Friday, November 22, 2013

Invention Convention: Can You Hear Me Now?

        We are all familiar with the invention of Alexander Graham Bell and probably use a more recent version of it on a daily basis. The telephone is arguably the most important invention of the Progressive Era. It has shaped the way we communicate and increased our availability to one another. Today, the candlestick telephone (popular in Wilson’s time) is making a comeback with modern features. But how did this telephone start?

Telephone at the Wilson House
        The first type of telephone available to the public was a wooden box that hung on the wall. We had an interactive example of this in our president electric exhibit. This style was very large and could not be easily moved. When telephone lines became more available across the country, the manufacturing companies needed a new style of telephone. They were able to condense the necessary parts to fit into what is now called a candlestick telephone, several of which can be seen at Wilson House. Due to the Bell Company’s monopoly on the telephone service business, phones had to come from companies that provided phones compatible with that company. This is similar to cell phones today; if you buy an iPhone from  AT&T it will not work with Verizon. Wilson’s Candlestick telephones come from a company called DeVeau Telephone Manufacturing Company and are Stanley-Patterson models.

        Wilson also used a candlestick phone when participating in the first transcontinental telephone call with Bell’s assistant, Thomas A. Watson. Speaking to Watson in San Francisco, from the White House, he said:
“I consider it an honor to be able to express my admiration for the inventive genius and scientific knowledge that have made this possible and my pride that this vital cord should have been stretched across America as a new symbol of our unity and our enterprise.”
        Around 1930, a new style replaced the candlestick and eventually phones evolved into what we recognize today. Imagine how our society would be different without this amazing invention!

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