The Pluck Heard 'Round the World

Alexander Graham Bell was able to invent the telephone after Watson tweaked a reed that transmitted sounds to the next room

On a hot day in June 1875, 28-year-old Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant, Thomas Watson, were toiling in adjacent workshops at 109 Court Street in Boston. Under sloped attic walls of rough-sawn wood, the two men hunched over benches covered with curled wires and jar-shaped batteries filled with acid. A few years before, an inventor named Joseph Stearns had made a fortune selling Western Union a device capable of sending two telegraphs simultaneously over one wire.Read more »

Post Haste

The urge to move documents as fast as possible has always been a national pre-occupation, because it has always been a necessity. Fax and Federal Express are just the latest among many innovations for getting the message across.

Reaching out and touching someone hasn’t always been easy—especially if it was necessary to hand that person something in the process. Yet there have always been Americans who absolutely and positively had to have it the next day, week, month, at any cost, and this in turn has always drawn others with the dollars and determination to make it happen.Read more »

Breaking The Connection

The story of AT&T from its origins in Bell’s first local call to last year’s divestiture. Hail and good-bye.

The history of telephone communications in the United States is also, in large measure, the history of an extraordinary business organization. On January 8, 1982, that organization announced that within two years it would tear itself apart, and on January 1, 1984, it made good on its promise. Read more »

Hindsight, Foresight, And No Sight

Late in 1876, William Orton, president of the Western Union Telegraph Company, rejected an opportunity to purchase from Alexander Graham Bell and his associates all patents relating to Bell’s telephone for $100,000. Since Bell’s patents are generally considered the most valuable ever issued by the United States Patent Office, Orton’s refusal to buy them earned him an odd immortality: he is the man who made the worst decision in American business history. Read more »


"My God, it talks!” said the Emperor of Brazil. So the new invention did—but not until Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant had solved some brain racking problems

On the afternoon of June 2, 1875, two young men bent over work benches in the hot and stifling garret of a five-story brick building occupied by the electrical workshops of Charles Williams, at 109 Court Street, Boston. They did not speak to one another, for they were in separate rooms some sixty feet apart, at opposite ends of the floor. Between the rooms ran a length of wire. Read more »

Thanks, But No Thanks, Mr. Bell

The powerful Speaker of the House missed not one but two chances to invest in AT&T in the early days


When ex-Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon of Illinois retired from politics in 1923, he had served almost continuously in the House of Representatives for nearly fifty years, and was regarded as a master political strategist and a shrewd judge of men. But, as he sorrowfully confessed to his longtime secretary and biographer, L. White Busbey, his discernment did not extend to inventors and their get-rich-quick schemes. Read more »