I always liked this story. Here, I have revised my previous writing. Yes, I used to write about telecom. Enough that the History Channel interviewed me once about Bell, my only television appearance.
As Wesson and Grosvenor tell it, in the spring of 1875, Alexander Graham Bell’s experimenting picked up quickly with the help of a talented young machinist named Thomas A. Watson.
Bell feverishly pursued the harmonic telegraph his backers wanted and the telephone which was now his real interest. Trained only in speech, and lacking any formal electrical education, Bell went to Washington D.C. Bell could visualize the telephone, a device to send a voice over a wire using electricity, but how could he make it happen?
On March 1, 1875, Bell met with Joseph Henry, the great scientist and inventor, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. It was Henry who pioneered electromagnetism and helped Morse with the telegraph. He was one of the four or five most important scientists of the 19th century, ranking with Faraday, Pasteur, Curie, and Darwin.
Bell ran by him a number of problems, including ones he had with the telegraph. At the time, any telegraph improvement represented great opportunity and wealth, as that was how the country was wired together in the 1870s.
Henry wasn’t interested in Bell’s telegraph work but he did say Bell’s ideas on transmitting speech electrically represented “the germ of a great invention.” He urged Bell to drop all other work and get on with developing the telephone. Bell said he feared he lacked the necessary electrical knowledge, to which the old man replied simply, “Get it!” Bell quit pursuing his harmonic telegraph, at least in spirit, and began working full time on the telephone.
You can read more of my telephone writing at my old site, now a dusty archive:
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