the various Gray
lawsuits is sifted out, there appear to have been
three distinctly different Grays: first, Gray the
SCOFFER, who examined Bell's telephone at the
Centennial and said it was "nothing but the old
lover's telegraph. It is impossible to make a
practical speaking telephone on the principle
shown by Professor Bell. . . . The currents
are too feeble"; second, Gray the CONVERT, who
wrote frankly to Bell in 1877, "I do not claim
the credit of inventing it"; and third, Gray the
CLAIMANT, who endeavored to prove in 1886 that
he was the original inventor. His real position
in the matter was once well and wittily described
by his partner, Enos M. Barton, who said: "Of
all the men who DIDN'T invent the telephone,
Gray was the nearest."

It is now clearly seen that the telephone owes
nothing to Gray. There are no Gray telephones
in use in any country. Even Gray himself,
as he admitted in court, failed when he tried
to make a telephone on the lines laid down in his
caveat. The final word on the whole matter was
recently spoken by George C. Maynard, who
established the telephone business in the city of
Washington. Said Mr. Maynard:

"Mr. Gray was an intimate and valued friend of
mine, but it is no disrespect to his memory to say
that on some points involved in the telephone matter,
he was mistaken. No subject was ever so thoroughly
investigated as the invention of the speaking telephone.
No patent has ever been submitted to such determined
assault from every direction as Bell's; and no inventor
has ever been more completely vindicated. Bell was the
first inventor, and Gray was not."

After Gray, the weightiest challenger who
came against Bell was Professor Amos E.
Dolbear, of Tufts College. He, like Gray, had
written a letter of applause to Bell in 1877. "I
congratulate you, sir," he said, "upon your very
great invention, and I hope to see it supplant all
forms of existing telegraphs, and that you will be
successful in obtaining the wealth and honor
which is your due." But one year later, Dolbear
came to view with an opposition telephone. It
was not an imitation of Bell's, he insisted, but an
improvement upon an electrical device made by a
German named Philip Reis, in 1861.

Thus there appeared upon the scene the so-
called "Reis telephone," which was not a telephone
at all, in any practical sense, but which
served well enough for nine years or more as a
weapon to use against the Bell patents. Poor
Philip Reis himself, the son of a baker in Frankfort,
Germany, had hoped to make a telephone,
but he had failed. His machine was operated by
a "make-and-break" current, and so could not
carry the infinitely delicate vibrations made by
the human voice. It could transmit the pitch of
a sound, but not the QUALITY. At its best, it
could carry a tune, but never at any time a
spoken sentence. Reis, in his later years, realized
that his machine could never be used for the
transmission of conversation; and in a letter to a
friend he tells of a code of signals that he has

Bell had once, during his three years of
experimenting, made a Reis machine, although at
that time he had not seen one. But he soon
threw it aside, as of no practical value. As a
teacher of acoustics, Bell knew that the one
indispensable requirement of a telephone is that it
shall transmit the WHOLE of a sound, and not
merely the pitch of it. Such scientists as Lord
Kelvin, Joseph Henry, and Edison had seen the
little Reis instrument years before Bell invented
the telephone; but they regarded it as a mere
musical toy. It was "not in any sense a speaking
telephone," said Lord Kelvin. And Edison,
when trying to put the Reis machine in the most
favorable light, admitted humorously that when
he used a Reis transmitter he generally "knew
what was coming; and knowing what was coming,
even a Reis transmitter, pure and simple,
reproduces sounds which seem almost like that
which was being transmitted; but when the man
at the other end did not know what was coming,
it was very seldom that any word was recognized."

In the course of the Dolbear lawsuit, a Reis
machine was brought into court, and created
much amusement. It was able to squeak, but
not to speak. Experts and professors wrestled
with it in vain. It refused to transmit one intel-
ligible sentence. "It CAN speak, but it WON'T,"
explained one of Dolbear's lawyers. It is now
generally known that while a Reis machine, when
clogged and out of order, would transmit a word
or two in an imperfect way, it was built on wrong
lines. It was no more a telephone than a wagon
is a sleigh, even though it is possible to chain the
wheels and make them slide for a foot or two.
Said Judge Lowell, in rendering his famous

"A century of Reis would never have produced a
speaking telephone by mere improvement of construction.
It was left for Bell to discover that the failure
was due not to workmanship but to the principle which
was adopted as the basis of what had to be done.
. . . Bell discovered a new art--that of transmitting
speech by electricity, and his claim is not as broad
as his invention. . . . To follow Reis is to fail;
but to follow Bell is to succeed."

After the victory over Dolbear, the Bell stock
went soaring skywards; and the higher it went,
the greater were the number of infringers and
blowers of stock bubbles. To bait the Bell Company
became almost a national sport. Any sort
of claimant, with any sort of wild tale of prior
invention, could find a speculator to support him.
On they came, a motley array, "some in rags,
some on nags, and some in velvet gowns." One
of them claimed to have done wonders with an
iron hoop and a file in 1867; a second had a
marvellous table with glass legs; a third swore
that he had made a telephone in 1860, but did not
know what it was until he saw Bell's patent; and
a fourth told a vivid story of having heard a bullfrog
croak via a telegraph wire which was strung
into a certain cellar in Racine, in 1851.

This comic opera phase came to a head in the
famous Drawbaugh case, which lasted for nearly
four years, and filled ten thousand pages with
its evidence. Having failed on Reis, the German,
the opponents of Bell now brought forward
an American inventor named Daniel Drawbaugh,
and opened up a noisy newspaper
campaign. To secure public sympathy for
Drawbaugh, it was said that he had invented a
complete telephone and switchboard before 1876,
but was in such "utter and abject poverty" that
he could not get himself a patent. Five hundred
witnesses were examined; and such a
general turmoil was aroused that the Bell lawyers
were compelled to take the attack seriously, and
to fight back with every pound of ammunition
they possessed.

The fact about Drawbaugh is that he was a
mechanic in a country village near Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania. He was ingenious but not inventive;
and loved to display his mechanical skill
before the farmers and villagers. He was a subscriber
to The Scientific American; and it had
become the fixed habit of his life to copy other
people's inventions and exhibit them as his own.
He was a trailer of inventors. More than forty
instances of this imitative habit were shown at
the trial, and he was severely scored by the judge,
who accused him of "deliberately falsifying the
facts." His ruling passion of imitation, apparently,
was not diminished by the loss of his telephone
claims, as he came to public view again in
1903 as a trailer of Marconi.

Drawbaugh's defeat sent the Bell stock up
once more, and brought on a Xerxes' army of
opposition which called itself the "Overland
Company." Having learned that no one claim-
ant could beat Bell in the courts, this company
massed the losers together and came forward
with a scrap-basket full of patents. Several
powerful capitalists undertook to pay the
expenses of this adventure. Wires were strung;
stock was sold; and the enterprise looked for a
time so genuine that when the Bell lawyers asked
for an injunction against it, they were refused.
This was as hard a blow as the Bell people
received in their eleven years of litigation; and
the Bell stock tumbled thirty-five points in a few
days. Infringing companies sprang up like
gourds in the night. And all went merrily with
the promoters until the Overland Company was
thrown out of court, as having no evidence,
except "the refuse and dregs of former cases--
the heel-taps found in the glasses at the end of
the frolic."

But even after this defeat for the claimants,
the frolic was not wholly ended. They next
planned to get through politics what they could
not get through law; they induced the Government
to bring suit for the annulment of
the Bell patents. It was a bold and desperate
move, and enabled the promoters of paper companies
to sell stock for several years longer.
The whole dispute was re-opened, from Gray to
Drawbaugh. Every battle was re-fought; and
in the end, of course, the Government officials
learned that they were being used to pull telephone
chestnuts out of the fire. The case was
allowed to die a natural death, and was informally
dropped in 1896.

In all, the Bell Company fought out thirteen
lawsuits that were of national interest, and five
that were carried to the Supreme Court in Washington.
It fought out five hundred and eighty-
seven other lawsuits of various natures; and with
the exception of two trivial contract suits, IT

Its experience is an unanswerable indictment
of our system of protecting inventors. No
inventor had ever a clearer title than Bell. The
Patent Office itself, in 1884, made an eighteen-
months' investigation of all telephone patents,
and reported: "It is to Bell that the world owes
the possession of the speaking telephone." Yet
his patent was continuously under fire, and never
at any time secure. Stock companies whose
paper capital totalled more than $500,000,000
were organized to break it down; and from first
to last the success of the telephone was based
much less upon the monopoly of patents than
upon the building up of a well organized

Fortunately for Bell and the men who upheld
him, they were defended by two master-lawyers
who have seldom, if ever, had an equal for team
work and efficiency--Chauncy Smith and James
J. Storrow. These two men were marvellously
well mated. Smith was an old-fashioned attorney
of the Websterian sort, dignified, ponderous,
and impressive. By 1878, when he came
in to defend the little Bell Company against
the towering Western Union, Smith had become
the most noted patent lawyer in Boston.
He was a large, thick-set man, a reminder of
Benjamin Franklin, with clean-shaven face, long
hair curling at the ends, frock coat, high collar,
and beaver hat.

Storrow, on the contrary, was a small man,
quiet in manner, conversational in argument, and
an encyclopedia of definite information. He
was so thorough that, when he became a Bell
lawyer, he first spent an entire summer at his
country home in Petersham, studying the laws
of physics and electricity. He was never in the
slightest degree spectacular. Once only, during
the eleven years of litigation, did he lose control
of his temper. He was attacking the credibility
of a witness whom he had put on the stand, but
who had been tampered with by the opposition
lawyers. "But this man is your own witness,"
protested the lawyers. "Yes," shouted the
usually soft-speaking Storrow; "he WAS my witness,
but now he is YOUR LIAR."

The efficiency of these two men was greatly
increased by a third--Thomas D. Lockwood,
who was chosen by Vail in 1879 to establish a
Patent Department. Two years before, Lockwood
had heard Bell lecture in Chickering Hall,
New York, and was a "doubting Thomas." But
a closer study of the telephone transformed him
into an enthusiast. Having a memory like a
filing system, and a knack for invention, Lockwood
was well fitted to create such a depart-
ment. He was a man born for the place. And
he has seen the number of electrical patents grow
from a few hundred in 1878 to eighty thousand
in 1910.

These three men were the defenders of the Bell
patents. As Vail built up the young telephone
business, they held it from being torn to shreds
in an orgy of speculative competition. Smith
prepared the comprehensive plan of defence.
By his sagacity and experience he was enabled to
mark out the general principles upon which Bell
had a right to stand. Usually, he closed the
case, and he was immensely effective as he would
declaim, in his deep voice: "I submit, Your
Honor, that the literature of the world does not
afford a passage which states how the human
voice can be electrically transmitted, previous to
the patent of Mr. Bell." His death, like his life,
was dramatic. He was on his feet in the courtroom,
battling against an infringer, when, in the
middle of a sentence, he fell to the floor, overcome
by sickness and the responsibilities he had
carried for twelve years. Storrow, in a different
way, was fully as indispensable as Smith. It
was he who built up the superstructure of the
Bell defence. He was a master of details. His
brain was keen and incisive; and some of his
briefs will be studied as long as the art of
telephony exists. He might fairly have been
compared, in action, to a rapid-firing Gatling gun;
while Smith was a hundred-ton cannon, and
Lockwood was the maker of the ammunition.

Smith and Storrow had three main arguments
that never were, and never could be, answered.
Fifty or more of the most eminent lawyers of
that day tried to demolish these arguments, and
failed. The first was Bell's clear, straightforward
story of HOW HE DID IT, which rebuked and
confounded the mob of pretenders. The second
was the historical fact that the most eminent
electrical scientists of Europe and America had seen
Bell's telephone at the Centennial and had
declared it to be NEW--"not only new but
marvellous," said Tyndall. And the third was
the very significant fact that no one challenged
Bell's claim to be the original inventor of the
telephone until his patent was seventeen
months old.

The patent itself, too, was a remarkable document.
It was a Gibraltar of security to the Bell
Company. For eleven years it was attacked
from all sides, and never dented. It covered an
entire art, yet it was sustained during its whole
lifetime. Printed in full, it would make ten
pages of this book; but the core of it is in the last
sentence: "The method of, and apparatus for,
transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically,
by causing electrical undulations, similar in
form to the vibrations of the air accompanying
the said vocal or other sounds." These words
expressed an idea that had never been written
before. It could not be evaded or overcome.
There were only thirty-two words, but in six
years these words represented an investment of a
million dollars apiece.

Now that the clamor of this great patent war
has died away, it is evident that Bell received no
more credit and no more reward than he
deserved. There was no telephone until he
made one, and since he made one, no one
has found out any other way. Hundreds of
clever men have been trying for more than
thirty years to outrival Bell, and yet every
telephone in the world is still made on the plan
that Bell discovered.

No inventor who preceded Bell did more, in
the invention of the telephone, than to help Bell
indirectly, in the same way that Fra Mauro and
Toscanelli helped in the discovery of America
by making the map and chart that were used by
Columbus. Bell was helped by his father, who
taught him the laws of acoustics; by Helmholtz,
who taught him the influence of magnets upon
sound vibrations; by Koenig and Leon Scott,
who taught him the infinite variety of these
vibrations; by Dr. Clarence J. Blake, who gave him a
human ear for his experiments; and by Joseph
Henry and Sir Charles Wheatstone, who encouraged
him to persevere. In a still more
indirect way, he was helped by Morse's invention
of the telegraph; by Faraday's discovery of the
phenomena of magnetic induction; by Sturgeon's
first electro-magnet; and by Volta's electric battery.
All that scientists had achieved, from
Galileo and Newton to Franklin and Simon
Newcomb, helped Bell in a general way, by creat-
ing a scientific atmosphere and habit of thought.
But in the actual making of the telephone, there
was no one with Bell nor before him. He
invented it first, and alone.



Four wire-using businesses were already in
the field when the telephone was born: the
fire-alarm, burglar-alarm, telegraph, and messenger-
boy service; and at first, as might have
been expected, the humble little telephone was
huddled in with these businesses as a sort of poor
relation. To the general public, it was a mere
scientific toy; but there were a few men, not
many, in these wire-stringing trades, who saw a
glimmering chance of creating a telephone business.
They put telephones on the wires that
were then in use. As these became popular, they
added others. Each of their customers wished
to be able to talk to every one else. And so, having
undertaken to give telephone service, they
presently found themselves battling with the most
intricate and baffling engineering problem of
modern times--the construction around the tele-
phone of such a mechanism as would bring it into
universal service.

The first of these men was Thomas A. Watson,
the young mechanic who had been hired as Bell's
helper. He began a work that to-day requires
an army of twenty-six thousand people. He
was for a couple of years the total engineering
and manufacturing department of the telephone
business, and by 1880 had taken out sixty patents
for his own suggestions. It was Watson
who took the telephone as Bell had made it, really
a toy, with its diaphragm so delicate that a warm
breath would put it out of order, and toughened
it into a more rugged machine. Bell had used a
disc of fragile gold-beaters' skin with a patch of
sheet-iron glued to the centre. He could not believe,
for a time, that a disc of all-iron would vibrate
under the slight influence of a spoken word.
But he and Watson noticed that when the patch
was bigger the talking was better, and presently
they threw away the gold-beaters' skin and used
the iron alone.

Also, it was Watson who spent months experimenting
with all sorts and sizes of iron discs,
so as to get the one that would best convey the
sound. If the iron was too thick, he discovered,
the voice was shrilled into a Punch-and-Judy
squeal; and if it was too thin, the voice became
a hollow and sepulchral groan, as if the speaker
had his head in a barrel. Other months, too,
were spent in finding out the proper size and
shape for the air cavity in front of the disc.
And so, after the telephone had been perfected,
IN PRINCIPLE, a full year was required to lift
it out of the class of scientific toys, and another
year or two to present it properly to the business

Until 1878 all Bell telephone apparatus was
made by Watson in Charles Williams's little
shop in Court Street, Boston--a building long
since transformed into a five-cent theatre. But
the business soon grew too big for the shop.
Orders fell five weeks behind. Agents stormed
and fretted. Some action had to be taken
quickly, so licenses were given to four other
manufacturers to make bells, switchboards, and
so forth. By this time the Western Electric
Company of Chicago had begun to make the
infringing Gray-Edison telephones for the Western
Union, so that there were soon six groups
of mechanics puzzling their wits over the new

By 1880 there was plenty of telephonic apparatus
being made, but in too many different
varieties. Not all the summer gowns of that
year presented more styles and fancies. The
next step, if there was to be any degree of
uniformity, was plainly to buy and consolidate these
six companies; and by 1881 Vail had done this.
It was the first merger in telephone history.
It was a step of immense importance. Had it
not been taken, the telephone business would
have been torn into fragments by the civil wars
between rival inventors.

From this time the Western Electric became
the headquarters of telephonic apparatus. It
was the Big Shop, all roads led to it. No matter
where a new idea was born, sooner or later
it came knocking at the door of the Western
Electric to receive a material body. Here were
the skilled workmen who became the hands of
the telephone business. And here, too, were
many of the ablest inventors and engineers, who
did most to develop the cables and switchboards
of to-day.

In Boston, Watson had resigned in 1882, and
in his place, a year or two later stood a timely
new arrival named E. T. Gilliland. This really
notable man was a friend in need to the telephone.
He had been a manufacturer of electrical
apparatus in Indianapolis, until Vail's
policy of consolidation drew him into the central
group of pioneers and pathfinders. For five
years Gilliland led the way as a developer of
better and cheaper equipment. He made the
best of a most difficult situation. He was so
handy, so resourceful, that he invariably found
a way to unravel the mechanical tangles that perplexed
the first telephone agents, and this, too,
without compelling them to spend large sums
of capital. He took the ideas and apparatus
that were then in existence, and used them to
carry the telephone business through the most
critical period of its life, when there was little
time or money to risk on experiments. He took
the peg switchboard of the telegraph, for in-
stance, and developed it to its highest point, to
a point that was not even imagined possible by
any one else. It was the most practical and
complete switchboard of its day, and held the
field against all comers until it was superseded
by the modern type of board, vastly more elaborate
and expensive.

By 1884, gathered around Gilliland in Boston
and the Western Electric in Chicago, there
came to be a group of mechanics and high-school
graduates, very young men, mostly, who had no
reputations to lose; and who, partly for a living
and mainly for a lark, plunged into the difficulties
of this new business that had at that time little
history and less prestige. These young adventurers,
most of whom are still alive, became the
makers of industrial history. They were
unquestionably the founders of the present science
of telephone engineering.

The problem that they dashed at so lightheartedly
was much larger than any of them imagined.
It was a Gibraltar of impossibilities.
It was on the face of it a fantastic nightmare
of a task--to weave such a web of wires, with in-
terlocking centres, as would put any one telephone
in touch with every other. There was no
help for them in books or colleges. Watson, who
had acquired a little knowledge, had become a
shipbuilder. Electrical engineering, as a profession,
was unborn. And as for their telegraphic
experience, while it certainly helped them
for a time, it started them in the wrong direction
and led them to do many things which had afterwards
to be undone.

The peculiar electric current that these young
pathfinders had to deal with is perhaps the quickest,
feeblest, and most elusive force in the world.
It is so amazing a thing that any description
of it seems irrational. It is as gentle as a touch
of a baby sunbeam, and as swift as the lightning
flash. It is so small that the electric current
of a single incandescent lamp is greater 500,000,000
times. Cool a spoonful of hot water just
one degree, and the energy set free by the cooling
will operate a telephone for ten thousand years.
Catch the falling tear-drop of a child, and there
will be sufficient water-power to carry a spoken
message from one city to another.

Such is the tiny Genie of the Wire that had
to be protected and trained into obedience. It
was the most defenceless of all electric sprites,
and it had so many enemies. Enemies! The
world was populous with its enemies. There
was the lightning, its elder brother, striking at
it with murderous blows. There were the telegraphic
and light-and-power currents, its strong
and malicious cousins, chasing and assaulting it
whenever it ventured too near. There were rain
and sleet and snow and every sort of moisture,
lying in wait to abduct it. There were rivers
and trees and flecks of dust. It seemed as if all
the known and unknown agencies of nature were
in conspiracy to thwart or annihilate this gentle
little messenger who had been conjured into life
by the wizardry of Alexander Graham Bell.

All that these young men had received from
Bell and Watson was that part of the telephone
that we call the receiver. This was practically
the sum total of Bell's invention, and remains
to-day as he made it. It was then, and is yet,
the most sensitive instrument that has ever been
put to general use in any country. It opened
up a new world of sound. It would echo the
tramp of a fly that walked across a table, or repeat
in New Orleans the prattle of a child in
New York. This was what the young men received,
and this was all. There were no switchboards
of any account, no cables of any value, no
wires that were in any sense adequate, no theory
of tests or signals, no exchanges, NO TELEPHONE

As for Bell's first telephone lines, they were
as simple as clothes-lines. Each short little wire
stood by itself, with one instrument at each end.
There were no operators, switchboards, or exchanges.
But there had now come a time when
more than two persons wanted to be in the same
conversational group. This was a larger use of
the telephone; and while Bell himself had foreseen
it, he had not worked out a plan whereby
it could be carried out. Here was the new problem,
and a most stupendous one--how to link
together three telephones, or three hundred, or
three thousand, or three million, so that any two
of them could be joined at a moment's notice.

And that was not all. These young men had
not only to battle against mystery and "the
powers of the air"; they had not only to protect
their tiny electric messenger, and to create a
system of wire highways along which he could
run up and down safely; they had to do more.
They had to make this system so simple and
fool-proof that every one--every one except the
deaf and dumb--could use it without any previous
experience. They had to educate Bell's
Genie of the Wire so that he would not only obey
his masters, but anybody--anybody who could
speak to him in any language.

No doubt, if the young men had stopped to
consider their life-work as a whole, some of them
might have turned back. But they had no time
to philosophize. They were like the boy who
learns how to swim by being pushed into deep
water. Once the telephone business was started,
it had to be kept going; and as it grew, there
came one after another a series of congestions.
Two courses were open; either the business had
to be kept down to suit the apparatus, or the
apparatus had to be developed to keep pace with
the business. The telephone men, most of them,
at least, chose development; and the brilliant
inventions that afterwards made some of them
famous were compelled by sheer necessity and

The first notable improvement upon Bell's
invention was the making of the transmitter,
in 1877, by Emile Berliner. This, too, was a
romance. Berliner, as a poor German youth of
nineteen, had landed in Castle Garden in 1870
to seek his fortune. He got a job as "a sort
of bottle-washer at six dollars a week," he says,
in a chemical shop in New York. At nights he
studied science in the free classes of Cooper
Union. Then a druggist named Engel gave
him a copy of Muller's book on physics, which
was precisely the stimulus needed by his creative
brain. In 1876 he was fascinated by the
telephone, and set out to construct one on a different
plan. Several months later he had succeeded
and was overjoyed to receive his first
patent for a telephone transmitter. He had by
this time climbed up from his bottle-washing to
be a clerk in a drygoods store in Washington; but
he was still poor and as unpractical as most in-
ventors. Joseph Henry, the Sage of the American
scientific world, was his friend, though too
old to give him any help. Consequently, when
Edison, two weeks later, also invented a transmitter,
the prior claim of Berliner was for a
time wholly ignored. Later the Bell Company
bought Berliner's patent and took up his side
of the case. There was a seemingly endless succession
of delays--fourteen years of the most
vexatious delays--until finally the Supreme
Court of the United States ruled that Berliner,
and not Edison, was the original inventor of the

From first to last, the transmitter has been
the product of several minds. Its basic idea is
the varying of the electric current by varying the
pressure between two points. Bell unquestionably
suggested it in his famous patent, when
he wrote of "increasing and diminishing the resistance."
Berliner was the first actually to construct
one. Edison greatly improved it by
using soft carbon instead of a steel point. A
Kentucky professor, David E. Hughes, started
a new line of development by adapting a Bell
telephone into a "microphone," a fantastic little
instrument that would detect the noise made by
a fly in walking across a table. Francis Blake,
of Boston, changed a microphone into a practical
transmitter. The Rev. Henry Hunnings,
an English clergyman, hit upon the happy idea
of using carbon in the form of small granules.
And one of the Bell experts, named White, improved
the Hunnings transmitter into its present
shape. Both transmitter and receiver seem
now to be as complete an artificial tongue and
ear as human ingenuity can make them. They
have persistently grown more elaborate, until today
a telephone set, as it stands on a desk, contains
as many as one hundred and thirty separate
pieces, as well as a saltspoonful of glistening
granules of carbon.

Next after the transmitter came the problem
of the MYSTERIOUS NOISES. This was, perhaps, the
most weird and mystifying of all the telephone
problems. The fact was that the telephone had
brought within hearing distance a new wonder-
world of sound. All wires at that time were
single, and ran into the earth at each end, making
what was called a "grounded circuit." And
this connection with the earth, which is really a
big magnet, caused all manner of strange and
uncouth noises on the telephone wires.

Noises! Such a jangle of meaningless noises
had never been heard by human ears. There
were spluttering and bubbling, jerking and rasping,
whistling and screaming. There were the
rustling of leaves, the croaking of frogs, the hissing
of steam, and the flapping of birds' wings.
There were clicks from telegraph wires, scraps
of talk from other telephones, and curious little
squeals that were unlike any known sound. The
lines running east and west were noisier than the
lines running north and south. The night was
noisier than the day, and at the ghostly hour of
midnight, for what strange reason no one knows,
the babel was at its height. Watson, who had
a fanciful mind, suggested that perhaps these
sounds were signals from the inhabitants of Mars
or some other sociable planet. But the matter-
of-fact young telephonists agreed to lay the
blame on "induction"--a hazy word which usually
meant the natural meddlesomeness of electricity.

Whatever else the mysterious noises were, they
were a nuisance. The poor little telephone business
was plagued almost out of its senses. It
was like a dog with a tin can tied to its tail.
No matter where it went, it was pursued by this
unearthly clatter. "We were ashamed to
present our bills," said A. A. Adee, one of the
first agents; "for no matter how plainly a man
talked into his telephone, his language was apt to
sound like Choctaw at the other end of the line."

All manner of devices were solemnly tried to
hush the wires, and each one usually proved to
be as futile as an incantation. What was to be
done? Step by step the telephone men were
driven back. They were beaten. There was no
way to silence these noises. Reluctantly, they
agreed that the only way was to pull up the ends
of each wire from the tainted earth, and join
them by a second wire. This was the "metallic
circuit" idea. It meant an appalling increase
in the use of wire. It would compel the rebuild-
ing of the switchboards and the invention of new
signal systems. But it was inevitable; and in
1883, while the dispute about it was in full blast,
one of the young men quietly slipped it into use
on a new line between Boston and Providence.
The effect was magical. "At last," said the
delighted manager, "we have a perfectly quiet

This young man, a small, slim youth who was
twenty-two years old and looked younger, was
no other than J. J. Carty, now the first of telephone
engineers and almost the creator of his
profession. Three years earlier he had timidly
asked for a job as operator in the Boston exchange,
at five dollars a week, and had shown
such an aptitude for the work that he was soon
made one of the captains. At thirty years of age
he became a central figure in the development of
the art of telephony.

What Carty has done is known by telephone
men in all countries; but the story of Carty himself
--who he is, and why--is new. First of all,
he is Irish, pure Irish. His father had left Ireland
as a boy in 1825. During the Civil War
his father made guns in the city of Cambridge,
where young John Joseph was born; and afterwards
he made bells for church steeples. He
was instinctively a mechanic and proud of his
calling. He could tell the weight of a bell from
the sound of it. Moses G. Farmer, the electrical
inventor, and Howe, the creator of the
sewing-machine, were his friends.

At five years of age, little John J. Carty was
taken by his father to the shop where the bells
were made, and he was profoundly impressed by
the magical strength of a big magnet, that picked
up heavy weights as though they were feathers.
At the high school his favorite study was
physics; and for a time he and another boy
named Rolfe--now a distinguished man of
science--carried on electrical experiments of
their own in the cellar of the Rolfe house. Here
they had a "Tom Thumb" telegraph, a telephone
which they had ventured to improve, and a hopeless
tangle of wires. Whenever they could afford
to buy more wires and batteries, they went
to a near-by store which supplied electrical
apparatus to the professors and students of
Harvard. This store, with its workshop in the
rear, seemed to the two boys a veritable wonderland;
and when Carty, a youth of eighteen, was
compelled to leave school because of his bad
eyesight, he ran at once and secured the glorious
job of being boy-of-all-work in this store of
wonders. So, when he became an operator in
the Boston telephone exchange, a year later, he
had already developed to a remarkable degree
his natural genius for telephony.

Since then, Carty and the telephone business
have grown up together, he always a little distance
in advance. No other man has touched
the apparatus of telephony at so many points.
He fought down the flimsy, clumsy methods,
which led from one snarl to another. He found
out how to do with wires what Dickens did with
words. "Let us do it right, boys, and then we
won't have any bad dreams"--this has been his
motif. And, as the crown and climax of his
work, he mapped out the profession of telephone
engineering on the widest and most comprehensive

In Carty, the engineer evolved into the edu-
cator. His end of the American Telephone and
Telegraph Company became the University of
the Telephone. He was himself a student by
disposition, with a special taste for the writings
of Faraday, the forerunner; Tyndall, the expounder;
and Spencer, the philosopher. And
in 1890, he gathered around him a winnowed
group of college graduates--he has sixty of
them on his staff to-day--so that he might bequeath
to the telephone an engineering corps of
loyal and efficient men.

The next problem that faced the young men
of the telephone, as soon as they had escaped from
the clamor of the mysterious noises, was the necessity
of taking down the wires in the city streets
and putting them underground. At first, they
had strung the wires on poles and roof-tops.
They had done this, not because it was cheap,
but because it was the only possible way, so
far as any one knew in that kindergarten period.
A telephone wire required the daintiest of handling.
To bury it was to smother it, to make
it dull or perhaps entirely useless. But now
that the number of wires had swollen from hun-
dreds to thousands, the overhead method had
been outgrown. Some streets in the larger cities
had become black with wires. Poles had risen
to fifty feet in height, then sixty--seventy--
eighty. Finally the highest of all pole lines was
built along West Street, New York--every pole
a towering Norway pine, with its top ninety feet
above the roadway, and carrying thirty cross-
arms and three hundred wires.

From poles the wires soon overflowed to housetops,
until in New York alone they had overspread
eleven thousand roofs. These roofs had
to be kept in repair, and their chimneys were
the deadly enemies of the iron wires. Many a
wire, in less than two or three years, was withered
to the merest shred of rust. As if these
troubles were not enough, there were the storms
of winter, which might wipe out a year's revenue
in a single day. The sleet storms were the
worst. Wires were weighted down with ice,
often three pounds of ice per foot of wire. And
so, what with sleet, and corrosion, and the cost
of roof-repairing, and the lack of room for more
wires, the telephone men were between the devil
and the deep sea--between the urgent necessity
of burying their wires, and the inexorable fact
that they did not know how to do it.

Fortunately, by the time that this problem
arrived, the telephone business was fairly well
established. It had outgrown its early days of
ridicule and incredulity. It was paying wages
and salaries and even dividends. Evidently it
had arrived on the scene in the nick of time--
after the telegraph and before the trolleys and
electric lights. Had it been born ten years later,
it might not have been able to survive. So delicate
a thing as a baby telephone could scarcely
have protected itself against the powerful currents
of electricity that came into general use in
1886, if it had not first found out a way of hiding
safely underground.

The first declaration in favor of an underground
system was made by the Boston company
in 1880. "It may be expedient to place our entire
system underground," said the sorely perplexed
manager, "whenever a practicable method
is found of accomplishing: it." All manner of
theories were afloat but Theodore N. Vail, who
was usually the man of constructive imagination
in emergencies, began in 1882 a series of actual
experiments at Attleborough, Massachusetts, to
find out exactly what could, and what could not,
be done with wires that were buried in the earth.

A five-mile trench was dug beside a railway
track. The work was done handily and cheaply
by the labor-saving plan of hitching a locomotive
to a plough. Five ploughs were jerked apart
before the work was finished. Then, into this
trench were laid wires with every known sort
of covering. Most of them, naturally, were
wrapped with rubber or gutta-percha, after the
fashion of a submarine cable. When all were in
place, the willing locomotive was harnessed to a
huge wooden drag, which threw the ploughed
soil back into the trench and covered the wires
a foot deep. It was the most professional cable-
laying that any one at that time could do, and it
succeeded, not brilliantly, but well enough to
encourage the telephone engineers to go ahead.

Several weeks later, the first two cables for
actual use were laid in Boston and Brooklyn;
and in 1883 Engineer J. P. Davis was set to
grapple with the Herculean labor of putting a
complete underground system in the wire-bound
city of New York. This he did in spite of a
bombardment of explosions from leaky gas-
pipes, and with a woeful lack of experts and
standard materials. All manner of makeshifts
had to be tried in place of tile ducts, which were
not known in 1883. Iron pipe was used at first,
then asphalt, concrete, boxes of sand and creosoted
wood. As for the wires, they were first
wrapped in cotton, and then twisted into cables,
usually of a hundred wires each. And to prevent
the least taint of moisture, which means
sudden death to a telephone current, these cables
were invariably soaked in oil.

This oil-filled type of cable carried the telephone
business safely through half a dozen years.
But it was not the final type. It was preliminary
only, the best that could be made at that
time. Not one is in use to-day. In 1888 Theodore
Vail set on foot a second series of experiments,
to see if a cable could be made that was
better suited as a highway for the delicate electric
currents of the telephone. A young engineer
named John A. Barrett, who had already made
his mark as an expert, by finding a way to twist
and transpose the wires, was set apart to tackle
this problem. Being an economical Vermonter,
Barrett went to work in a little wooden shed in
the backyard of a Brooklyn foundry. In this
foundry he had seen a unique machine that could
be made to mould hot lead around a rope of
twisted wires. This was a notable discovery.
It meant TIGHT COVERINGS. It meant a victory
over that most troublesome of enemies--moisture.
Also, it meant that cables could henceforth
be made longer, with fewer sleeves and
splices, and without the oil, which had always
been an unmitigated nuisance.

Next, having made the cable tight, Barrett
set out to produce it more cheaply and by accident
stumbled upon a way to make it immensely
more efficient. All wires were at that
time wrapped with cotton, and his plan was to
find some less costly material that would serve
the same purpose. One of his workmen, a Virginian,
suggested the use of paper twine, which
had been used in the South during the Civil
War, when cotton was scarce and expensive.
Barrett at once searched the South for paper
twine and found it. He bought a barrel of it
from a small factory in Richmond, but after a
trial it proved to be too flimsy. If such paper
could be put on flat, he reasoned, it would be
stronger. Just then he heard of an erratic
genius who had an invention for winding paper
tape on wire for the use of milliners.

Paper-wound bonnet-wire! Who could imagine
any connection between this and the telephone?
Yet this hint was exactly what Barrett
needed. He experimented until he had devised
a machine that crumpled the paper around the
wire, instead of winding it tightly. This was the
finishing touch. For a time these paper-wound
cables were soaked in oil, but in 1890 Engineer
F. A. Pickernell dared to trust to the tightness
of the lead sheathing, and laid a "dry core"
cable, the first of the modern type, in one of
the streets of Philadelphia. This cable was the
event of the year. It was not only cheaper. It
was the best-talking cable that had ever been
harnessed to a telephone.

What Barrett had done was soon made clear.
By wrapping the wire with loose paper, he had
in reality cushioned it with AIR, which is the best
possible insulator. Not the paper, but the air
in the paper, had improved the cable. More air
was added by the omission of the oil. And presently
Barrett perceived that he had merely reproduced
in a cable, as far as possible, the
conditions of the overhead wires, which are
separated by nothing but air.

By 1896 there were two hundred thousand
miles of wire snugly wrapped in paper and lying
in leaden caskets beneath the streets of the cities,
and to-day there are six million miles of it owned
by the affiliated Bell companies. Instead of
blackening the streets, the wire nerves of the
telephone are now out of sight under the roadway,
and twining into the basements of buildings
like a new sort of metallic ivy. Some cables are
so large that a single spool of cable will weigh
twenty-six tons and require a giant truck and a
sixteen-horse team to haul it to its resting-place.
As many as twelve hundred wires are often
bunched into one sheath, and each cable lies
loosely in a little duct of its own. It is reached
by manholes where it runs under the streets and
in little switching-boxes placed at intervals it
is frayed out into separate pairs of wires that
blossom at length into telephones.

Out in the open country there are still the
open wires, which in point of talking are the
best. In the suburbs of cities there are neat
green posts with a single gray cable hung from
a heavy wire. Usually, a telephone pole is made
from a sixty-year-old tree, a cedar, chestnut, or
juniper. It lasts twelve years only, so that the
one item of poles is still costing the telephone
companies several millions a year. The total
number of poles now in the United States, used
by telephone and telegraph companies, once
covered an area, before they were cut down, as
large as the State of Rhode Island.

But the highest triumph of wire-laying came
when New York swept into the Skyscraper
Age, and when hundreds of tall buildings, as
high as the fall of the waters of Niagara, grew
up like a range of magical cliffs upon the
precious rock of Manhattan. Here the work of
the telephone engineer has been so well done that
although every room in these cliff-buildings has
its telephone, there is not a pole in sight, not a
cross-arm, not a wire. Nothing but the tip-ends
of an immense system are visible. No sooner
is a new skyscraper walled and roofed, than the
telephones are in place, at once putting the tenants
in touch with the rest of the city and the
greater part of the United States. In a single
one of these monstrous buildings, the Hudson
Terminal, there is a cable that runs from basement
to roof and ravels out to reach three thousand
desks. This mighty geyser of wires is fifty
tons in weight and would, if straightened out
into a single line, connect New York with
Chicago. Yet it is as invisible as the nerves and
muscles of a human body.

During this evolution of the cable, even the
wire itself was being remade. Vail and others
had noticed that of all the varieties of wire that
were for sale, not one was exactly suitable for
a telephone system. The first telephone wire
was of galvanized iron, which had at least the
primitive virtue of being cheap. Then came
steel wire, stronger but less durable. But these
wires were noisy and not good conductors of
electricity. An ideal telephone wire, they found,
must be made of either silver or copper. Silver
was out of the question, and copper wire was
too soft and weak. It would not carry its own

The problem, therefore, was either to make
steel wire a better conductor, or to produce a
copper wire that would be strong enough. Vail
chose the latter, and forthwith gave orders to a
Bridgeport manufacturer to begin experiments.
A young expert named Thomas B. Doolittle was
at once set to work, and presently appeared the
first hard-drawn copper wire, made tough-
skinned by a fairly simple process. Vail bought
thirty pounds of it and scattered it in various
parts of the United States, to note the effect
upon it of different climates. One length of
it may still be seen at the Vail homestead in
Lyndonville, Vermont. Then this hard-drawn
wire was put to a severe test by being strung
between Boston and New York. This line was a
brilliant success, and the new wire was hailed
with great delight as the ideal servant of the

Since then there has been little trouble with
copper wire, except its price. It was four times
as good as iron wire, and four times as expensive.
Every mile of it, doubled, weighed two hundred
pounds and cost thirty dollars. On the long
lines, where it had to be as thick as a lead pencil,
the expense seemed to be ruinously great.
When the first pair of wires was strung between
New York and Chicago, for instance, it was
found to weigh 870,000 pounds--a full load for
a twenty-two-car freight train; and the cost of
the bare metal was $130,000. So enormous has
been the use of copper wire since then by the
telephone companies, that fully one-fourth of all
the capital invested in the telephone has gone to
the owners of the copper mines.

For several years the brains of the telephone
men were focussed upon this problem--how to
reduce the expenditure on copper. One uncanny
device, which would seem to be a mere
inventor's fantasy if it had not already saved
the telephone companies four million dollars or
more, is known as the "phantom circuit." It
enables three messages to run at the same time,
where only two ran before. A double track of
wires is made to carry three talk-trains running
abreast, a feat made possible by the whimsical
disposition of electricity, and which is utterly
inconceivable in railroading. This invention,
which is the nearest approach as yet to multiple
telephony, was conceived by Jacobs in England
and Carty in the United States.

But the most copper money has been saved
--literally tens of millions of dollars--by persuading
thin wires to work as efficiently as thick
ones. This has been done by making better
transmitters, by insulating the smaller wires
with enamel instead of silk, and by placing coils
of a certain nature at intervals upon the wires.
The invention of this last device startled the telephone
men like a flash of lightning out of a blue
sky. It came from outside--from the quiet laboratory
of a Columbia professor who had arrived
in the United States as a young Hungarian immigrant
not many years earlier. From this
professor, Michael J. Pupin, came the idea of
"loading" a telephone line, in such a way as to
reinforce the electric current. It enabled a thin
wire to carry as far as a thick one, and thus
saved as much as forty dollars a wire per mile.
As a reward for his cleverness, a shower of gold
fell upon Pupin, and made him in an instant as
rich as one of the grand-dukes of his native land.

It is now a most highly skilled occupation,
supporting fully fifteen thousand families, to
put the telephone wires in place and protect them
against innumerable dangers. This is the
profession of the wire chiefs and their men, a
corps of human spiders, endlessly spinning
threads under streets and above green fields, on
the beds of rivers and the slopes of mountains,
massing them in cities and fluffing them out
among farms and villages. To tell the doings
of a wire chief, in the course of his ordinary
week's work, would in itself make a lively book
of adventures. Even a washerwoman, with one
lone, non-electrical clothes-line of a hundred
yards to operate, has often enough trouble
with it. But the wire chiefs of the Bell telephone
have charge of as much wire as would
apiece to every family in the United States;
and these lines are not punctuated with clothespins,
but with the most delicate of electrical

The wire chiefs must detect trouble under a
thousand disguises. Perhaps a small boy has
thrown a snake across the wires or driven a nail
into a cable. Perhaps some self-reliant citizen
has moved his own telephone from one room to another.
Perhaps a sudden rainstorm has splashed
its fatal moisture upon an unwiped joint. Or
perhaps a submarine cable has been sat upon by
the Lusitania and flattened to death. But no
matter what the trouble, a telephone system cannot
be stopped for repairs. It cannot be picked
up and put into a dry-dock. It must be repaired
or improved by a sort of vivisection while it is
working. It is an interlocking unit, a living,
conscious being, half human and half machine;
and an injury in any one place may cause a pain
or sickness to its whole vast body.

And just as the particles of a human body
change every six or seven years, without disturb-
ing the body, so the particles of our telephone
systems have changed repeatedly without any
interruption of traffic. The constant flood of
new inventions has necessitated several complete
rebuildings. Little or nothing has ever been
allowed to wear out. The New York system
was rebuilt three times in sixteen years; and
many a costly switchboard has gone to the scrap-
heap at three or four years of age. What with
repairs and inventions and new construction, the
various Bell companies have spent at least $425,000,000
in the first ten years of the twentieth
century, without hindering for a day the ceaseless
torrent of electrical conversation.

The crowning glory of a telephone system of
to-day is not so much the simple telephone itself,
nor the maze and mileage of its cables, but rather
the wonderful mechanism of the Switchboard.
This is the part that will always remain mysterious
to the public. It is seldom seen, and it remains
as great a mystery to those who have seen
it as to those who have not. Explanations of
it are futile. As well might any one expect to
learn Sanscrit in half an hour as to understand
a switchboard by making a tour of investigation
around it. It is not like anything else that either
man or Nature has ever made. It defies all
metaphors and comparisons. It cannot be
shown by photography, not even in moving-pictures,
because so much of it is concealed inside
its wooden body. And few people, if any, are
initiated into its inner mysteries except those
who belong to its own cortege of inventors and

A telephone switchboard is a pyramid of inventions.
If it is full-grown, it may have two
million parts. It may be lit with fifteen thousand
tiny electric lamps and nerved with as much
wire as would reach from New York to Berlin.
It may cost as much as a thousand pianos or as
much as three square miles of farms in Indiana.
The ten thousand wire hairs of its head are not
only numbered, but enswathed in silk, and
combed out in so marvellous a way that any one
of them can in a flash be linked to any other.
Such hair-dressing! Such puffs and braids and
ringlet relays! Whoever would learn the utmost
that may be done with copper hairs of Titian
red, must study the fantastic coiffure of a telephone

If there were no switchboard, there would still
be telephones, but not a telephone system. To
connect five thousand people by telephone requires
five thousand wires when the wires run
to a switchboard; but without a switchboard
there would have to be 12,497,500 wires--4,999
to every telephone. As well might there be a
nerve-system without a brain, as a telephone
system without a switchboard. If there had been
at first two separate companies, one owning the
telephone and the other the switchboard, neither
could have done the business.

Several years before the telephone got a
switchboard of its own, it made use of the boards
that had been designed for the telegraph. These
were as simple as wheelbarrows, and became
absurdly inadequate as soon as the telephone business
began to grow. Then there came adaptations
by the dozen. Every telephone manager
became by compulsion an inventor. There was
no source of information and each exchange did
the best it could. Hundreds of patents were
taken out. And by 1884 there had come to be
a fairly definite idea of what a telephone switchboard
ought to be.

The one man who did most to create the switchboard,
who has been its devotee for more than
thirty years, is a certain modest and little known
inventor, still alive and busy, named Charles E.
Scribner. Of the nine thousand switchboard
patents, Scribner holds six hundred or more.
Ever since 1878, when he devised the first "jackknife
switch," Scribner has been the wizard of
the switchboard. It was he who saw most clearly
its requirements. Hundreds of others have
helped, but Scribner was the one man who persevered,
who never asked for an easier job, and
who in the end became the master of his craft.

It may go far to explain the peculiar genius
of Scribner to say that he was born in 1858, in
the year of the laying of the Atlantic Cable; and
that his mother was at the time profoundly interested
in the work and anxious for its success.
His father was a judge in Toledo; but young
Scribner showed no aptitude for the tangles of
the law. He preferred the tangles of wire and
system in miniature, which he and several other
boys had built and learned to operate. These boys
had a benefactor in an old bachelor named
Thomas Bond. He had no special interest in
telegraphy. He was a dealer in hides. But he
was attracted by the cleverness of the boys and
gave them money to buy more wires and more
batteries. One day he noticed an invention of
young Scribner's--a telegraph repeater.

"This may make your fortune," he said, "but
no mechanic in Toledo can make a proper model
of it for you. You must go to Chicago, where
telegraphic apparatus is made." The boy gladly
took his advice and went to the Western Electric
factory in Chicago. Here he accidentally met
Enos M. Barton, the head of the factory. Barton
noted that the boy was a genius and offered
him a job, which he accepted and has held ever
since. Such is the story of the entrance of
Charles E. Scribner into the telephone business,
where he has been well-nigh indispensable.

His monumental work has been the development
of the MULTIPLE Switchboard, a much more
brain-twisting problem than the building of the
Pyramids or the digging of the Panama Canal.
The earlier types of switchboard had become too
cumbersome by 1885. They were well enough
for five hundred wires but not for five thousand.
In some exchanges as many as half a dozen
operators were necessary to handle a single call;
and the clamor and confusion were becoming
unbearable. Some handier and quieter way had
to be devised, and thus arose the Multiple board.
The first crude idea of such a way had sprung
to life in the brain of a Chicago man named L.
B. Firman, in 1879; but he became a farmer
and forsook his invention in its infancy.

In the Multiple board, as it grew up under the
hands of Scribner, the outgoing wires are duplicated
so as to be within reach of every operator.
A local call can thus be answered at once by the
operator who receives it; and any operator who is
overwhelmed by a sudden rush of business can
be helped by her companions. Every wire that
comes into the board is tasselled out into many
ends, and by means of a "busy test," invented by
Scribner, only one of these ends can be put
into use at a time. The normal limit of such
a board is ten thousand wires, and will always
remain so, unless a race of long-armed giantesses
should appear, who would be able to reach over
a greater expanse of board. At present, a business
of more than ten thousand lines means a
second exchange.

The Multiple board was enormously expensive.
It grew more and more elaborate until it
cost one-third of a million dollars. The telephone
men racked their brains to produce something
cheaper to take its place, and they failed.
The Multiple boards swallowed up capital as a
desert swallows water, but THEY SAVED TEN SECONDS
ON EVERY CALL. This was an unanswerable
argument in their favor, and by 1887 twenty-
one of them were in use.

Since then, the switchboard has had three
or four rebuildings. There has seemed to be no
limit to the demands of the public or the fertility
of Scribner's brain. Persistent changes were
made in the system of signalling. The first signal,
used by Bell and Watson, was a tap on the
diaphragm with the finger-nail. Soon after-
wards came a "buzzer," and then the magneto-
electric bell. In 1887 Joseph O'Connell, of
Chicago, conceived of the use of tiny electric
lights as signals, a brilliant idea, as an electric
light makes no noise and can be seen either by
night or by day. In 1901, J. J. Carty invented
the "bridging bell," a way to put four houses on
a single wire, with a different signal for each
house. This idea made the "party line" practicable,
and at once created a boom in the use of
the telephone by enterprising farmers.

In 1896 there came a most revolutionary
change in switchboards. All things were made
new. Instead of individual batteries, one at
each telephone, a large common battery was installed
in the exchange itself. This meant better
signalling and better talking. It reduced
the cost of batteries and put them in charge of
experts. It established uniformity. It introduced
the federal idea into the mechanism of a
telephone system. Best of all, it saved FOUR
SECONDS ON EVERY CALL. The first of these centralizing
switchboards was put in place at Philadelphia;
and other cities followed suit as fast as
they could afford the expense of rebuilding.
Since then, there have come some switchboards
that are wholly automatic. Few of these have
been put into use, for the reason that a switchboard,
like a human body, must be semi-automatic
only. To give the most efficient service, there
will always need to be an expert to stand between
it and the public.

As the final result of all these varying changes
in switchboards and signals and batteries, there
grew up the modern Telephone Exchange.
This is the solar plexus of the telephone body.
It is the vital spot. It is the home of the switchboard.
It is not any one's invention, as the
telephone was. It is a growing mechanism that
is not yet finished, and may never be; but it has
already evolved far enough to be one of the
wonders of the electrical world. There is probably
no other part of an American city's equipment
that is as sensitive and efficient as a
telephone exchange.

The idea of the exchange is somewhat older
than the idea of the telephone itself. There were
communication exchanges before the invention
of the telephone. Thomas B. Doolittle had one
in Bridgeport, using telegraph instruments
Thomas B. A. David had one in Pittsburg, using
printing-telegraph machines, which required
little skill to operate. And William A. Childs
had a third, for lawyers only, in New York,
which used dials at first and afterwards printing
machines. These little exchanges had set
out to do the work that is done to-day by the
telephone, and they did it after a fashion, in a
most crude and expensive way. They helped
to prepare the way for the telephone, by building
up small constituencies that were ready for the
telephone when it arrived.

Bell himself was perhaps the first to see the
future of the telephone exchange. In a letter
written to some English capitalists in 1878, he
said: "It is possible to connect every man's
house, office or factory with a central station, so
as to give him direct communication with his
neighbors. . . . It is conceivable that cables
of telephone wires could be laid underground, or
suspended overhead, connecting by branch wires
with private dwellings, shops, etc., and uniting
them through the main cable with a central
office." This remarkable prophecy has now become
stale reading, as stale as Darwin's "Origin
of Species," or Adam Smith's "Wealth of
Nations." But at the time that it was written it
was a most fanciful dream.

When the first infant exchange for telephone
service was born in Boston, in 1877, it was the
tiny offspring of a burglar-alarm business
operated by E. T. Holmes, a young man whose
father had originated the idea of protecting
property by electric wires in 1858. Holmes was
the first practical man who dared to offer telephone
service for sale. He had obtained two
telephones, numbers six and seven, the first five
having gone to the junk-heap; and he attached
these to a wire in his burglar-alarm office. For
two weeks his business friends played with the
telephones, like boys with a fascinating toy; then
Holmes nailed up a new shelf in his office, and on
this shelf placed six box-telephones in a row.
These could be switched into connection with the
burglar-alarm wires and any two of the six wires
could be joined by a wire cord. Nothing could
have been simpler, but it was the arrival of a
new idea in the business world.

The Holmes exchange was on the top floor of
a little building, and in almost every other city
the first exchange was as near the roof as possible,
partly to save rent and partly because most
of the wires were strung on roof-tops. As the
telephone itself had been born in a cellar, so the
exchange was born in a garret. Usually, too,
each exchange was an off-shoot of some other
wire-using business. It was a medley of makeshifts.
Almost every part of its outfit had been
made for other uses. In Chicago all calls came
in to one boy, who bawled them up a speaking-
tube to the operators. In another city a boy received
the calls, wrote them on white alleys, and
rolled them to the boys at the switchboard.
There was no number system. Every one was
called by name. Even as late as 1880, when
New York boasted fifteen hundred telephones,
names were still in use. And as the first telephones
were used both as transmitters and receivers,
there was usually posted up a rule that
was highly important: "Don't Talk with your
Ear or Listen with your Mouth."

To describe one of those early telephone exchanges
in the silence of a printed page is a
wholly impossible thing. Nothing but a language
of noise could convey the proper impression.
An editor who visited the Chicago
exchange in 1879 said of it: "The racket is almost
deafening. Boys are rushing madly hither
and thither, while others are putting in or taking
out pegs from a central framework as if they
were lunatics engaged in a game of fox and
geese." In the same year E. J. Hall wrote
from Buffalo that his exchange with twelve
boys had become "a perfect Bedlam." By the
clumsy methods of those days, from two to six
boys were needed to handle each call. And
as there was usually more or less of a cat-and-
dog squabble between the boys and the public,
with every one yelling at the top of his voice,
it may be imagined that a telephone exchange
was a loud and frantic place.

Boys, as operators, proved to be most com-
plete and consistent failures. Their sins of
omission and commission would fill a book.
What with whittling the switchboards, swearing
at subscribers, playing tricks with the wires, and
roaring on all occasions like young bulls of
Bashan, the boys in the first exchanges did their
full share in adding to the troubles of the business.
Nothing could be done with them. They
were immune to all schemes of discipline. Like
the MYSTERIOUS NOISES they could not be controlled,
and by general consent they were abolished.
In place of the noisy and obstreperous
boy came the docile, soft-voiced girl.

If ever the rush of women into the business
world was an unmixed blessing, it was when the
boys of the telephone exchanges were superseded
by girls. Here at its best was shown the
influence of the feminine touch. The quiet
voice, pitched high, the deft fingers, the patient
courtesy and attentiveness--these qualities were
precisely what the gentle telephone required in
its attendants. Girls were easier to train; they
did not waste time in retaliatory conversation;
they were more careful; and they were much
more likely to give "the soft answer that turneth
away wrath."

A telephone call under the boy regime meant
Bedlam and five minutes; afterwards, under the
girl regime, it meant silence and twenty seconds.
Instead of the incessant tangle and tumult, there
came a new species of exchange--a quiet, tense
place, in which several score of young ladies sit
and answer the language of the switchboard
lights. Now and then, not often, the signal
lamps flash too quickly for these expert phonists.
During the panic of 1907 there was one mad hour
when almost every telephone in Wall Street region
was being rung up by some desperate speculator.
The switchboards were ablaze with lights.
A few girls lost their heads. One fainted and
was carried to the rest-room. But the others
flung the flying shuttles of talk until, in a single
exchange fifteen thousand conversations had
been made possible in sixty minutes. There are
always girls in reserve for such explosive occasions,
and when the hands of any operator are
seen to tremble, and she has a warning red spot
on each cheek, she is taken off and given a recess
until she recovers her poise.

These telephone girls are the human part of a
great communication machine. They are weaving
a web of talk that changes into a new
pattern every minute. How many possible combinations
there are with the five million telephones
of the Bell System, or what unthinkable
mileage of conversation, no one has ever dared
to guess. But whoever has once seen the long
line of white arms waving back and forth in front
of the switchboard lights must feel that he has
looked upon the very pulse of the city's life.

In 1902 the New York Telephone Company
started a school, the first of its kind in the world,
for the education of these telephone girls. This
school is hidden amid ranges of skyscrapers, but
seventeen thousand girls discover it in the course
of the year. It is a most particular and exclusive
school. It accepts fewer than two thousand
of these girls, and rejects over fifteen thousand.
Not more than one girl in every eight can measure
up to its standards; and it cheerfully refuses
as many students in a year as would make three
Yales or Harvards.

This school is unique, too, in the fact that it
charges no fees, pays every student five dollars a
week, and then provides her with a job when she
graduates. But it demands that every girl shall
be in good health, quick-handed, clear-voiced,
and with a certain poise and alertness of manner.
Presence of mind, which, in Herbert Spencer's
opinion, ought to be taught in every university,
is in various ways drilled into the temperament of
the telephone girl. She is also taught the knack
of concentration, so that she may carry the
switchboard situation in her head, as a chess-
player carries in his head the arrangement of the
chess-men. And she is much more welcome at
this strange school if she is young and has never
worked in other trades, where less speed and
vigilance are required.

No matter how many millions of dollars may
be spent upon cables and switchboards, the quality
of telephone service depends upon the girl at
the exchange end of the wire. It is she who
meets the public at every point. She is the de-
spatcher of all the talk trains; she is the ruler
of the wire highways; and she is expected to give
every passenger-voice an instantaneous express
to its destination. More is demanded from her
than from any other servant of the public. Her
clients refuse to stand in line and quietly wait
their turn, as they are quite willing to do in
stores and theatres and barber shops and railway
stations and everywhere else. They do not see
her at work and they do not know what her work
is. They do not notice that she answers a call in
an average time of three and a half seconds.
They are in a hurry, or they would not be at the
telephone; and each second is a minute long.
Any delay is a direct personal affront that makes
a vivid impression upon their minds. And they
are not apt to remember that most of the delays
and blunders are being made, not by the expert
girls, but by the careless people who persist in
calling wrong numbers and in ignoring the niceties
of telephone etiquette.

The truth about the American telephone girl
is that she has become so highly efficient that we
now expect her to be a paragon of perfection.
To give the young lady her due, we must
acknowledge that she has done more than any
other person to introduce courtesy into the
business world. She has done most to abolish the
old-time roughness and vulgarity. She has
made big business to run more smoothly than
little business did, half a century ago. She has
shown us how to take the friction out of conversation,
and taught us refinements of politeness
which were rare even among the Beau Brummels
of pre-telephonic days. Who, for instance, until
the arrival of the telephone girl, appreciated the
difference between "Who are you?" and "Who
is this?" Or who else has so impressed upon us
the value of the rising inflection, as a gentler
habit of speech? This propaganda of politeness
has gone so far that to-day the man who is profane
or abusive at the telephone, is cut off from
the use of it. He is cast out as unfit for a telephone-
using community.

And now, so that there shall be no anticlimax
in this story of telephone development,
we must turn the spot-light upon that immense
aggregation of workshops in which have been
made three-fifths of the telephone apparatus of
the world--the Western Electric. The mother
factory of this globe-trotting business is the biggest
thing in the spacious back-yard of Chicago,
and there are eleven smaller factories--her
children--scattered over the earth from New
York to Tokio. To put its totals into a sentence,
it is an enterprise of 26,000-man-power, and
40,000,000-dollar-power; and the telephonic
goods that it produces in half a day are worth
one hundred thousand dollars--as much, by
the way, as the Western Union REFUSED to pay
for the Bell patents in 1877.

The Western Electric was born in Chicago,
in the ashes of the big fire of 1871; and it has
grown up to its present greatness quietly, without
celebrating its birthdays. At first it had no
telephones to make. None had been invented, so
it made telegraphic apparatus, burglar-alarms,
electric pens, and other such things. But in 1878,
when the Western Union made its short-lived
attempt to compete with the Bell Company, the
Western Electric agreed to make its telephones.
Three years later, when the brief spasm of
competition was ended, the Western Electric
was taken in hand by the Bell people and has
since then remained the great workshop of the

The main plant in Chicago is not especially
remarkable from a manufacturing point of
view. Here are the inevitable lumber-yards
and foundries and machine-shops. Here is
the mad waltz of the spindles that whirl silk
and cotton threads around the copper wires,
very similar to what may be seen in any braid
factory. Here electric lamps are made, five
thousand of them in a day, in the same manner
as elsewhere, except that here they are so small
and dainty as to seem designed for fairy palaces,

The things that are done with wire in the
Western Electric factories are too many for
any mere outsider to remember. Some wire
is wrapped with paper tape at a speed of
nine thousand miles a day. Some is fashioned
into fantastic shapes that look like
absurd sea-monsters, but which in reality are
only the nerve systems of switchboards. And
some is twisted into cables by means of a
dozen whirling drums--a dizzying sight, as
each pair of drums revolve in opposite directions.
Because of the fact that a cable's inevitable
enemy is moisture, each cable is wound
on an immense spool and rolled into an oven
until it is as dry as a cinder. Then it is put
into a strait-jacket of lead pipe, sealed at both
ends, and trundled into a waiting freight car.

No other company uses so much wire and
hard rubber, or so many tons of brass rods, as
the Western Electric. Of platinum, too, which
is more expensive than gold, it uses one thousand
pounds a year in the making of telephone transmitters.
This is imported from the Ural Mountains.
The silk thread comes from Italy and
Japan; the iron for magnets, from Norway;
the paper tape, from Manila; the mahogany,
from South America; and the rubber, from
Brazil and the valley of the Congo. At least
seven countries must cooperate to make a
telephone message possible.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature in
the Western Electric factories is the multitude
of its inspectors. No other sort of manufactur-
ing, not even a Government navy-yard, has so
many. Nothing is too small to escape these
sleuths of inspection. They test every tiny disc
of mica, and throw away nine out of ten. They
test every telephone by actual talk, set up every
switchboard, and try out every cable. A single
transmitter, by the time it is completed, has had
to pass three hundred examinations; and a single
coin-box is obliged to count ten thousand nickels
before it graduates into the outer world. Seven
hundred inspectors are on guard in the two main
plants at Chicago and New York. This is a
ruinously large number, from a profit-making
point of view; but the inexorable fact is that in
a telephone system nothing is insignificant. It
is built on such altruistic lines that an injury to
any one part is the concern of all.

As usual, when we probe into the history of a
business that has grown great and overspread
the earth, we find a Man; and the Western Electric

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