Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell Page
Alexander Graham Bell
First public use of the Telephone

Posted November 2021

February 12, 1877

"I gave a lecture before the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts, and the lines were connected with Boston. Speech was transmitted between Boston and Salem, and the audience generally could hear the sound of the speaker's voice, while those who came close to the telephone were able to converse with Mr. Watson in Boston. At the invitation of the Essex Institute this lecture was repeated on February 23, 1877, an admission fee was charged; and on this occasion certain of the proceeds were presented to me for my lecture on the telephone. I immediately went into Boston and we had a little silver model of the telephone made, and it is interesting now to look back upon the fact that this was made from the first money ever made in the telephone.

On that occasion a very interesting incident took place. A Boston Globe reporter had the brilliant idea that he would send a despatch to his paper in Boston by telephone, and on that occasion the first newspaper despatch ever sent by telephone was sent to Boston for the Boston Globe. That, I think, more than anything else, woke up the press of the world to the advantage of the telephone. That article in the Boston Globe was copied all over the world, and had a great influence in modifying public opinion."

- Alexander Graham Bell

Commemorative Plaque: Alexander Graham Bell Plaque
Alexander Graham Bell
Inventor of the apparatus which first transmitted speech through long lines of electrified wire lived from 1873 to 1876 in a house on this spot owned by Mrs. Mary Ann (Brown) Sanders.

In these years but not chiefly in Salem Bell made fundamental inventions that resulted in the telephone and wrote the specifications of his invincible patent of March 1876.

Here he gave lessons in visible speech to Mrs. Sanders's six-year-old grandson who was born deaf and superintended the child's education.

Compensation for this service was at times his only resource during part of this period.

He was made welcome to the attic of the house as his laboratory for evening work. His work in the daytime being done at Boston University where he was a lecturer on vocal physiology and in a machine shop in Boston which belonged to a manufacturer of electrical apparatus.

Thomas Sanders father of the deaf child became so much interested in Bell and had such faith in the value of his inventions that in the four years 1874-8 he advanced the larger part of the money it cost to make the telephone a commercial success straining his credit and imperilling his own business. Thousands of the first telephones for hire were made with his money.

Therefore the house which stood here and the name of Sanders are to be forever associated with one of the most beneficent inventions which America has given to the world.

The first public lecture on the telephone illustrated by the actual transmission electrically of speech to and from a distant place was the Essex Institute lecture delivered in Lyceum Hall Salem on February 12th 1877. The first press dispatch ever sent by telephone proceeded from that meeting to Boston.

Mary Ann Sanders House
First public phone call was from Salem to Boston
Alexander Graham Bell lived in Salem from 1873 to 1876
292 Essex Street or 1 Sewall Street (now the Salem YMCA):,+Salem,+MA+01970

Bell had invented the phone on the property that the Salem YMCA is now (on Essex Street). In 1873 Thomas Sanders hired Bell to teach his deaf son George in his mother's house at 292 Essex Street. The house was torn down in 1898. Bell was teaching to the deaf in Boston and working on the phone in a laboratory in Boston. He would take the last train home to Salem and continued to work on his invention in the attic and basement of the Sander's house.

On February 12, 1877 he had his expo at the Lyceum. Thomas Sanders became one of his first investors in his telephone company which became The Bell Telephone Company. The Ma Bells of America. Later it became Atlantic Telephone & Telegraph company. Sanders was their Treasurer.

What was the conversation that happened with that first phone call:

Bell: "Mr. Watson, will you speak to the audience?"

Watson: "Ladies and gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to be able to address you this evening, although I am in Boston, and you in Salem!"

Thomas A. Watson was at Exeter Place in Boston with musicians, reporters, and artists. Watson and band sang Auld Lang Syne and Yankee Doodle Dandy (a song the Regulars sang as they attacked the North Bridge in Salem) to Bell in Salem with everyone hearing them. This won Bell a 2nd appearance on Feb. 23rd in front of an audience of 500 people netting him $8,500 which was the first money the phone ever made.

The Salem Lyceum Society:
Lyceums permeated the national culture quickly and thoroughly in the mid-nineteenth century.

Lyceums were the brainchild of Joshua Holbrook, who borrowed the concept from the Mechanics Institutes he had encountered in England. Holbrook started the first lyceum in Milbury, Massachusetts, in 1828 and before long there were 100 similar societies sprinkled throughout New England. By 1834, the number of lyceums in America had grown to 3,000.

One of those lyceums was organized in Salem in January 1830. The expressed purpose of the Salem Lyceum Society was to provide "mutual education and rational entertainment" for both its membership and the general public through a biannual course of lectures, debates and dramatic readings.

While no debates were actually ever held, there were, over the next 60 years, more than 1,000 lectures on such varied themes as literature, science, politics and government, and even phrenology.

Ironically, the most significant event to take place in the Lyceum Hall - Alexander Graham Bell's first public demonstration of the telephone on February 12, 1877 - was sponsored not by the Salem Lyceum Society, but by the Essex Institute

Alexander Graham Bell:
Born March 3, 1847, Edinburgh, Scotland. Died August 2, 1922, Beinn Bhreagh, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Scottish-born American inventor, scientist, and teacher of the deaf whose foremost accomplishments were the invention of the telephone (1876) and the refinement of the phonograph (1886).

Alexander ("Graham" was not added until he was 11) was born to Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds. His mother was almost deaf, and his father taught elocution to the deaf, influencing Alexander's later career choice as teacher of the deaf.

While pursuing his teaching profession, Bell also began researching methods to transmit several telegraph messages simultaneously over a single wire - a major focus of telegraph innovation at the time and one that ultimately led to Bell's invention of the telephone.

In 1868 Joseph Stearns had invented the duplex, a system that transmitted two messages simultaneously over a single wire. Western Union Telegraph Company, the dominant firm in the industry, acquired the rights to Stearns's duplex and hired the noted inventor Thomas Edison to devise as many multiple-transmission methods as possible in order to block competitors from using them. Edison's work culminated in the quadruplex, a system for sending four simultaneous telegraph messages over a single wire.

Inventors then sought methods that could send more than four; some, including Bell and his great rival Elisha Gray, developed designs capable of subdividing a telegraph line into 10 or more channels. These so called harmonic telegraphs used reeds or tuning forks that responded to specific acoustic frequencies. They worked well in the laboratory but proved unreliable in service.

From harmonic telegraphs transmitting musical tones, it was a short conceptual step for both Bell and Gray to transmit the human voice.

Bell filed a patent describing his method of transmitting sounds on February 14, 1876, just hours before Gray filed a caveat (a statement of concept) on a similar method.

On March 7, 1876, the Patent Office awarded Bell what is said to be one of the most valuable patents in history.
It is most likely that both Bell and Gray independently devised their telephone designs as an outgrowth of their work on harmonic telegraphy. However, the question of priority of invention between the two has been controversial from the very beginning.

Despite having the patent, Bell did not have a fully functioning instrument. He first produced intelligible speech on March 10, 1876, when he summoned his laboratory assistant, Thomas A. Watson, with words that Bell transcribed in his lab notes as "Mr. Watson—come here I want to see you." Over the next few months, Bell continued to refine his instrument to make it suitable for public exhibition.

292 Essex Street or 1 Sewall Street (now the Salem YMCA)
Salem Massachusetts 01970