23 – “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.”

– Alexander Graham Bell to Thomas A Watson on March 10, 1876 in the first telephone call, which was the first successful bi-directional transmission of clear speech [See Source Notes for some more information]

Quote Number: 1036

Source: Widely Cited

Source Notes: These are widely cited (or something very close to it) as being Alexander Graham Bell’s words spoken to Thomas Watson in the first telephone call. Because I really love history I am going to give a short story about Bell and the telephone.

Alexander Graham Bell is synonymous with the invention of the telephone, however others would argue that that credit should go to another man, Elisha Gray. I am not one of those people. Elisha Gray had been working on a telephone and filed his patent application for a liquid transmitter on February 14, 1876. Bell’s lawyers in Washington, who had been holding on to a patent application for several weeks because Bell was hoping to obtain a British patent, and Britain would only allow patents on newly invented items not patented elsewhere, got wind of this and through some shady dealings managed to see Gray’s patent and added several sentences to Bell’s unfiled application. Bell’s lawyers than took the application to the patent office and demanded that it be reviewed that day, but by the end of the day Gray’s application was processed. The patent examiner, Zenas Fisk Wilber, after reviewing both patents held up Bell’s due to the similarities in how the receivers functioned. Bell’s lawyers telegraphed him to come to Washington with him arriving on February 26th. Bell had previously been working with liquid transmitters, but had begun to shift toward electro-magnetic (microphone) transmitters, a much more commercially viable invention. He convinced Wilber that he developed the ideas in his patent based on some past research. Bell was (after a court case, where Gray dropped his claim in large part because Bell’s patent application had been notarized nearly two months before his had been) granted the patent on March 7, 1876 for the telephone. Then on March 10, 1876 Bell, using a water transmitter of his own design, transmitted the famous words above: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” So while it is likely that Bell’s lawyers participated in some shady activities, it is likely that he would have come out as the inventor of the telephone given when he had actually drawn up his patent application compared to Gray (January versus March), which at the time US patent law awarded a patent to the first person to invent, not the first person to file a patent.

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