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The History of the Telephone by Herbert N. Casson

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the keynote of equitable rates.

Many a telephone, for the general good, must
be put where it does not earn its own living.
At any time some sudden emergency may arise
that will make it for the moment priceless. Especially
since the advent of the automobile, there
is no nook or corner from which it may not be
supremely necessary, now and then, to send a
message. This principle was acted upon recently
in a most practical way by the Pennsylvania
Railroad, which at its own expense
installed five hundred and twenty-five telephones
in the homes of its workmen in Altoona. In
the same way, it is clearly the social duty of the
telephone company to widen out its system until
every point is covered, and then to distribute its
gross charges as fairly as it can. The whole
must carry the whole--that is the philosophy
of rates which must finally be recognized by
legislatures and telephone companies alike. It
can never, of course, be reduced to a system or
formula. It will always be a matter of opinion
and compromise, requiring much skill and much
patience. But there will seldom be any serious
trouble when once its basic principles are

Like all time-saving inventions, like the railroad,
the reaper, and the Bessemer converter,
the telephone, in the last analysis, COSTS NOTHING;



The telephone was nearly a year old before
Europe was aware of its existence. It
received no public notice of any kind whatever
until March 3, 1877, when the London Athenaeum
mentioned it in a few careful sentences.
It was not welcomed, except by those who wished
an evening's entertainment. And to the entire
commercial world it was for four or five years
a sort of scientific Billiken, that never could be
of any service to serious people.

One after another, several American enthusiasts
rushed posthaste to Europe, with dreams
of eager nations clamoring for telephone systems,
and one after another they failed. Frederick
A. Gower was the first of these. He was
an adventurous chevalier of business who gave
up an agent's contract in return for a right to
become a roving propagandist. Later he met
a prima donna, fell in love with and married her,
forsook telephony for ballooning, and lost his
life in attempting to fly across the English

Next went William H. Reynolds, of Providence,
who had bought five-eights of the British
patent for five thousand dollars, and half the
right to Russia, Spain, Portugal, and Italy for
two thousand, five hundred dollars. How he was
received may be seen from a letter of his which
has been preserved. "I have been working in
London for four months," he writes; "I have
been to the Bank of England and elsewhere; and
I have not found one man who will put one shilling
into the telephone."

Bell himself hurried to England and Scotland
on his wedding tour in 1878, with great expectations
of having his invention appreciated in
his native land. But from a business point of
view, his mission was a total failure. He received
dinners a-plenty, but no contracts; and
came back to the United States an impoverished
and disheartened man. Then the optimistic
Gardiner G. Hubbard, Bell's father-in-law,
threw himself against the European inertia and
organized the International and Oriental Telephone
Companies, which came to nothing of any
importance. In the same year even Enos M.
Barton, the sagacious founder of the Western
Electric, went to France and England to establish
an export trade in telephones, and failed.

These able men found their plans thwarted
by the indifference of the public, and often by
open hostility. "The telephone is little better
than a toy," said the Saturday Review; "it
amazes ignorant people for a moment, but it is
inferior to the well-established system of air-
tubes." "What will become of the privacy of
life?" asked another London editor. "What
will become of the sanctity of the domestic
hearth?" Writers vied with each other in
inventing methods of pooh-poohing Bell and his
invention. "It is ridiculously simple," said one.
"It is only an electrical speaking-tube," said
another. "It is a complicated form of speaking-
trumpet," said a third. No British editor could
at first conceive of any use for the telephone,
except for divers and coal miners. The price,
too, created a general outcry. Floods of toy
telephones were being sold on the streets at a
shilling apiece; and although the Government
was charging sixty dollars a year for the use of
its printing-telegraphs, people protested loudly
against paying half as much for telephones.
As late as 1882, Herbert Spencer writes: "The
telephone is scarcely used at all in London, and
is unknown in the other English cities."

The first man of consequence to befriend
the telephone was Lord Kelvin, then an untitled
young scientist. He had seen the original telephones
at the Centennial in Philadelphia, and
was so fascinated with them that the impulsive
Bell had thrust them into his hands as a gift.
At the next meeting of the British Association
for the Advancement of Science, Lord Kelvin
exhibited these. He did more. He became the
champion of the telephone. He staked his reputation
upon it. He told the story of the tests
made at the Centennial, and assured the sceptical
scientists that he had not been deceived. "All
this my own ears heard," he said, "spoken to
me with unmistakable distinctness by this circular
disc of iron."

The scientists and electrical experts were, for
the most part, split up into two camps. Some
of them said the telephone was impossible, while
others said that "nothing could be simpler."
Almost all were agreed that what Bell had done
was a humorous trifle. But Lord Kelvin persisted.
He hammered the truth home that the
telephone was "one of the most interesting
inventions that has ever been made in the history
of science." He gave a demonstration with one
end of the wire in a coal mine. He stood side
by side with Bell at a public meeting in Glasgow,
and declared:

"The things that were called telephones before
Bell were as different from Bell's telephone as a
series of hand-claps are different from the human
voice. They were in fact electrical claps; while
Bell conceived the idea--THE WHOLLY ORIGINAL AND
NOVEL IDEA--of giving continuity to the shocks,
so as to perfectly reproduce the human voice."

One by one the scientists were forced to take
the telephone seriously. At a public test there
was one noted professor who still stood in the
ranks of the doubters. He was asked to send
a message. He went to the instrument with a
grin of incredulity, and thinking the whole
exhibition a joke, shouted into the mouthpiece:
"Hi diddle diddle--follow up that." Then he
listened for an answer. The look on his face
changed to one of the utmost amazement. "It
says--`The cat and the fiddle,'" he gasped, and
forthwith he became a convert to telephony. By
such tests the men of science were won over, and
by the middle of 1877 Bell received a "vociferous
welcome" when he addressed them at their annual
convention at Plymouth.

Soon afterwards, The London Times surrendered.
It whirled right-about-face and praised
the telephone to the skies. "Suddenly and
quietly the whole human race is brought within
speaking and hearing distance," it exclaimed;
"scarcely anything was more desired and more
impossible." The next paper to quit the mob
of scoffers was the Tatler, which said in an
editorial peroration, "We cannot but feel im-
pressed by the picture of a human child commanding
the subtlest and strongest force in Nature
to carry, like a slave, some whisper around
the world."

Closely after the scientists and editors came
the nobility. The Earl of Caithness led the
way. He declared in public that "the telephone
is the most extraordinary thing I ever saw in
my life." And one wintry morning in 1878
Queen Victoria drove to the house of Sir Thomas
Biddulph, in London, and for an hour talked
and listened by telephone to Kate Field, who sat
in a Downing Street office. Miss Field sang
"Kathleen Mavourneen," and the Queen thanked
her by telephone, saying she was "immensely
pleased." She congratulated Bell himself, who
was present, and asked if she might be permitted
to buy the two telephones; whereupon Bell presented
her with a pair done in ivory.

This incident, as may be imagined, did much
to establish the reputation of telephony in Great
Britain. A wire was at once strung to Windsor
Castle. Others were ordered by the Daily
News, the Persian Ambassador, and five or six
lords and baronets. Then came an order which
raised the hopes of the telephone men to the
highest heaven, from the banking house of J.
S. Morgan & Co. It was the first recognition
from the "seats of the mighty" in the business
and financial world. A tiny exchange,
with ten wires, was promptly started in London;
and on April 2d, 1879, Theodore Vail, the
young manager of the Bell Company, sent an order
to the factory in Boston, "Please make one
hundred hand telephones for export trade as early
as possible." The foreign trade had begun.

Then there came a thunderbolt out of a blue
sky, a wholly unforeseen disaster. Just as a few
energetic companies were sprouting up, the
Postmaster General suddenly proclaimed that
the telephone was a species of telegraph. According
to a British law the telegraph was required
to be a Government monopoly. This law
had been passed six years before the telephone
was born, but no matter. The telephone men
protested and argued. Tyndall and Lord Kelvin
warned the Government that it was making
an indefensible mistake. But nothing could
be done. Just as the first railways had been
called toll-roads, so the telephone was solemnly
declared to be a telegraph. Also, to add to the
absurd humor of the situation, Judge Stephen,
of the High Court of Justice, spoke the final
word that compelled the telephone legally to be
a telegraph, and sustained his opinion by a
quotation from Webster's Dictionary, which was
published twenty years before the telephone was

Having captured this new rival, what next?
The Postmaster General did not know. He
had, of course, no experience in telephony, and
neither had any of his officials in the telegraph
department. There was no book and no college
to instruct him. His telegraph was then, as it
is to-day, a business failure. It was not earning
its keep. Therefore he did not dare to shoulder
the risk of constructing a second system of wires,
and at last consented to give licenses to private

But the muddle continued. In order to compel
competition, according to the academic
theories of the day, licenses were given to thir-
teen private companies. As might have been
expected, the ablest company quickly swallowed
the other twelve. If it had been let alone, this
company might have given good service, but it
was hobbled and fenced in by jealous regulations.
It was compelled to pay one-tenth of its
gross earnings to the Post Office. It was to hold
itself ready to sell out at six months' notice.
And as soon as it had strung a long-distance
system of wires, the Postmaster General pounced
down upon it and took it away.

Then, in 1900, the Post Office tossed aside all
obligations to the licensed company, and threw
open the door to a free-for-all competition. It
undertook to start a second system in London,
and in two years discovered its blunder and proposed
to cooperate. It granted licenses to five
cities that demanded municipal ownership.
These cities set out bravely, with loud beating of
drums, plunged from one mishap to another, and
finally quit. Even Glasgow, the premier city
of municipal ownership, met its Waterloo in the
telephone. It spent one million, eight hundred
thousand dollars on a plant that was obsolete
when it was new, ran it for a time at a loss, and
then sold it to the Post Office in 1906 for one
million, five hundred and twenty-five thousand

So, from first to last, the story of the telephone
in Great Britain has been a "comedy of errors."
There are now, in the two islands, not six hundred
thousand telephones in use. London, with
its six hundred and forty square miles of houses,
has one-quarter of these, and is gaining at the
rate of ten thousand a year. No large
improvements are under way, as the Post Office
has given notice that it will take over and operate
all private companies on New Year's Day, 1912.
The bureaucratic muddle, so it seems, is to continue

In Germany there has been the same burden
of bureaucracy, but less backing and filling.
There is a complete government monopoly.
Whoever commits the crime of leasing telephone
service to his neighbors may be sent to jail for
six months. Here, too, the Postmaster General
has been supreme. He has forced the telephone
business into a postal mould. The man in a
small city must pay as high a rate for a small
service, as the man in a large city pays for a
large service. There is a fair degree of
efficiency, but no high speed or record-breaking.
The German engineers have not kept in close
touch with the progress of telephony in the
United States. They have preferred to devise
methods of their own, and so have created a
miscellaneous assortment of systems, good, bad, and
indifferent. All told, there is probably an
investment of seventy-five million dollars and a
total of nine hundred thousand telephones.

Telephony has always been in high favor with
the Kaiser. It is his custom, when planning a
hunting party, to have a special wire strung to
the forest headquarters, so that he can converse
every morning with his Cabinet. He has conferred
degrees and honors by telephone. Even
his former Chancellor, Von Buelow, received his
title of Count in this informal way. But the
first friend of the telephone in Germany was
Bismarck. The old Unifier saw instantly its
value in holding a nation together, and ordered
a line between his palace in Berlin and his farm
at Varzin, which lay two hundred and thirty
miles apart. This was as early as the Fall of
1877, and was thus the first long-distance line in

In France, as in England, the Government
seized upon the telephone business as soon as the
pioneer work had been done by private citizens.
In 1889 it practically confiscated the Paris system,
and after nine years of litigation paid five
million francs to its owners. With this reckless
beginning, it floundered from bad to worse.
It assembled the most complete assortment of
other nations' mistakes, and invented several of
its own. Almost every known evil of bureaucracy
was developed. The system of rates was
turned upside down; the flat rate, which can be
profitably permitted in small cities only, was
put in force in the large cities, and the message
rate, which is applicable only to large cities, was
put in force in small places. The girl operators
were entangled in a maze of civil service rules.
They were not allowed to marry without the
permission of the Postmaster General; and on
no account might they dare to marry a mayor,
a policeman, a cashier, or a foreigner, lest they
betray the secrets of the switchboard.

There was no national plan, no standardization,
no staff of inventors and improvers. Every
user was required to buy his own telephone. As
George Ade has said, "Anything attached to
a wall is liable to be a telephone in Paris." And
so, what with poor equipment and red tape, the
French system became what it remains to-day,
the most conspicuous example of what NOT to do
in telephony.

There are barely as many telephones in the
whole of France as ought normally to be in the
city of Paris. There are not as many as are
now in use in Chicago. The exasperated Parisians
have protested. They have presented a
petition with thirty-two thousand names. They
have even organized a "Kickers' League"--the
only body of its kind in any country--to demand
good service at a fair price. The daily
loss from bureaucratic telephony has become
enormous. "One blundering girl in a telephone
exchange cost me five thousand dollars on the
day of the panic in 1907," said George Kessler.
But the Government clears a net profit of three
million dollars a year from its telephone monopoly;
and until 1910, when a committee of betterment
was appointed, it showed no concern at
the discomfort of the public.

There was one striking lesson in telephone
efficiency which Paris received in 1908, when its
main exchange was totally destroyed by fire.
"To build a new switchboard," said European
manufacturers, "will require four or five months."
A hustling young Chicagoan appeared on the
scene. "We 'll put in a new switchboard in sixty
days," he said; "and agree to forfeit six hundred
dollars a day for delay." Such quick work had
never been known. But it was Chicago's chance
to show what she could do. Paris and Chicago
are four thousand, five hundred miles apart, a
twelve days' journey. The switchboard was to
be a hundred and eighty feet in length, with
ten thousand wires. Yet the Western Electric
finished it in three weeks. It was rushed on six
freight-cars to New York, loaded on the French
steamer La Provence, and deposited at Paris in
thirty-six days; so that by the time the sixty days
had expired, it was running full speed with a
staff of ninety operators.

Russia and Austria-Hungary have now about
one hundred and twenty-five thousand telephones
apiece. They are neck and neck in a race that
has not at any time been a fast one. In each
country the Government has been a neglectful
stepmother to the telephone. It has starved the
business with a lack of capital and used no
enterprise in expanding it. Outside of Vienna,
Budapest, St. Petersburg, and Moscow there are
no wire-systems of any consequence. The political
deadlock between Austria and Hungary
shuts out any immediate hope of a happier life
for the telephone in those countries; but in Russia
there has recently been a change in policy
that may open up a new era. Permits are now
being offered to one private company in each
city, in return for three per cent of the revenue.
By this step Russia has unexpectedly swept to
the front and is now, to telephone men, the freest
country in Europe.

In tiny Switzerland there has been government
ownership from the first, but with less
detriment to the business than elsewhere. Here
the officials have actually jilted the telegraph for
the telephone. They have seen the value of the
talking wire to hold their valley villages together;
and so have cries-crossed the Alps with a cheap
and somewhat flimsy system of telephony that
carries sixty million conversations a year. Even
the monks of St. Bernard, who rescue snowbound
travellers, have now equipped their mountain
with a series of telephone booths.

The highest telephone in the world is on the
peak of Monte Rosa, in the Italian Alps, very
nearly three miles above the level of the sea. It
is linked to a line that runs to Rome, in order
that a queen may talk to a professor. In this
case the Queen is Margherita of Italy and the
professor is Signor Mosso, the astronomer, who
studies the heavens from an observatory on
Monte Rosa. At her own expense, the Queen
had this wire strung by a crew of linemen, who
slipped and floundered on the mountain for six
years before they had it pegged in place. The
general situation in Italy is like that in Great
Britain. The Government has always monop-
olized the long-distance lines, and is now about
to buy out all private companies. There are
only fifty-five thousand telephones to thirty-two
million people--as many as in Norway and less
than in Denmark. And in many of the southern
and Sicilian provinces the jingle of the telephone
bell is still an unfamiliar sound.

The main peculiarity in Holland is that there
is no national plan, but rather a patchwork, that
resembles Joseph's coat of many colors. Each
city engineer has designed his own type of apparatus
and had it made to order. Also, each
company is fenced in by law within a six-mile
circle, so that Holland is dotted with thumb-nail
systems, no two of which are alike. In Belgium
there has been a government system since 1893,
hence there is unity, but no enterprise. The
plant is old-fashioned and too small. Spain has
private companies, which give fairly good service
to twenty thousand people. Roumania has
half as many. Portugal has two small companies
in Lisbon and Oporto. Greece, Servia,
and Bulgaria have a scanty two thousand apiece.
The frozen little isle of Iceland has one-quarter
as many; and even into Turkey, which was a forbidden
land under the regime of the old Sultan,
the Young Turks are importing boxes of telephones
and coils of copper wire.

There is one European country, and only one,
which has caught the telephone spirit--Sweden.
Here telephony had a free swinging start. It
was let alone by the Post Office; and better still,
it had a Man, a business-builder of remarkable
force and ability, named Henry Cedergren.
Had this man been made the Telephone-Master
of Europe, there would have been a different
story to tell. By his insistent enterprise he made
Stockholm the best telephoned city outside of
the United States. He pushed his country forward
until, having one hundred and sixty-five
thousand telephones, it stood fourth among the
European nations. Since his death the Government
has entered the field with a duplicate system,
and a war has been begun which grows
yearly more costly and absurd.

Asia, as yet, with her eight hundred and fifty
million people, has fewer telephones than Philadelphia,
and three-fourths of them are in the
tiny island of Japan. The Japanese were enthusiastic
telephonists from the first. They had
a busy exchange in Tokio in 1883. This has
now grown to have twenty-five thousand users,
and might have more, if it had not been stunted
by the peculiar policy of the Government. The
public officials who operate the system are able
men. They charge a fair price and make ten
per cent profit for the State. But they do not
keep pace with the demand. It is one of the
oddest vagaries of public ownership that there
is now in Tokio a WAITING LIST of eight thousand
citizens, who are offering to pay for telephones
and cannot get them. And when a Tokian dies,
his franchise to a telephone, if he has one, is
usually itemized in his will as a four-hundred-
dollar property.

India, which is second on the Asiatic list, has
no more than nine thousand telephones--one to
every thirty-three thousand of her population!
Not quite so many, in fact, as there are in five
of the skyscrapers of New York. The Dutch
East Indies and China have only seven thousand
apiece, but in China there has recently
come a forward movement. A fund of twenty
million dollars is to be spent in constructing a
national system of telephone and telegraph.
Peking is now pointing with wonder and delight
to a new exchange, spick and span, with
a couple of ten-thousand-wire switchboards.
Others are being built in Canton, Hankow, and
Tien-Tsin. Ultimately, the telephone will flourish
in China, as it has done in the Chinese quarter
in San Francisco. The Empress of China, after
the siege of Peking, commanded that a telephone
should be hung in her palace, within reach of her
dragon throne; and she was very friendly with
any representative of the "Speaking Lightning
Sounds" business, as the Chinese term telephony.

In Persia the telephone made its entry recently
in true comic-opera fashion. A new Shah, in an
outburst of confidence, set up a wire between
his palace and the market-place in Teheran, and
invited his people to talk to him whenever they
had grievances. And they talked! They talked
so freely and used such language, that the Shah
ordered out his soldiers and attacked them. He
fired upon the new Parliament, and was at once
chased out of Persia by the enraged people.
From this it would appear that the telephone
ought to be popular in Persia, although at present
there are not more than twenty in use.

South America, outside of Buenos Ayres, has
few telephones, probably not more than thirty
thousand. Dom Pedro of Brazil, who befriended
Bell at the Centennial, introduced telephony
into his country in 1881; but it has not
in thirty years been able to obtain ten thousand
users. Canada has exactly the same number as
Sweden--one hundred and sixty-five thousand.
Mexico has perhaps ten thousand; New Zealand
twenty-six thousand; and Australia fifty-
five thousand.

Far down in the list of continents stands
Africa. Egypt and Algeria have twelve thousand
at the north; British South Africa has as
many at the south; and in the vast stretches
between there are barely a thousand more.
Whoever pushes into Central Africa will still
hear the beat of the wooden drum, which is the
clattering sign-language of the natives. One
strand of copper wire there is, through the Congo
region, placed there by order of the late King
of Belgium. To string it was probably the most
adventurous piece of work in the history of
telephone linemen. There was one seven hundred
and fifty mile stretch of the central jungle.
There were white ants that ate the wooden poles,
and wild elephants that pulled up the iron poles.
There were monkeys that played tag on the
lines, and savages that stole the wire for arrow-
heads. But the line was carried through, and
to-day is alive with conversations concerning
rubber and ivory.

So, we may almost say of the telephone that
"there is no speech nor language where its voice
is not heard." There are even a thousand miles
of its wire in Abyssinia and one hundred and
fifty miles in the Fiji Islands. Roughly speaking,
there are now ten million telephones in all
countries, employing two hundred and fifty thousand
people, requiring twenty-one million miles
of wire, representing a cost of fifteen hundred
million dollars, and carrying fourteen thousand
million conversations a year. All this, and yet
the men who heard the first feeble cry of the in-
fant telephone are still alive, and not by any
means old.

No foreign country has reached the high
American level of telephony. The United
States has eight telephones per hundred of
population, while no other country has one-half as
many. Canada stands second, with almost four
per hundred; and Sweden is third. Germany
has as many telephones as the State of New
York; and Great Britain as many as Ohio.
Chicago has more than London; and Boston
twice as many as Paris. In the whole of
Europe, with her twenty nations, there are one-
third as many telephones as in the United States.
In proportion to her population, Europe has only
one-thirteenth as many.

The United States writes half as many letters
as Europe, sends one-third as many telegrams,
and talks twice as much at the telephone. The
average European family sends three telegrams
a year, and three letters and one telephone message
a week; while the average American family
sends five telegrams a year, and seven letters and
eleven telephone messages a week. This one na-
tion, which owns six per cent of the earth and is
five per cent of the human race, has SEVENTY
per cent of the telephones. And fifty per cent,
or one-half, of the telephony of the world, is now
comprised in the Bell System of this country.

There are only six nations in Europe that make
a fair showing--the Germans, British, Swedish,
Danes, Norwegians, and Swiss. The others have
less than one telephone per hundred. Little
Denmark has more than Austria. Little Finland has
better service than France. The Belgian telephones
have cost the most--two hundred and
seventy-three dollars apiece; and the Finnish
telephones the least--eighty-one dollars. But a
telephone in Belgium earns three times as much
as one in Norway. In general, the lesson in
Europe is this, that the telephone is what a nation
makes it. Its usefulness depends upon the sense
and enterprise with which it is handled. It may
be either an invaluable asset or a nuisance.

Too much government! That has been the
basic reason for failure in most countries. Before
the telephone was invented, the telegraph
had been made a State monopoly; and the tele-
phone was regarded as a species of telegraph.
The public officials did not see that a telephone
system is a highly complex and technical problem,
much more like a piano factory or a steel-
mill. And so, wherever a group of citizens
established a telephone service, the government
officials looked upon it with jealous eyes, and
usually snatched it away. The telephone thus
became a part of the telegraph, which is a part
of the post office, which is a part of the government.
It is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction
--a mere twig of bureaucracy. Under such
conditions the telephone could not prosper. The
wonder is that it survived.

Handled on the American plan, the telephone
abroad may be raised to American levels. There
is no racial reason for failure. The slow service
and the bungling are the natural results of treating
the telephone as though it were a road or a
fire department; and any nation that rises to a
proper conception of the telephone, that dares to
put it into competent hands and to strengthen
it with enough capital, can secure as alert and
brisk a service as heart can wish. Some nations
are already on the way. China, Japan, and
France have sent delegations to New York City
--"the Mecca of telephone men," to learn the
art of telephony in its highest development.
Even Russia has rescued the telephone from her
bureaucrats and is now offering it freely to men
of enterprise.

In most foreign countries telephone service is
being steadily geared up to a faster pace. The
craze for "cheap and nasty" telephony is passing;
and the idea that the telephone is above all else
a SPEED instrument, is gaining ground. A faster
long-distance service, at double rates, is being
well patronized. Slow-moving races are learning
the value of time, which is the first lesson in
telephony. Our reapers and mowers now go to
seventy-five nations. Our street cars run in all
great cities. Morocco is importing our dollar
watches; Korea is learning the waste of allowing
nine men to dig with one spade. And all this
means telephones.

In thirty years, the Western Electric has sold
sixty-seven million dollars' worth of telephonic
apparatus to foreign countries. But this is no
more than a fair beginning. To put one telephone
in China to every hundred people will
mean an outlay of three hundred million dollars.
To give Europe as fit an equipment as the
United States now has, will mean thirty million
telephones, with proper wire and switchboards
to match. And while telephony for the masses
is not yet a live question in many countries,
sooner or later, in the relentless push of civilization,
it must come.

Possibly, in that far future of peace and goodwill
among nations, when each country does for
all the others what it can do best, the United
States may be generally recognized as the source
of skill and authority on telephony. It may be
called in to rebuild or operate the telephone
systems of other countries, in the same way that
it is now supplying oil and steel rails and
farm machinery. Just as the wise buyer of
to-day asks France for champagne, Germany
for toys, England for cottons, and the Orient
for rugs, so he will learn to look upon the United
States as the natural home and headquarters of
the telephone.



In the Spring of 1907 Theodore N. Vail, a
rugged, ruddy, white-haired man, was superintending
the building of a big barn in northern
Vermont. His house stood near-by, on a balcony
of rolling land that overlooked the town of
Lyndon and far beyond, across evergreen forests
to the massive bulk of Burke Mountain. His
farm, very nearly ten square miles in area, lay
back of the house in a great oval of field and
woodland, with several dozen cottages in the
clearings. His Welsh ponies and Swiss cattle
were grazing on the May grass, and the men
were busy with the ploughs and harrows and
seeders. It was almost thirty years since he
had been called in to create the business structure
of telephony, and to shape the general plan
of its development. Since then he had done
many other things. The one city of Buenos
Ayres had paid him more, merely for giving it a
system of trolleys and electric lights, than the
United States had paid him for putting the
telephone on a business basis. He was now rich
and retired, free to enjoy his play-work of the
farm and to forget the troubles of the city and
the telephone

But, as he stood among his barn-builders, there
arrived from Boston and New York a delegation
of telephone directors. Most of them belonged
to the "Old Guard" of telephony. They had
fought under Vail in the pioneer days; and now
they had come to ask him to return to the telephone
business, after twenty years of absence.
Vail laughed at the suggestion.

"Nonsense," he said, "I'm too old. I'm sixty-
two years of age." The directors persisted.
They spoke of the approaching storm-cloud of
panic and the need of another strong hand at the
wheel until the crisis was over, but Vail still refused.
They spoke of old times and old memories,
but he shook his head. "All my life," he
said, "I have wanted to be a farmer."

Then they drew a picture of the telephone
situation. They showed him that the "grand
telephonic system" which he had planned was
unfinished. He was its architect, and it was undone.
The telephone business was energetic and
prosperous. Under the brilliant leadership of
Frederick P. Fish, it had grown by leaps and
bounds. But it was still far from being the
SYSTEM that Vail had dreamed of in his younger
days; and so, when the directors put before him
his unfinished plan, he surrendered. The instinct
for completeness, which is one of the
dominating characteristics of his mind, compelled
him to consent. It was the call of the

Since that May morning, 1907, great things
have been done by the men of the telephone and
telegraph world. The Bell System was brought
through the panic without a scratch. When the
doubt and confusion were at their worst, Vail
wrote an open letter to his stock-holders, in his
practical, farmer-like way. He said:

"Our net earnings for the last ten months were
$13,715,000, as against $11,579,000 for the same
period in 1906. We have now in the banks over
$18,000,000; and we will not need to borrow any
money for two years."

Soon afterwards, the work of consolidation
began. Companies that overlapped were united.
Small local wire-clusters, several thousands of
them, were linked to the national lines. A policy
of publicity superseded the secrecy which had
naturally grown to be a habit in the days of
patent litigation. Visitors and reporters found
an open door. Educational advertisements were
published in the most popular magazines. The
corps of inventors was spurred up to conquer
the long-distance problems. And in return for
a thirty million check, the control of the historic
Western Union was transferred from the
children of Jay Gould to the thirty thousand
stock-holders of the American Telephone and
Telegraph Company.

From what has been done, therefore, we may
venture a guess as to the future of the telephone.
This "grand telephonic system" which had no
existence thirty years ago, except in the imagination
of Vail, seems to be at hand. The very
newsboys in the streets are crying it. And while
there is, of course, no exact blueprint of a best
possible telephone system, we can now see the
general outlines of Vail's plan.

There is nothing mysterious or ominous in this
plan. It has nothing to do with the pools and
conspiracies of Wall Street. No one will be
squeezed out except the promoters of paper
companies. The simple fact is that Vail is
organizing a complete Bell System for the same
reason that he built one big comfortable barn for
his Swiss cattle and his Welsh ponies, instead of
half a dozen small uncomfortable sheds. He has
never been a "high financier" to juggle profits
out of other men's losses. He is merely applying
to the telephone business the same hard sense
that any farmer uses in the management of his
farm. He is building a Big Barn, metaphorically,
for the telephone and telegraph.

Plainly, the telephone system of the future
will be national, so that any two people in the
same country will be able to talk to one another.
It will not be competitive, for the reason that no
farmer would think for a moment of running his
farm on competitive lines. It will have a staff-
and-line organization, to use a military phrase.
Each local company will continue to handle its
own local affairs, and exercise to the full the
basic virtue of self-help. But there will also be,
as now, a central body of experts to handle the
larger affairs that are common to all companies.
No separateness or secession on the one side, nor
bureaucracy on the other--that is the typically
American idea that underlies the ideal telephone

The line of authority, in such a system, will
begin with the local manager. From him it will
rise to the directors of the State company; then
higher still to the directors of the national company;
and finally, above all corporate leaders to
the Federal Government itself. The failure
of government ownership of the telephone in so
many foreign countries does not mean that the
private companies will have absolute power.
Quite the reverse. The lesson of thirty years'
experience shows that a private telephone company
is apt to be much more obedient to the will
of the people than if it were a Government de-
partment. But it is an axiom of democracy that
no company, however well conducted, will be
permitted to control a public convenience without
being held strictly responsible for its own acts.
As politics becomes less of a game and more of
a responsibility, the telephone of the future will
doubtless be supervised by some sort of public
committee, which will have power to pass upon
complaints, and to prevent the nuisance of
duplication and the swindle of watering stock.

As this Federal supervision becomes more and
more efficient, the present fear of monopoly will
decrease, just as it did in the case of the railways.
It is a fact, although now generally forgotten,
that the first railways of the United States were
run for ten years or more on an anti-monopoly
plan. The tracks were free to all. Any one
who owned a cart with flanged wheels could drive
it on the rails and compete with the locomotives.
There was a happy-go-lucky jumble of trains
and wagons, all held back by the slowest team;
and this continued on some railways until as late
as 1857. By that time the people saw that com-
petition on a railway track was absurd. They
allowed each track to be monopolized by one
company, and the era of expansion began.

No one, certainly, at the present time, regrets
the passing of the independent teamster. He
was much more arbitrary and expensive than
any railroad has ever dared to be; and as the
country grew, he became impossible. He was
not the fittest to survive. For the general good,
he was held back from competing with the railroad,
and taught to cooperate with it by hauling
freight to and from the depots. This, to his surprise,
he found much more profitable and pleasant.
He had been squeezed out of a bad job
into a good one. And by a similar process of
evolution, the United States is rapidly outgrowing
the small independent telephone companies.
These will eventually, one by one, rise as the
teamster did to a higher social value, by clasping
wires with the main system of telephony.

Until 1881 the Bell System was in the hands
of a family group. It was a strictly private
enterprise. The public had been asked to help
in its launching, and had refused. But after
1881 it passed into the control of the small
stock-holders, and has remained there without a
break. It is now one of our most democratized
businesses, scattering either wages or dividends
into more than a hundred thousand homes.
It has at times been exclusive, but never sordid.
It has never been dollar-mad, nor frenzied by the
virus of stock-gambling. There has always been
a vein of sentiment in it that kept it in touch with
human nature. Even at the present time, each
check of the American Telephone and Telegraph
Company carries on it a picture of a pretty
Cupid, sitting on a chair upon which he has
placed a thick book, and gayly prattling into a

Several sweeping changes may be expected in
the near future, now that there is team-play
between the Bell System and the Western Union.
Already, by a stroke of the pen, five million
users of telephones have been put on the credit
books of the Western Union; and every Bell
telephone office is now a telegraph office. Three
telephone messages and eight telegrams may be
sent AT THE SAME TIME over two pairs of wires:
that is one of the recent miracles of science, and
is now to be tried out upon a gigantic scale.
Most of the long-distance telephone wires, fully
two million miles, can be used for telegraphic
purposes; and a third of the Western Union
wires, five hundred thousand miles, may with a
few changes be used for talking.

The Western Union is paying rent for twenty-
two thousand, five hundred offices, all of which
helps to make telegraphy a luxury of the few.
It is employing as large a force of messenger-
boys as the army that marched with General
Sherman from Atlanta to the sea. Both of
these items of expense will dwindle when a Bell
wire and a Morse wire can be brought to a
common terminal; and when a telegram can be
received or delivered by telephone. There will
also be a gain, perhaps the largest of all, in
removing the trudging little messenger-boy from
the streets and sending him either to school or
to learn some useful trade.

The fact is that the United States is the first
country that has succeeded in putting both telephone
and telegraph upon the proper basis.

Elsewhere either the two are widely apart, or the
telephone is a mere adjunct of a telegraphic
department. According to the new American
plan, the two are not competitive, but complementary.
The one is a supplement to the other.
The post office sends a package; the telegraph
sends the contents of the package; but the
telephone sends nothing. It is an apparatus that
makes conversation possible between two separated
people. Each of the three has a distinct
field of its own, so that there has never been any
cause for jealousy among them.

To make the telephone an annex of the post
office or the telegraph has become absurd.
There are now in the whole world very nearly
as many messages sent by telephone as by letter;
and there are THIRT-TWO TIMES as many telephone
calls as telegrams. In the United States, the
telephone has grown to be the big brother of the
telegraph. It has six times the net earnings and
eight times the wire. And it transmits as many
messages as the combined total of telegrams,
letters, and railroad passengers.

This universal trend toward consolidation has
introduced a variety of problems that will engage
the ablest brains in the telephone world for many
years to come. How to get the benefits of
organization without its losses, to become strong
without losing quickness, to become systematic
without losing the dash and dare of earlier days,
to develop the working force into an army of
high-speed specialists without losing the bird's-
eye view of the whole situation,--these are the
riddles of the new type, for which the telephonists
of the next generation must find the
answers. They illustrate the nature of the big
jobs that the telephone has to offer to an ambitious
and gifted young man of to-day.

"The problems never were as large or as complex
as they are right now," says J. J. Carty, the
chief of the telephone engineers. The eternal
struggle remains between the large and little
ideas--between the men who see what might be
and the men who only see what IS. There is
still the race to break records. Already the girl
at the switchboard can find the person wanted
in thirty seconds. This is one-tenth of the time
that was taken in the early centrals; but it is
still too long. It is one-half of a valuable minute.
It must be cut to twenty-five seconds, or
twenty or fifteen.

There is still the inventors' battle to gain
miles. The distance over which conversations
can be held has been increased from twenty miles
to twenty-five hundred. But this is not far
enough. There are some civilized human beings
who are twelve thousand miles apart, and who
have interests in common. During the Boxer
Rebellion in China, for instance, there were
Americans in Peking who would gladly have
given half of their fortune for the use of a pair
of wires to New York.

In the earliest days of the telephone, Bell was
fond of prophesying that "the time will come
when we will talk across the Atlantic Ocean";
but this was regarded as a poetical fancy until
Pupin invented his method of automatically
propelling the electric current. Since then the
most conservative engineer will discuss the problem
of transatlantic telephony. And as for the
poets, they are now dreaming of the time when
a man may speak and hear his own voice come
back to him around the world.

The immediate long-distance problem is, of
course, to talk from New York to the Pacific.
The two oceans are now only three and a half
days apart by rail. Seattle is clamoring for a
wire to the East. San Diego wants one in time
for her Panama Canal Exposition in 1915.
The wires are already strung to San Francisco,
but cannot be used in the present stage of the art.
And Vail's captains are working now with almost
breathless haste to give him a birthday present of
a talk across the continent from his farm in

"I can see a universal system of telephony for
the United States in the very near future," says
Carty. "There is a statue of Seward standing
in one of the streets of Seattle. The inscription
upon it is, `To a United Country.' But as
an Easterner stands there, he feels the isolation
of that Far Western State, and he will always
feel it, until he can talk from one side of the
United States to the other. For my part," con-
tinues Carty, "I believe we will talk across
continents and across oceans. Why not? Are
there not more cells in one human body than there
are people in the whole earth?"

Some future Carty may solve the abandoned
problem of the single wire, and cut the copper
bill in two by restoring the grounded circuit.
He may transmit vision as well as speech. He
may perfect a third-rail system for use on
moving trains. He may conceive of an ideal insulating
material to supersede glass, mica, paper,
and enamel. He may establish a universal code,
so that all persons of importance in the United
States shall have call-numbers by which they may
instantly be located, as books are in a library.

Some other young man may create a commercial
department on wide lines, a work which
telephone men have as yet been too specialized to
do. Whoever does this will be a man of comprehensive
brain. He will be as closely in touch
with the average man as with the art of telephony.
He will know the gossip of the street,
the demands of the labor unions, and the
policies of governors and presidents. The psy-
chology of the Western farmer will concern him,
and the tone of the daily press, and the methods
of department stores. It will be his aim to
know the subtle chemistry of public opinion, and
to adapt the telephone service to the shifting
moods and necessities of the times. HE WILL FIT

Also, now that the telephone business has
become strong, its next anxiety must be to develop
the virtues, and not the defects, of strength.
Its motto must be "Ich dien"--I serve; and it
will be the work of the future statesmen of the
telephone to illustrate this motto in all its
practical variations. They will cater and explain,
and explain and cater. They will educate and
educate, until they have created an expert public.
They will teach by pictures and lectures
and exhibitions. They will have charts and diagrams
hung in the telephone booths, so that the
person who is waiting for a call may learn a little
and pass the time more pleasantly. They will,
in a word, attend to those innumerable trifles that
make the perfection of public service.

Already the Bell System has gone far in
this direction by organizing what might fairly
be called a foresight department. Here is
where the fortune-tellers of the business sit.
When new lines or exchanges are to be built,
these men study the situation with an eye to
the future. They prepare a "fundamental
plan," outlining what may reasonably be
expected to happen in fifteen or twenty years.
Invariably they are optimists. They make provision
for growth, but none at all for shrinkage.
By their advice, there is now twenty-five million
dollars' worth of reserve plant in the various
Bell Companies, waiting for the country
to grow up to it. Even in the city of New
York, one-half of the cable ducts are empty,
in expectation of the greater city of eight million
population which is scheduled to arrive in 1928.
There are perhaps few more impressive evidences
of practical optimism and confidence than a new
telephone exchange, with two-thirds of its wires
waiting for the business of the future.

Eventually, this foresight department will
expand. It may, if a leader of genius appear,
become the first real corps of practical sociologists,
which will substitute facts for the present
hotch-potch of theories. It will prepare a
"fundamental plan" of the whole United States,
showing the centre of each industry and the
main runways of traffic. It will act upon the
THERE IS BOUND TO BE TELEPHONY; and it will therefore
prepare maps of interdependence, showing
the widely scattered groups of industry and
finance, and the lines that weave them into a
pattern of national cooperation.

As yet, no nation, not even our own, has seen
the full value of the long-distance telephone.
Few have the imagination to see what has been
made possible, and to realize that an actual face-
to-face conversation may take place, even though
there be a thousand miles between. Neither can
it seem credible that a man in a distant city may
be located as readily as though he were close at
hand. It is too amazing to be true, and possibly
a new generation will have to arrive before
it will be taken for granted and acted upon
freely. Ultimately, there can be no doubt that
long-distance telephony will be regarded as a
national asset of the highest value, for the reason
that it can prevent so much of the enormous
economic waste of travel.

Nothing that science can say will ever decrease
the marvel of a long-distance conversation, and
there may come in the future an Interpreter
who will put it before our eyes in the form of a
moving-picture. He will enable us to follow the
flying words in a talk from Boston to Denver.
We will flash first to Worcester, cross the Hudson
on the high bridge at Poughkeepsie, swing
southwest through a dozen coal towns to the outskirts
of Philadelphia, leap across the Susquehanna,
zigzag up and down the Alleghenies into
the murk of Pittsburg, cross the Ohio at Wheeling,
glance past Columbus and Indianapolis,
over the Wabash at Terre Haute, into St. Louis
by the Eads bridge, through Kansas City, across
the Missouri, along the corn-fields of Kansas,
and then on--on--on with the Sante Fe
Railway, across vast plains and past the brink of
the Grand Canyon, to Pueblo and the lofty city
of Denver. Twenty-five hundred miles along
a thousand tons of copper wire! From Bunker
Hill to Pike's Peak IN A SECOND!

Herbert Spencer, in his autobiography, alludes
to the impressive fact that while the eye
is reading a single line of type, the earth has
travelled thirty miles through space. But this,
in telephony, would be slow travelling. It is
simple everyday truth to say that while your eye
is reading this dash,--, a telephone sound can be
carried from New York to Chicago.

There are many reasons to believe that for the
practical idealists of the future, the supreme
study will be the force that makes such miracles
possible. Six thousand million dollars--one-
twentieth of our national wealth--is at the present
time invested in electrical development. The
Electrical Age has not yet arrived; but it is at
hand; and no one can tell how brilliant the result
may be, when the creative minds of a nation are
focussed upon the subdual of this mysterious
force, which has more power and more delicacy
than any other force that man has been able to

As a tame and tractable energy, Electricity is
new. It has no past and no pedigree. It is
younger than many people who are now alive.
Among the wise men of Greece and Rome, few
knew its existence, and none put it to any
practical use. The wisest knew that a piece of
amber, when rubbed, will attract feathery substances.
But they regarded this as poetry rather
than science. There was a pretty legend among
the Phoenicians that the pieces of amber were the
petrified tears of maidens who had thrown themselves
into the sea because of unrequited love,
and each bead of amber was highly prized. It
was worn as an amulet and a symbol of purity.
Not for two thousand years did any one dream
that within its golden heart lay hidden the secret
of a new electrical civilization.

Not even in 1752, when Benjamin Franklin
flew his famous kite on the banks of the Schuylkill
River, and captured the first CANNED LIGHTNING,
was there any definite knowledge of electrical
energy. His lightning-rod was regarded
as an insult to the deity of Heaven. It was
blamed for the earthquake of 1755. And not
until the telegraph of Morse came into general
use, did men dare to think of the thunder-bolt of
Jove as a possible servant of the human race.

Thus it happened that when Bell invented the
telephone, he surprised the world with a new
idea. He had to make the thought as well as
the thing. No Jules Verne or H. G. Wells had
foreseen it. The author of the Arabian Nights
fantasies had conceived of a flying carpet, but
neither he nor any one else had conceived of
flying conversation. In all the literature of
ancient days, there is not a line that will apply
to the telephone, except possibly that expressive
phrase in the Bible, "And there came a voice."
In these more privileged days, the telephone has
come to be regarded as a commonplace fact of
everyday life; and we are apt to forget that the
wonder of it has become greater and not less;
and that there are still honor and profit, plenty
of both, to be won by the inventor and the

The flood of electrical patents was never higher
than now. There are literally more in a single
month than the total number issued by the Patent
Office up to 1859. The Bell System has three
hundred experts who are paid to do nothing else
but try out all new ideas and inventions; and
before these words can pass into the printed
book, new uses and new methods will have
been discovered. There is therefore no immediate
danger that the art of telephony will be
less fascinating in the future than it has been in
the past. It will still be the most alluring and
elusive sprite that ever led the way through a
Dark Continent of mysterious phenomena.

There still remains for some future scientist
the task of showing us in detail exactly what the
telephone current does. Such a man will study
vibrations as Darwin studied the differentiation
of species. He will investigate how a child's
voice, speaking from Boston to Omaha, can
vibrate more than a million pounds of copper
wire; and he will invent a finer system of time to
fit the telephone, which can do as many different
things in a second as a man can do in a day,
transmitting with every tick of the clock from twenty-
five to eighty thousand vibrations. He will deal
with the various vibrations of nerves and wires
and wireless air, that are necessary in conveying
thought between two separated minds. He will
make clear how a thought, originating in the
brain, passes along the nerve-wires to the vocal
chords, and then in wireless vibration of air to
the disc of the transmitter. At the other end
of the line the second disc re-creates these
vibrations, which impinge upon the nerve-wires of an
ear, and are thus carried to the consciousness of
another brain.

And so, notwithstanding all that has been done
since Bell opened up the way, the telephone remains
the acme of electrical marvels. No other
thing does so much with so little energy. No
other thing is more enswathed in the unknown.
Not even the gray-haired pioneers who have lived
with the telephone since its birth, can understand
their protege. As to the why and the how, there
is as yet no answer. It is as true of telephony
to-day as it was in 1876, that a child can use
what the wisest sages cannot comprehend.

Here is a tiny disc of sheet-iron. I speak--it
shudders. It has a different shudder for every
sound. It has thousands of millions of different
shudders. There is a second disc many miles
away, perhaps twenty-five hundred miles away.
Between the two discs runs a copper wire. As
I speak, a thrill of electricity flits along the wire.
This thrill is moulded by the shudder of the disc.
It makes the second disc shudder. And the
shudder of the second disc reproduces my voice.
That is what happens. But how--not all the
scientists of the world can tell.

The telephone current is a phenomenon of the
ether, say the theorists. But what is ether? No
one knows. Sir Oliver Lodge has guessed that
it is "perhaps the only substantial thing in the
material universe"; but no one knows. There
is nothing to guide us in that unknown country
except a sign-post that points upwards and bears
the one word--"Perhaps." The ether of space!
Here is an Eldorado for the scientists of the
future, and whoever can first map it out will go
far toward discovering the secret of telephony.

Some day--who knows?--there may come
the poetry and grand opera of the telephone.
Artists may come who will portray the marvel
of the wires that quiver with electrified words,
and the romance of the switchboards that trem-
ble with the secrets of a great city. Already
Puvis de Chavannes, by one of his superb panels
in the Boston Library, has admitted the telephone
and the telegraph to the world of art.
He has embodied them as two flying figures,
poised above the electric wires, and with the
following inscription underneath: "By the
wondrous agency of electricity, speech dashes
through space and swift as lightning bears
tidings of good and evil."

But these random guesses as to the future of
the telephone may fall far short of what the
reality will be. In these dazzling days it is idle
to predict. The inventor has everywhere put
the prophet out of business. Fact has outrun
Fancy. When Morse, for instance, was tacking
up his first little line of wire around the Speedwell
Iron Works, who could have foreseen two
hundred and fifty thousand miles of submarine
cables, by which the very oceans are all aquiver
with the news of the world? When Fulton's
tiny tea-kettle of a boat steamed up the Hudson
to Albany in two days, who could have foreseen
the steel leviathans, one-sixth of a mile in length,
that can in the same time cut the Atlantic Ocean
in halves? And when Bell stood in a dingy
workshop in Boston and heard the clang of a
clock-spring come over an electric wire, who
could have foreseen the massive structure of the
Bell System, built up by half the telephones of
the world, and by the investment of more actual
capital than has gone to the making of any other
industrial association? Who could have foreseen
what the telephone bells have done to ring
out the old ways and to ring in the new; to ring
out delay, and isolation and to ring in the efficiency
and the friendliness of a truly united people?

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