A Communications Breakthrough

Friday, Mar 10, 2017



Image credit: from American Telephone & Telegraph Company

On this day in 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell made the first voice transmission here in Boston.

Teaching at the Pemberton Avenue School for the Deaf, he sought to improve on the instant communication made possible by Samuel F.B. Morse’s telegraph. With the help of Thomas A. Watson, a Boston machine shop employee, a prototype was developed. In this first telephone, sound waves caused an electric current to vary in intensity and frequency, causing a thin, soft iron plate, the diaphragm, to vibrate. These vibrations were transferred magnetically to another wire connected to a diaphragm in another, distant instrument. When that diaphragm vibrated, the original sound would be replicated in the ear of the receiving instrument. Three days after filing the patent, the telephone carried its first intelligible message–the famous “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you”–from Bell to his assistant.

Timing is everything: Bell’s patent filing beat a similar claim by Elisha Gray by only two hours.

Today’s mural shows Bell, his Boston lab, and a box telephone used in a demonstration that took place between Boston and Salem, Massachusetts on November 26, 1876.

A plaque commemorating the first transmission of sound over wire stands in front of the JFK building on Cambridge Street in Boston, near City Hall Plaza.

Tags: March 2017

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Embedded in the exterior wall of WGBH's studios is a Boston landmark: a digital mural designed to brighten the ride for commuters with a theme a day that provokes thought, inspires curiosity, and reflects the content and values of public media.

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March 2017

 

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Funding for WGBH’s digital mural has been provided by the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, a program of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, administered through a collaborative arrangement between MassDevelopment and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

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