The History of the Telephone
by Herbert N. Casson
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The telephone world has now its own standards and ideals. It has a language of its own, a telephonese that is quite unintelligible to outsiders. It has as many separate branches of study as medicine or law. There are few men, half a dozen at most, who can now be said to have a general knowledge of telephony. And no matter how wise a telephone expert may be, he can never reach perfection, because of the amazing variety of things that touch or concern his profession.

"No one man knows all the details now," said Theodore Vail. "Several days ago I was walking through a telephone exchange and I saw something new. I asked Mr. Carty to explain it. He is our chief engineer; but he did not understand it. We called the manager. He did n't know, and called his assistant. He did n't know, and called the local engineer, who was able to tell us what it was."

To sum up this development of the art of tele-phony—to present a bird's-eye view—it may be divided into four periods:

1. Experiment. 1876 to 1886. This was the period of invention, in which there were no experts and no authorities. Telephonic apparatus consisted of makeshifts and adaptations. It was the period of iron wire, imperfect transmitters, grounded circuits, boy operators, peg switchboards, local batteries, and overhead lines.

2. Development. 1886 to 1896. In this period amateurs became engineers. The proper type of apparatus was discovered, and was improved to a high point of efficiency. In this period came the multiple switchboard, copper wire, girl operators, underground cables, metallic circuit, common battery, and the long-distance lines.

3. Expansion. 1896 to 1906. This was the era of big business. It was an autumn period, in which the telephone men and the public began to reap the fruits of twenty years of investment and hard work. It was the period of the message rate, the pay station, the farm line, and the private branch exchange.

4. Organization. 1906—. With the success of the Pupin coil, there came a larger life for the telephone. It became less local and more national. It began to link together its scattered parts. It discouraged the waste and anarchy of duplication. It taught its older, but smaller brother, the telegraph, to cooperate. It put itself more closely in touch with the will of the public. And it is now pushing ahead, along the two roads of standardization and efficiency, toward its ideal of one universal telephone system for the whole nation. The key-word of the telephone development of to-day is this—organization.


The telephone business did not really begin to grow big and overspread the earth until 1896, but the keynote of expansion was first sounded by Theodore Vail in the earliest days, when as yet the telephone was a babe in arms. In 1879 Vail said, in a letter written to one of his captains:

"Tell our agents that we have a proposition on foot to connect the different cities for the purpose of personal communication, and in other ways to organize a GRAND TELEPHONIC SYSTEM."

This was brave talk at that time, when there were not in the whole world as many telephones as there are to-day in Cincinnati. It was brave talk in those days of iron wire, peg switchboards, and noisy diaphragms. Most telephone men regarded it as nothing more than talk. They did not see any business future for the telephone except in short-distance service. But Vail was in earnest. His previous experience as the head of the railway mail service had lifted him up to a higher point of view. He knew the need of a national system of communication that would be quicker and more direct than either the telegraph or the post office.

"I saw that if the telephone could talk one mile to-day," he said, "it would be talking a hundred miles to-morrow." And he persisted, in spite of a considerable deal of ridicule, in maintaining that the telephone was destined to connect cities and nations as well as individuals.

Four months after he had prophesied the "grand telephonic system," he encouraged Charles J. Glidden, of world-tour fame, to build a telephone line between Boston and Lowell. This was the first inter-city line. It was well placed, as the owners of the Lowell mills lived in Boston, and it made a small profit from the start. This success cheered Vail on to a master-effort. He resolved to build a line from Boston to Providence, and was so stubbornly bent upon doing this that when the Bell Company refused to act, he picked up the risk and set off with it alone. He organized a company of well-known Rhode Islanders—nicknamed the "Governors' Company"—and built the line. It was a failure at first, and went by the name of "Vail's Folly." But Engineer Carty, by a happy thought, DOUBLED THE WIRE, and thus in a moment established two new factors in the telephone business—the Metallic Circuit and the Long Distance line.

At once the Bell Company came over to Vail's point of view, bought his new line, and launched out upon what seemed to be the foolhardy enterprise of stringing a double wire from Boston to New York. This was to be not only the longest of all telephone lines, strung on ten thousand poles; it was to be a line de luxe, built of glistening red copper, not iron. Its cost was to be seventy thousand dollars, which was an enormous sum in those hardscrabble days. There was much opposition to such extravagance, and much ridicule. "I would n't take that line as a gift," said one of the Bell Company's officials.

But when the last coil of wire was stretched into place, and the first "Hello" leaped from Boston to New York, the new line was a victorious success. It carried messages from the first day; and more, it raised the whole telephone business to a higher level. It swept away the prejudice that telephone service could become nothing more than a neighborhood affair. "It was the salvation of the business," said Edward J. Hill. It marked a turning-point in the history of the telephone, when the day of small things was ended and the day of great things was begun. No one man, no hundred men, had created it. It was the final result of ten years of invention and improvement.

While this epoch-making line was being strung, Vail was pushing his "grand telephonic system" policy by organizing The American Telephone and Telegraph Company. This, too, was a master-stroke. It was the introduction of the staff-and-line method of organization into business. It was doing for the forty or fifty Bell Companies what Von Moltke did for the German army prior to the Franco-Prussian War. It was the creation of a central company that should link all local companies together, and itself own and operate the means by which these companies are united. This central company was to grapple with all national problems, to own all telephones and long-distance lines, to protect all patents, and to be the headquarters of invention, information, capital, and legal protection for the entire federation of Bell Companies.

Seldom has a company been started with so small a capital and so vast a purpose. It had no more than $100,000 of capital stock, in 1885; but its declared object was nothing less than to establish a system of wire communication for the human race. Here are, in its own words, the marching orders of this Company: "To connect one or more points in each and every city, town, or place an the State of New York, with one or more points in each and every other city, town, or place in said State, and in each and every other of the United States, and in Canada, and Mexico; and each and every of said cities, towns, and places is to be connected with each and every other city, town, or place in said States and countries, and also by cable and other appropriate means with the rest of the known world."

So ran Vail's dream, and for nine years he worked mightily to make it come true. He remained until the various parts of the business had grown together, and until his plan for a "grand telephonic system" was under way and fairly well understood. Then he went out, into a series of picturesque enterprises, until he had built up a four-square fortune; and recently, in 1907, he came back to be the head of the telephone business, and to complete the work of organization that he started thirty years before.

When Vail said auf wiedersehen to the telephone business, it had passed from infancy to childhood. It was well shaped but not fully grown. Its pioneering days were over. It was self-supporting and had a little money in the bank. But it could not then have carried the load of traffic that it carries to-day. It had still too many problems to solve and too much general inertia to overcome. It needed to be conserved, drilled, educated, popularized. And the man who was finally chosen to replace Vail was in many respects the appropriate leader for such a preparatory period.

Hudson—John Elbridge Hudson—was the name of the new head of the telephone people. He was a man of middle age, born in Lynn and bred in Boston; a long-pedigreed New Englander, whose ancestors had smelted iron ore in Lynn when Charles the First was King. He was a lawyer by profession and a university professor by temperament. His specialty, as a man of affairs, had been marine law; and his hobby was the collection of rare books and old English engravings. He was a master of the Greek language, and very fond of using it. On all possible occasions he used the language of Pericles in his conversation; and even carried this preference so far as to write his business memoranda in Greek. He was above all else a scholar, then a lawyer, and somewhat incidentally the central figure in the telephone world.

But it was of tremendous value to the telephone business at that time to have at its head a man of Hudson's intellectual and moral calibre.

He gave it tone and prestige. He built up its credit. He kept it clean and clear above all suspicion of wrong-doing. He held fast whatever had been gained. And he prepared the way for the period of expansion by borrowing fifty millions for improvements, and by adding greatly to the strength and influence of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Hudson remained at the head of the telephone table until his death, in 1900, and thus lived to see the dawn of the era of big business. Under his regime great things were done in the development of the art. The business was pushed ahead at every point by its captains. Every man in his place, trying to give a little better service than yesterday—that was the keynote of the Hudson period. There was no one preeminent genius. Each important step forward was the result of the cooperation of many minds, and the prodding necessities of a growing traffic.

By 1896, when the Common Battery system created a new era, the telephone engineer had pretty well mastered his simpler troubles. He was able to handle his wires, no matter how many. By this time, too, the public was ready for the telephone. A new generation had grown up, without the prejudices of its fathers. People had grown away from the telegraphic habit of thought, which was that wire communications were expensive luxuries for the few. The telephone was, in fact, a new social nerve, so new and so novel that very nearly twenty years went by before it had fully grown into place, and before the social body developed the instinct of using it.

Not that the difficulties of the telephone engineers were over, for they were not. They have seemed to grow more numerous and complex every year. But by 1896 enough had been done to warrant a forward movement. For the next ten-year period the keynote of telephone history was EXPANSION. Under the prevailing flat-rate plan of payment, all customers paid the same yearly price and then used their telephones as often as they pleased. This was a simple method, and the most satisfactory for small towns and farming regions. But in a great city such a plan grew to be suicidal. In New York, for instance, the price had to be raised to $240, which lifted the telephone as high above the mass of the citizens as though it were a piano or a diamond sunburst. Such a plan was strangling the business. It was shutting out the small users. It was clogging the wires with deadhead calls. It was giving some people too little service and others too much. It was a very unsatisfactory situation.

How to extend the service and at the same time cheapen it to small users—that was the Gordian knot; and the man who unquestionably did most to untie it was Edward J. Hall. Mr. Hall founded the telephone business in Buffalo in 1878, and seven years afterwards became the chief of the long-distance traffic. He was then, and is to-day, one of the statesmen of the telephone. For more than thirty years he has been the "candid friend" of the business, incessantly suggesting, probing, and criticising. Keen and dispassionate, with a genius for mercilessly cutting to the marrow of a proposition, Hall has at the same time been a zealot for the improvement and extension of telephone service. It was he who set the agents free from the ball-and-chain of royalties, allowing them to pay instead a percentage of gross receipts. And it was he who "broke the jam," as a lumberman would say, by suggesting the MESSAGE RATE system.

By this plan, which U. N. Bethell developed to its highest point in New York, a user of the telephone pays a fixed minimum price for a certain number of messages per year, and extra for all messages over this number. The large user pays more, and the little user pays less. It opened up the way to such an expansion of telephone business as Bell, in his rosiest dreams, had never imagined. In three years, after 1896, there were twice as many users; in six years there were four times as many; in ten years there were eight to one. What with the message rate and the pay station, the telephone was now on its way to be universal. It was adapted to all kinds and conditions of men. A great corporation, nerved at every point with telephone wires, may now pay fifty thousand dollars to the Bell Company, while at the same time a young Irish immigrant boy, just arrived in New York City, may offer five coppers and find at his disposal a fifty million dollar telephone system.

When the message rate was fairly well established, Hudson died—fell suddenly to the ground as he was about to step into a railway carriage. In his place came Frederick P. Fish, also a lawyer and a Bostonian. Fish was a popular, optimistic man, with a "full-speed-ahead" temperament. He pushed the policy of expansion until he broke all the records. He borrowed money in stupendous amounts—$150,000,000 at one time—and flung it into a campaign of red-hot development. More business he demanded, and more, and more, until his captains, like a thirty-horse team of galloping horses, became very nearly uncontrollable.

It was a fast and furious period. The whole country was ablaze with a passion of prosperity. After generations of conflict, the men with large ideas had at last put to rout the men of small ideas. The waste and folly of competition had everywhere driven men to the policy of cooperation. Mills were linked to mills and factories to factories, in a vast mutualism of industry such as no other age, perhaps, has ever known. And as the telephone is essentially the instrument of co-working and interdependent people, it found itself suddenly welcomed as the most popular and indispensable of all the agencies that put men in touch with each other.

To describe this growth in a single sentence, we might say that the Bell telephone secured its first million of capital in 1879; its first million of earnings in 1882; its first million of dividends in 1884; its first million of surplus in 1885. It had paid out its first million for legal expenses by 1886; began first to send a million messages a day in 1888; had strung its first million miles of wire in 1900; and had installed its first million telephones in 1898. By 1897 it had spun as many cobwebs of wire as the mighty Western Union itself; by 1900 it had twice as many miles of wire as the Western Union, and in 1905 FIVE TIMES as many. Such was the plunging progress of the Bell Companies in this period of expansion, that by 1905 they had swept past all European countries combined, not only in the quality of the service but in the actual number of telephones in use. This, too, without a cent of public money, or the protection of a tariff, or the prestige of a governmental bureau.

By 1892 Boston and New York were talking to Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburg, and Washington. One-half of the people of the United States were within talking distance of each other. The THOUSAND-MILE TALK had ceased to be a fairy tale. Several years later the western end of the line was pushed over the plains to Nebraska, enabling the spoken word in Boston to be heard in Omaha. Slowly and with much effort the public were taught to substitute the telephone for travel. A special long-distance salon was fitted up in New York City to entice people into the habit of talking to other cities. Cabs were sent for customers; and when one arrived, he was escorted over Oriental rugs to a gilded booth, draped with silken curtains. This was the famous "Room Nine." By such and many other allurements a larger idea of telephone service was given to the public mind; until in 1909 at least eighteen thousand New York-Chicago conversations were held, and the revenue from strictly long-distance messages was twenty-two thousand dollars a day.

By 1906 even the Rocky Mountain Bell Company had grown to be a ten-million-dollar enterprise. It began at Salt Lake City with a hundred telephones, in 1880. Then it reached out to master an area of four hundred and thirteen thousand square miles—a great Lone Land of undeveloped resources. Its linemen groped through dense forests where their poles looked like toothpicks beside the towering pines and cedars. They girdled the mountains and basted the prairies with wire, until the lonely places were brought together and made sociable. They drove off the Indians, who wanted the bright wire for ear-rings and bracelets; and the bears, which mistook the humming of the wires for the buzzing of bees, and persisted in gnawing the poles down. With the most heroic optimism, this Rocky Mountain Company persevered until, in 1906, it had created a seventy-thousand-mile nerve-system for the far West.

Chicago, in this year, had two hundred thou-sand telephones in use, in her two hundred square miles of area. The business had been built up by General Anson Stager, who was himself wealthy, and able to attract the support of such men as John Crerar, H. H. Porter, and Robert T. Lincoln. Since 1882 it has paid dividends, and in one glorious year its stock soared to four hundred dollars a share. The old-timers—the men who clambered over roof-tops in 1878 and tacked iron wires wherever they could without being chased off—are still for the most part in control of the Chicago company.

But as might have been expected, it was New York City that was the record-breaker when the era of telephone expansion arrived. Here the flood of big business struck with the force of a tidal wave. The number of users leaped from 56,000 in 1900 up to 810,000 in 1908. In a single year of sweating and breathless activity, 65,000 new telephones were put on desks or hung on walls—an average of one new user for every two minutes of the business day.

Literally tons, and hundreds of tons, of telephones were hauled in drays from the factory and put in place in New York's homes and offices. More and more were demanded, until to-day there are more telephones in New York than there are in the four countries, France, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland combined. As a user of telephones New York has risen to be unapproachable. Mass together all the telephones of London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffleld, Bristol, and Belfast, and there will even then be barely as many as are carrying the conversations of this one American city.

In 1879 the New York telephone directory was a small card, showing two hundred and fifty-two names; but now it has grown to be an eight-hundred-page quarterly, with a circulation of half a million, and requiring twenty drays, forty horses, and four hundred men to do the work of distribution. There was one shabby little exchange thirty years ago; but now there are fifty-two exchanges, as the nerve-centres of a vast fifty-million-dollar system. Incredible as it may seem to foreigners, it is literally true that in a single building in New York, the Hudson Terminal, there are more telephones than in Odessa or Madrid, more than in the two kingdoms of Greece and Bulgaria combined.

Merely to operate this system requires an army of more than five thousand girls. Merely to keep their records requires two hundred and thirty-five million sheets of paper a year. Merely to do the writing of these records wears away five hundred and sixty thousand lead pencils. And merely to give these girls a cup of tea or coffee at noon, compels the Bell Company to buy yearly six thousand pounds of tea, seventeen thousand pounds of coffee, forty-eight thousand cans of condensed milk, and one hundred and forty barrels of sugar.

The myriad wires of this New York system are tingling with talk every minute of the day and night. They are most at rest between three and four o'clock in the morning, although even then there are usually ten calls a minute. Between five and six o'clock, two thousand New Yorkers are awake and at the telephone. Half an hour later there are twice as many. Between seven and eight twenty-five thousand people have called up twenty-five thousand other people, so that there are as many people talking by wire as there were in the whole city of New York in the Revolutionary period. Even this is only the dawn of the day's business. By half-past eight it is doubled; by nine it is trebled; by ten it is multiplied sixfold; and by eleven the roar has become an incredible babel of one hundred and eighty thousand conversations an hour, with fifty new voices clamoring at the exchanges every second.

This is "the peak of the load." It is the topmost pinnacle of talk. It is the utmost degree of service that the telephone has been required to give in any city. And it is as much a world's wonder, to men and women of imagination, as the steel mills of Homestead or the turbine leviathans that curve across the Atlantic Ocean in four and a half days.

As to the men who built it up: Charles F. Cutler died in 1907, but most of the others are still alive and busy. Union N. Bethell, now in Cutler's place at the head of the New York Company, has been the operating chief for eighteen years. He is a man of shrewdness and sympathy, with a rare sagacity in solving knotty problems, a president of the new type, who regards his work as a sort of obligation he owes to the public. And just as foreigners go to Pittsburg to see the steel business at its best; just as they go to Iowa and Kansas to see the New Farmer, so they make pilgrimages to Bethell's office to learn the profession of telephony.

This unparalleled telephone system of New York grew up without having at any time the rivalry of competition. But in many other cities and especially in the Middle West, there sprang up in 1895 a medley of independent companies. The time of the original patents had expired, and the Bell Companies found themselves freed from the expense of litigation only to be snarled up in a tangle of duplication. In a few years there were six thousand of these little Robinson Crusoe companies. And by 1901 they had put in use more than a million telephones and were professing to have a capital of a hundred millions.

Most of these companies were necessary and did much to expand the telephone business into new territory. They were in fact small mutual associations of a dozen or a hundred farmers, whose aim was to get telephone service at cost. But there were other companies, probably a thousand or more, which were organized by promoters who built their hopes on the fact that the Bell Companies were unpopular, and on the myth that they were fabulously rich. Instead of legitimately extending telephone lines into communities that had none, these promoters proceeded to inflict the messy snarl of an overlapping system upon whatever cities would give them permission to do so.

In this way, masked as competition, the nuisance and waste of duplication began in most American cities. The telephone business was still so young, it was so little appreciated even by the telephone officials and engineers, that the public regarded a second or a third telephone system in one city as quite a possible and desirable innovation. "We have two ears," said one promoter; "why not therefore have two telephones?"

This duplication went merrily on for years before it was generally discovered that the telephone is not an ear, but a nerve system; and that such an experiment as a duplicate nerve system has never been attempted by Nature, even in her most frivolous moods. Most people fancied that a telephone system was practically the same as a gas or electric light system, which can often be duplicated with the result of cheaper rates and better service. They did not for years discover that two telephone companies in one city means either half service or double cost, just as two fire departments or two post offices would.

Some of these duplicate companies built up a complete plant, and gave good local service, while others proved to be mere stock bubbles. Most of them were over-capitalized, depending upon public sympathy to atone for deficiencies in equipment. One which had printed fifty million dollars of stock for sale was sold at auction in 1909 for four hundred thousand dollars. All told, there were twenty-three of these bubbles that burst in 1905, twenty-one in 1906, and twelve in 1907. So high has been the death-rate among these isolated companies that at a recent convention of telephone agents, the chairman's gavel was made of thirty-five pieces of wood, taken from thirty-five switchboards of thirty-five extinct companies.

A study of twelve single-system cities and twenty-seven double-system cities shows that there are about eleven per cent more telephones under the double-system, and that where the second system is put in, every fifth user is obliged to pay for two telephones. The rates are alike, whether a city has one or two systems. Duplicating companies raised their rates in sixteen cities out of the twenty-seven, and reduced them in one city. Taking the United States as a whole, there are to-day fully two hundred and fifty thousand people who are paying for two telephones instead of one, an economic waste of at least ten million dollars a year.

A fair-minded survey of the entire independent telephone movement would probably show that it was at first a stimulant, followed, as stimulants usually are, by a reaction. It was unquestionably for several years a spur to the Bell Companies. But it did not fulfil its promises of cheap rates, better service, and high dividends; it did little or nothing to improve telephonic apparatus, producing nothing new except the automatic switchboard—a brilliant invention, which is now in its experimental period. In the main, perhaps, it has been a reactionary and troublesome movement in the cities, and a progressive movement among the farmers.

By 1907 it was a wave that had spent its force. It was no longer rolling along easily on the broad ocean of hope, but broken and turned aside by the rocks of actual conditions. One by one the telephone promoters learned the limitations of an isolated company, and asked to be included as members of the Bell family. In 1907 four hundred and fifty-eight thousand independent telephones were linked by wire to the nearest Bell Company; and in 1908 these were followed by three hundred and fifty thousand more. After this landslide to the policy of consolidation, there still remained a fairly large assortment of independent companies; but they had lost their dreams and their illusions.

As might have been expected, the independent movement produced a number of competent local leaders, but none of national importance. The Bell Companies, on the other hand, were officered by men who had for a quarter of a century been surveying telephone problems from a national point of view. At their head, from 1907 onwards, was Theodore N. Vail, who had returned dramatically, at the precise moment when he was needed, to finish the work that he had begun in 1878. He had been absent for twenty years, developing water-power and building street-railways in South America. In the first act of the telephone drama, it was he who put the enterprise upon a business basis, and laid down the first principles of its policy. In the second and third acts he had no place; but when the curtain rose upon the fourth act, Vail was once more the central figure, standing white-haired among his captains, and pushing forward the completion of the "grand telephonic system" that he had dreamed of when the telephone was three years old.

Thus it came about that the telephone business was created by Vail, conserved by Hudson, expanded by Fish, and is now in process of being consolidated by Vail. It is being knit together into a stupendous Bell System—a federation of self-governing companies, united by a central company that is the busiest of them all. It is no longer protected by any patent monopoly. Whoever is rich enough and rash enough may enter the field. But it has all the immeasurable advantages that come from long experience, immense bulk, the most highly skilled specialists, and an abundance of capital. "The Bell System is strong," says Vail, "because we are all tied up together; and the success of one is therefore the concern of all."

The Bell System! Here we have the motif of American telephone development. Here is the most comprehensive idea that has entered any telephone engineer's brain. Already this Bell System has grown to be so vast, so nearly akin to a national nerve system, that there is nothing else to which we can compare it. It is so wide-spread that few are aware of its greatness. It is strung out over fifty thousand cities and communities.

If it were all gathered together into one place, this Bell System, it would make a city of Telephonia as large as Baltimore. It would contain half of the telephone property of the world. Its actual wealth would be fully $760,000,000, and its revenue would be greater than the revenue of the city of New York.

Part of the property of the city of Telephonia consists of ten million poles, as many as would make a fence from New York to California, or put a stockade around Texas. If the Telephonians wished to use these poles at home, they might drive them in as piles along their water-front, and have a twenty-five thousand-acre dock; or if their city were a hundred square miles in extent, they might set up a seven-ply wall around it with these poles.

Wire, too! Eleven million miles of it! This city of Telephonia would be the capital of an empire of wire. Not all the men in New York State could shoulder this burden of wire and carry it. Throw all the people of Illinois in one end of the scale, and put on the other side the wire-wealth of Telephonia, and long before the last coil was in place, the Illinoisans would be in the air.

What would this city do for a living? It would make two-thirds of the telephones, cables, and switchboards of all countries. Nearly one-quarter of its citizens would work in factories, while the others would be busy in six thousand exchanges, making it possible for the people of the United States to talk to one another at the rate of SEVEN THOUSAND MILLION CONVERSATIONS A YEAR.

The pay-envelope army that moves to work every morning in Telephonia would be a host of one hundred and ten thousand men and girls, mostly girls,—as many girls as would fill Vassar College a hundred times and more, or double the population of Nevada. Put these men and girls in line, march them ten abreast, and six hours would pass before the last company would arrive at the reviewing stand. In single file this throng of Telephonians would make a living wall from New York to New Haven.

Such is the extraordinary city of which Alexander Graham Bell was the only resident in 1875. It has been built up without the backing of any great bank or multi-millionaire. There have been no Vanderbilts in it, no Astors, Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Harrimans. There are even now only four men who own as many as ten thousand shares of the stock of the central company. This Bell System stands as the life-work of unprivileged men, who are for the most part still alive and busy. With very few and trivial exceptions, every part of it was made in the United States. No other industrial organism of equal size owes foreign countries so little. Alike in its origin, its development, and its highest point of efficiency and expansion, the telephone is as essentially American as the Declaration of Independence or the monument on Bunker Hill.


What we might call the telephonization of city life, for lack of a simpler word, has remarkably altered our manner of living from what it was in the days of Abraham Lincoln. It has enabled us to be more social and cooperative. It has literally abolished the isolation of separate families, and has made us members of one great family. It has become so truly an organ of the social body that by telephone we now enter into contracts, give evidence, try lawsuits, make speeches, propose marriage, confer degrees, appeal to voters, and do almost everything else that is a matter of speech.

In stores and hotels this wire traffic has grown to an almost bewildering extent, as these are the places where many interests meet. The hundred largest hotels in New York City have twenty-one thousand telephones—nearly as many as the continent of Africa and more than the kingdom of Spain. In an average year they send six million messages. The Waldorf-Astoria alone tops all residential buildings with eleven hundred and twenty telephones and five hundred thousand calls a year; while merely the Christmas Eve orders that flash into Marshall Field's store, or John Wanamaker's, have risen as high as the three thousand mark.

Whether the telephone does most to concentrate population, or to scatter it, is a question that has not yet been examined. It is certainly true that it has made the skyscraper possible, and thus helped to create an absolutely new type of city, such as was never imagined even in the fairy tales of ancient nations. The skyscraper is ten years younger than the telephone. It is now generally seen to be the ideal building for business offices. It is one of the few types of architecture that may fairly be called American. And its efficiency is largely, if not mainly, due to the fact that its inhabitants may run errands by telephone as well as by elevator.

There seems to be no sort of activity which is not being made more convenient by the telephone. It is used to call the duck-shooters in Western Canada when a flock of birds has arrived; and to direct the movements of the Dragon in Wagner's grand opera "Siegfried." At the last Yale-Harvard football game, it conveyed almost instantaneous news to fifty thousand people in various parts of New England. At the Vanderbilt Cup Race its wires girdled the track and reported every gain or mishap of the racing autos. And at such expensive pageants as that of the Quebec Tercentenary in 1908, where four thousand actors came and went upon a ten-acre stage, every order was given by telephone.

Public officials, even in the United States, have been slow to change from the old-fashioned and more dignified use of written documents and uniformed messengers; but in the last ten years there has been a sweeping revolution in this respect. Government by telephone! This is a new idea that has already arrived in the more efficient departments of the Federal service. And as for the present Congress, that body has gone so far as to plan for a special system of its own, in both Houses, so that all official announcements may be heard by wire.

Garfield was the first among American Presidents to possess a telephone. An exhibition instrument was placed in his house, without cost, in 1878, while he was still a member of Congress. Neither Cleveland nor Harrison, for temperamental reasons, used the magic wire very often. Under their regime, there was one lonely idle telephone in the White House, used by the servants several times a week. But with McKinley came a new order of things. To him a telephone was more than a necessity. It was a pastime, an exhilarating sport. He was the one President who really revelled in the comforts of telephony. In 1895 he sat in his Canton home and heard the cheers of the Chicago Convention. Later he sat there and ran the first presidential telephone campaign; talked to his managers in thirty-eight States. Thus he came to regard the telephone with a higher degree of appreciation than any of his predecessors had done, and eulogized it on many public occasions. "It is bringing us all closer together," was his favorite phrase.

To Roosevelt the telephone was mainly for emergencies. He used it to the full during the Chicago Convention of 1907 and the Peace Conference at Portsmouth. But with Taft the telephone became again the common avenue of conversation. He has introduced at least one new telephonic custom a long-distance talk with his family every evening, when he is away from home. Instead of the solitary telephone of Cleveland-Harrison days, the White House has now a branch exchange of its own—Main 6—with a sheaf of wires that branch out into every room as well as to the nearest central.

Next to public officials, bankers were perhaps the last to accept the facilities of the telephone. They were slow to abandon the fallacy that no business can be done without a written record. James Stillman, of New York, was first among bankers to foresee the telephone era. As early as 1875, while Bell was teaching his infant telephone to talk, Stillman risked two thousand dollars in a scheme to establish a crude dial system of wire communication, which later grew into New York's first telephone exchange. At the present time, the banker who works closest to his telephone is probably George W. Perkins, of the J. P. Morgan group of bankers. "He is the only man," says Morgan, "who can raise twenty millions in twenty minutes." The Perkins plan of rapid transit telephony is to prepare a list of names, from ten to thirty, and to flash from one to another as fast as the operator can ring them up. Recently one of the other members of the Morgan bank proposed to enlarge its telephone equipment. "What will we gain by more wires?" asked the operator. "If we were to put in a six-hundred pair cable, Mr. Perkins would keep it busy."

The most brilliant feat of the telephone in the financial world was done during the panic of 1907. At the height of the storm, on a Saturday evening, the New York bankers met in an almost desperate conference. They decided, as an emergency measure of self-protection, not to ship cash to Western banks. At midnight they telephoned this decision to the bankers of Chicago and St. Louis. These men, in turn, conferred by telephone, and on Sunday afternoon called up the bankers of neighboring States. And so the news went from 'phone to 'phone, until by Monday morning all bankers and chief depositors were aware of the situation, and prepared for the team-play that prevented any general disaster.

As for stockbrokers of the Wall Street species, they transact practically all their business by telephone. In their stock exchange stand six hundred and forty one booths, each one the terminus of a private wire. A firm of brokers will count it an ordinary year's talking to send fifty thousand messages; and there is one firm which last year sent twice as many. Of all brokers, the one who finally accomplished most by telephony was unquestionably E. H. Harriman. In the mansion that he built at Arden, there were a hundred telephones, sixty of them linked to the long-distance lines. What the brush is to the artist, what the chisel is to the sculptor, the telephone was to Harriman. He built his fortune with it. It was in his library, his bathroom, his private car, his camp in the Oregon wilder-ness. No transaction was too large or too involved to be settled over its wires. He saved the credit of the Erie by telephone—lent it five million dollars as he lay at home on a sickbed. "He is a slave to the telephone," wrote a magazine writer. "Nonsense," replied Harriman, "it is a slave to me."

The telephone arrived in time to prevent big corporations from being unwieldy and aristocratic. The foreman of a Pittsburg coal company may now stand in his subterranean office and talk to the president of the Steel Trust, who sits on the twenty-first floor of a New York skyscraper. The long-distance talks, especially, have grown to be indispensable to the corporations whose plants are scattered and geographically misplaced—to the mills of New England, for instance, that use the cotton of the South and sell so much of their product to the Middle West. To the companies that sell perishable commodities, an instantaneous conversation with a buyer in a distant city has often saved a carload or a cargo. Such caterers as the meat-packers, who were among the first to realize what Bell had made possible, have greatly accelerated the wheels of their business by inter-city conversations. For ten years or longer the Cudahys have talked every business morning between Omaha and Boston, via fifteen hundred and seventy miles of wire.

In the refining of oil, the Standard Oil Company alone, at its New York office, sends two hundred and thirty thousand messages a year. In the making of steel, a chemical analysis is made of each caldron of molten pig-iron, when it starts on its way to be refined, and this analysis is sent by telephone to the steelmaker, so that he will know exactly how each potful is to be handled. In the floating of logs down rivers, instead of having relays of shouters to prevent the logs from jamming, there is now a wire along the bank, with a telephone linked on at every point of danger. In the rearing of skyscrapers, it is now usual to have a temporary wire strung vertically, so that the architect may stand on the ground and confer with a foreman who sits astride of a naked girder three hundred feet up in the air. And in the electric light business, the current is distributed wholly by telephoned orders. To give New York the seven million electric lights that have abolished night in that city requires twelve private exchanges and five hundred and twelve telephones. All the power that creates this artificial daylight is generated at a single station, and let flow to twenty-five storage centres. Minute by minute, its flow is guided by an expert, who sits at a telephone exchange as though he were a pilot at the wheel of an ocean liner.

The first steamship line to take notice of the telephone was the Clyde, which had a wire from dock to office in 1877; and the first railway was the Pennsylvania, which two years later was persuaded by Professor Bell himself to give it a trial in Altoona. Since then, this railroad has become the chief beneficiary of the art of telephony. It has one hundred and seventy-five exchanges, four hundred operators, thirteen thousand telephones, and twenty thousand miles of wire—a more ample system than the city of New York had in 1896.

To-day the telephone goes to sea in the passenger steamer and the warship. Its wires are waiting at the dock and the depot, so that a tourist may sit in his stateroom and talk with a friend in some distant office. It is one of the most incredible miracles of telephony that a passenger at New York, who is about to start for Chicago on a fast express, may telephone to Chicago from the drawing-room of a Pullman. He himself, on the swiftest of all trains, will not arrive in Chicago for eighteen hours; but the flying words can make the journey, and RETURN, while his train is waiting for the signal to start.

In the operation of trains, the railroads have waited thirty years before they dared to trust the telephone, just as they waited fifteen years before they dared to trust the telegraph. In 1883 a few railways used the telephone in a small way, but in 1907, when a law was passed that made telegraphers highly expensive, there was a general swing to the telephone. Several dozen roads have now put it in use, some employing it as an associate of the Morse method and others as a complete substitute. It has already been found to be the quickest way of despatching trains. It will do in five minutes what the telegraph did in ten. And it has enabled railroads to hire more suitable men for the smaller offices.

In news-gathering, too, much more than in railroading, the day of the telephone has arrived. The Boston Globe was the first paper to receive news by telephone. Later came The Washington Star, which had a wire strung to the Capitol, and thereby gained an hour over its competitors. To-day the evening papers receive most of their news over the wire a la Bell instead of a la Morse. This has resulted in a specialization of reporters—one man runs for the news and another man writes it. Some of the runners never come to the office. They receive their assignments by telephone, and their salaries by mail. There are even a few who are allowed to telephone their news directly to a swift linotype operator, who clicks it into type on his machine, without the scratch of a pencil. This, of course, is the ideal method of news-gathering, which is rarely possible.

A paper of the first class, such as The New York World, has now an outfit of twenty trunk lines and eighty telephones. Its outgoing calls are two hundred thousand a year and its incoming calls three hundred thousand, which means that for every morning, evening, or Sunday edition, there has been an average of seven hundred and fifty messages. The ordinary newspaper in a small town cannot afford such a service, but recently the United Press has originated a cooperative method. It telephones the news over one wire to ten or twelve newspapers at one time. In ten minutes a thousand words can in this way be flung out to a dozen towns, as quickly as by telegraph and much cheaper.

But it is in a dangerous crisis, when safety seems to hang upon a second, that the telephone is at its best. It is the instrument of emergencies, a sort of ubiquitous watchman. When the girl operator in the exchange hears a cry for help—"Quick! The hospital!" "The fire department!" "The police!" she seldom waits to hear the number. She knows it. She is trained to save half-seconds. And it is at such moments, if ever, that the users of a telephone can appreciate its insurance value. No doubt, if a King Richard III were worsted on a modern battlefield, his instinctive cry would be, "My Kingdom for a telephone!"

When instant action is needed in the city of New York, a General Alarm can in five minutes be sent by the police wires over its whole vast area of three hundred square miles. When, recently, a gas main broke in Brooklyn, sixty girls were at once called to the centrals in that part of the city to warn the ten thousand families who had been placed in danger. When the ill-fated General Slocum caught fire, a mechanic in a factory on the water-front saw the blaze, and had the presence of mind to telephone the newspapers, the hospitals, and the police. When a small child is lost, or a convict has escaped from prison, or the forest is on fire, or some menace from the weather is at hand, the telephone bells clang out the news, just as the nerves jangle the bells of pain when the body is in danger. In one tragic case, the operator in Folsom, New Mexico, refused to quit her post until she had warned her people of a flood that had broken loose in the hills above the village. Because of her courage, nearly all were saved, though she herself was drowned at the switchboard. Her name—Mrs. S. J. Rooke—deserves to be remembered.

If a disaster cannot be prevented, it is the telephone, usually, that brings first aid to the injured. After the destruction of San Francisco, Governor Guild, of Massachusetts, sent an appeal for the stricken city to the three hundred and fifty-four mayors of his State; and by the courtesy of the Bell Company, which carried the messages free, they were delivered to the last and furthermost mayors in less than five hours. After the destruction of Messina, an order for enough lumber to build ten thousand new houses was cabled to New York and telephoned to Western lumbermen. So quickly was this order filled that on the twelfth day after the arrival of the cablegram, the ships were on their way to Messina with the lumber. After the Kansas City flood of 1903, when the drenched city was without railways or street-cars or electric lights, it was the telephone that held the city together and brought help to the danger-spots. And after the Baltimore fire, the telephone exchange was the last force to quit and the first to recover. Its girls sat on their stools at the switchboard until the window-panes were broken by the heat. Then they pulled the covers over the board and walked out. Two hours later the building was in ashes. Three hours later another building was rented on the unburned rim of the city, and the wire chiefs were at work. In one day there was a system of wires for the use of the city officials. In two days these were linked to long-distance wires; and in eleven days a two-thousand-line switchboard was in full working trim. This feat still stands as the record in rebuilding.

In the supreme emergency of war, the telephone is as indispensable, very nearly, as the cannon. This, at least, is the belief of the Japanese, who handled their armies by telephone when they drove back the Russians. Each body of Japanese troops moved forward like a silkworm, leaving behind it a glistening strand of red copper wire. At the decisive battle of Mukden, the silk-worm army, with a million legs, crept against the Russian hosts in a vast crescent, a hundred miles from end to end. By means of this glistening red wire, the various batteries and regiments were organized into fifteen divisions. Each group of three divisions was wired to a general, and the five generals were wired to the great Oyama himself, who sat ten miles back of the firing-line and sent his orders. Whenever a regiment lunged forward, one of the soldiers carried a telephone set. If they held their position, two other soldiers ran forward with a spool of wire. In this way and under fire of the Russian cannon, one hundred and fifty miles of wire were strung across the battlefield. As the Japanese said, it was this "flying telephone" that enabled Oyama to manipulate his forces as handily as though he were playing a game of chess. It was in this war, too, that the Mikado's soldiers strung the costliest of all telephone lines, at 203 Metre Hill. When the wire had been basted up this hill to the summit, the fortress of Port Arthur lay at their mercy. But the climb had cost them twenty-four thousand lives.

Of the seven million telephones in the United States, about two million are now in farmhouses. Every fourth American farmer is in telephone touch with his neighbors and the market. Iowa leads, among the farming States. In Iowa, not to have a telephone is to belong to what a Londoner would call the "submerged tenth" of the population. Second in line comes Illinois, with Kansas, Nebraska, and Indiana following closely behind; and at the foot of the list, in the matter of farm telephones, are Connecticut and Louisiana.

The first farmer who discovered the value of the telephone was the market gardener. Next came the bonanza farmer of the Red River Valley—such a man, for instance, as Oliver Dalrymple, of North Dakota, who found that by the aid of the telephone he could plant and harvest thirty thousand acres of wheat in a single season. Then, not more than half a dozen years ago, there arose a veritable Telephone Crusade among the farmers of the Middle West. Cheap telephones, yet fairly good, had by this time been made possible by the improvements of the Bell engineers; and stories of what could be done by telephone became the favorite gossip of the day. One farmer had kept his barn from being burned down by telephoning for his neighbors; another had cleared five hundred dollars extra profit on the sale of his cattle, by telephoning to the best market; a third had rescued a flock of sheep by sending quick news of an approaching blizzard; a fourth had saved his son's life by getting an instantaneous message to the doctor; and so on.

How the telephone saved a three million dollar fruit crop in Colorado, in 1909, is the story that is oftenest told in the West. Until that year, the frosts in the Spring nipped the buds. No farmer could be sure of his harvest. But in 1909, the fruit-growers bought smudge-pots—three hundred thousand or more. These were placed in the orchards, ready to be lit at a moment's notice. Next, an alliance was made with the United States Weather Bureau so that whenever the Frost King came down from the north, a warning could be telephoned to the farmers. Just when Colorado was pink with apple blossoms, the first warning came. "Get ready to light up your smudge-pots in half an hour." Then the farmers telephoned to the nearest towns: "Frost is coming; come and help us in the orchards." Hundreds of men rushed out into the country on horseback and in wagons. In half an hour the last warning came: "Light up; the thermometer registers twenty-nine." The smudge-pot artillery was set ablaze, and kept blazing until the news came that the icy forces had retreated. And in this way every Colorado farmer who had a telephone saved his fruit.

In some farming States, the enthusiasm for the telephone is running so high that mass meetings are held, with lavish oratory on the general theme of "Good Roads and Telephones." And as a result of this Telephone Crusade, there are now nearly twenty thousand groups of farmers, each one with a mutual telephone system, and one-half of them with sufficient enterprise to link their little webs of wires to the vast Bell system, so that at least a million farmers have been brought as close to the great cities as they are to their own barns.

What telephones have done to bring in the present era of big crops, is an interesting story in itself. To compress it into a sentence, we might say that the telephone has completed the labor-saving movement which started with the McCormick reaper in 1831. It has lifted the farmer above the wastefulness of being his own errand-boy. The average length of haul from barn to market in the United States is nine and a half miles, so that every trip saved means an extra day's work for a man and team. Instead of travelling back and forth, often to no purpose, the farmer may now stay at home and attend to his stock and his crops.

As yet, few farmers have learned to appreciate the value of quality in telephone service, as they have in other lines. The same man who will pay six prices for the best seed-corn, and who will allow nothing but high-grade cattle in his barn, will at the same time be content with the shabbiest and flimsiest telephone service, without offering any other excuse than that it is cheap. But this is a transient phase of farm telephony. The cost of an efficient farm system is now so little—not more than two dollars a month, that the present trashy lines are certain sooner or later to go to the junk-heap with the sickle and the flail and all the other cheap and unprofitable things.


The larger significance of the telephone is that it completes the work of eliminating the hermit and gypsy elements of civilization. In an almost ideal way, it has made intercommunication possible without travel. It has enabled a man to settle permanently in one place, and yet keep in personal touch with his fellows.

Until the last few centuries, much of the world was probably what Morocco is to-day—a region without wheeled vehicles or even roads of any sort. There is a mythical story of a wonderful speaking-trumpet possessed by Alexander the Great, by which he could call a soldier who was ten miles distant; but there was probably no substitute for the human voice except flags and beacon-fires, or any faster method of travel than the gait of a horse or a camel across ungraded plains. The first sensation of rapid transit doubtless came with the sailing vessel; but it was the play-toy of the winds, and unreliable. When Columbus dared to set out on his famous voyage, he was five weeks in crossing from Spain to the West Indies, his best day's record two hundred miles. The swift steamship travel of to-day did not begin until 1838, when the Great Western raced over the Atlantic in fifteen days.

As for organized systems of intercommunication, they were unknown even under the rule of a Pericles or a Caesar. There was no post office in Great Britain until 1656—a generation after America had begun to be colonized. There was no English mail-coach until 1784; and when Benjamin Franklin was Postmaster General at Philadelphia, an answer by mail from Boston, when all went well, required not less than three weeks. There was not even a hard-surface road in the thirteen United States until 1794; nor even a postage stamp until 1847, the year in which Alexander Graham Bell was born. In this same year Henry Clay delivered his memorable speech on the Mexican War, at Lexington, Kentucky, and it was telegraphed to The New York Herald at a cost of five hundred dollars, thus breaking all previous records for news-gathering enterprise. Eleven years later the first cable established an instantaneous sign-language between Americans and Europeans; and in 1876 there came the perfect distance-talking of the telephone.

No invention has been more timely than the telephone. It arrived at the exact period when it was needed for the organization of great cities and the unification of nations. The new ideas and energies of science, commerce, and cooperation were beginning to win victories in all parts of the earth. The first railroad had just arrived in China; the first parliament in Japan; the first constitution in Spain. Stanley was moving like a tiny point of light through the heart of the Dark Continent. The Universal Postal Union had been organized in a little hall in Berne. The Red Cross movement was twelve years old. An International Congress of Hygiene was being held at Brussells, and an International Congress of Medicine at Philadelphia. De Lesseps had finished the Suez Canal and was examining Panama. Italy and Germany had recently been built into nations; France had finally swept aside the Empire and the Commune and established the Republic. And what with the new agencies of railroads, steamships, cheap newspapers, cables, and telegraphs, the civilized races of mankind had begun to be knit together into a practical consolidation.

To the United States, especially, the telephone came as a friend in need. After a hundred years of growth, the Republic was still a loose confederation of separate States, rather than one great united nation. It had recently fallen apart for four years, with a wide gulf of blood between; and with two flags, two Presidents, and two armies. In 1876 it was hesitating halfway between doubt and confidence, between the old political issues of North and South, and the new industrial issues of foreign trade and the development of material resources. The West was being thrown open. The Indians and buffaloes were being driven back. There was a line of railway from ocean to ocean. The population was gaining at the rate of a million a year. Colorado had just been baptized as a new State. And it was still an unsolved problem whether or not the United States could be kept united, whether or not it could be built into an organic nation without losing the spirit of self-help and democracy.

It is not easy for us to realize to-day how young and primitive was the United States of 1876. Yet the fact is that we have twice the population that we had when the telephone was invented. We have twice the wheat crop and twice as much money in circulation. We have three times the railways, banks, libraries, newspapers, exports, farm values, and national wealth. We have ten million farmers who make four times as much money as seven million farmers made in 1876. We spend four times as much on our public schools, and we put four times as much in the savings bank. We have five times as many students in the colleges. And we have so revolutionized our methods of production that we now produce seven times as much coal, fourteen times as much oil and pig-iron, twenty-two times as much copper, and forty-three times as much steel.

There were no skyscrapers in 1876, no trolleys, no electric lights, no gasoline engines, no self-binders, no bicycles, no automobiles. There was no Oklahoma, and the combined population of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Arizona was about equal to that of Des Moines. It was in this year that General Custer was killed by the Sioux; that the flimsy iron railway bridge fell at Ashtabula; that the "Molly Maguires" terrorized Pennsylvania; that the first wire of the Brooklyn Bridge was strung; and that Boss Tweed and Hell Gate were both put out of the way in New York.

The Great Elm, under which the Revolutionary patriots had met, was still standing on Boston Common. Daniel Drew, the New York financier, who was born before the American Constitution was adopted, was still alive; so were Commodore Vanderbilt, Joseph Henry, A. T. Stewart, Thurlow Weed, Peter Cooper, Cyrus McCormick, Lucretia Mott, Bryant, Longfellow, and Emerson. Most old people could remember the running of the first railway train; people of middle age could remember the sending of the first telegraph message; and the children in the high schools remembered the laying of the first Atlantic Cable.

The grandfathers of 1876 were fond of telling how Webster opposed taking Texas and Oregon into the Union; how George Washington advised against including the Mississippi River; and how Monroe warned Congress that a country that reached from the Atlantic to the Middle West was "too extensive to be governed but by a despotic monarchy." They told how Abraham Lincoln, when he was postmaster of New Salem, used to carry the letters in his coon-skin cap and deliver them at sight; how in 1822 the mails were carried on horseback and not in stages, so as to have the quickest possible service; and how the news of Madison's election was three weeks in reaching the people of Kentucky. When the telegraph was mentioned, they told how in Revolutionary days the patriots used a system of signalling called "Washington's Tele-graph," consisting of a pole, a flag, a basket, and a barrel.

So, the young Republic was still within hearing distance of its childhood, in 1876. Both in sentiment and in methods of work it was living close to the log-cabin period. Many of the old slow ways survived, the ways that were fast enough in the days of the stage-coach and the tinder-box. There were seventy-seven thousand miles of railway, but poorly built and in short lengths. There were manufacturing industries that employed two million, four hundred thousand people, but every trade was broken up into a chaos of small competitive units, each at war with all the others. There were energy and enterprise in the highest degree, but not efficiency or organization. Little as we knew it, in 1876 we were mainly gathering together the plans and the raw materials for the building up of the modern business world, with its quick, tense life and its national structure of immense coordinated industries.

In 1876 the age of specialization and community of interest was in its dawn. The cobbler had given place to the elaborate factory, in which seventy men cooperated to make one shoe. The merchant who had hitherto lived over his store now ventured to have a home in the suburbs. No man was any longer a self-sufficient Robinson Crusoe. He was a fraction, a single part of a social mechanism, who must necessarily keep in the closest touch with many others.

A new interdependent form of civilization was about to be developed, and the telephone arrived in the nick of time to make this new civilization workable and convenient. It was the unfolding of a new organ. Just as the eye had become the telescope, and the hand had become machinery, and the feet had become railways, so the voice became the telephone. It was a new ideal method of communication that had been made indispensable by new conditions. The prophecy of Carlyle had come true, when he said that "men cannot now be bound to men by brass collars; you will have to bind them by other far nobler and cunninger methods."

Railways and steamships had begun this work of binding man to man by "nobler and cunninger methods." The telegraph and cable had gone still farther and put all civilized people within sight of each other, so that they could communicate by a sort of deaf and dumb alphabet. And then came the telephone, giving direct instantaneous communication and putting the people of each nation within hearing distance of each other. It was the completion of a long series of inventions. It was the keystone of the arch. It was the one last improvement that enabled interdependent nations to handle themselves and to hold together.

To make railways and steamboats carry letters was much, in the evolution of the means of communication. To make the electric wire carry signals was more, because of the instantaneous transmission of important news. But to make the electric wire carry speech was MOST, because it put all fellow-citizens face to face, and made both message and answer instantaneous. The invention of the telephone taught the Genie of Electricity to do better than to carry mes-sages in the sign language of the dumb. It taught him to speak. As Emerson has finely said:

"We had letters to send. Couriers could not go fast enough, nor far enough; broke their wagons, foundered their horses; bad roads in Spring, snowdrifts in Winter, heat in Summer—could not get their horses out of a walk. But we found that the air and the earth were full of electricity, and always going our way, just the way we wanted to send. WOULD HE TAKE A MESSAGE, Just as lief as not; had nothing else to do; would carry it in no time."

As to the exact value of the telephone to the United States in dollars and cents, no one can tell. One statistician has given us a total of three million dollars a day as the amount saved by using telephones. This sum may be far too high, or too low. It can be no more than a guess. The only adequate way to arrive at the value of the telephone is to consider the nation as a whole, to take it all in all as a going concern, and to note that such a nation would be absolutely impossible without its telephone service. Some sort of a slower and lower grade republic we might have, with small industrial units, long hours of labor, lower wages, and clumsier ways. The money loss would be enormous, but more serious still would be the loss in the QUALITY OF THE NATIONAL LIFE. Inevitably, an untelephoned nation is less social, less unified, less progressive, and less efficient. It belongs to an inferior species.

How to make a civilization that is organized and quick, instead of a barbarism that was chaotic and slow—that is the universal human problem, not wholly solved to-day. And how to develop a science of intercommunication, which commenced when the wild animals began to travel in herds and to protect themselves from their enemies by a language of danger-signals, and to democratize this science until the entire nation becomes self-conscious and able to act as one living being—that is the part of this universal problem which finally necessitated the invention of the telephone.

With the use of the telephone has come a new habit of mind. The slow and sluggish mood has been sloughed off. The old to-morrow habit has been superseded by "Do It To-day"; and life has become more tense, alert, vivid. The brain has been relieved of the suspense of waiting for an answer, which is a psychological gain of great importance. It receives its reply at once and is set free to consider other matters. There is less burden upon the memory and the WHOLE MIND can be given to each new proposition.

A new instinct of speed has been developed, much more fully in the United States than elsewhere. "No American goes slow," said Ian Maclaren, "if he has the chance of going fast; he does not stop to talk if he can talk walking; and he does not walk if he can ride." He is as pleased as a child with a new toy when some speed record is broken, when a pair of shoes is made in eleven minutes, when a man lays twelve hundred bricks in an hour, or when a ship crosses the Atlantic in four and a half days. Even seconds are now counted and split up into fractions. The average time, for instance, taken to reply to a telephone call by a New York operator, is now three and two-fifth seconds; and even this tiny atom of time is being strenuously worn down.

As a witty Frenchman has said, one of our most lively regrets is that while we are at the telephone we cannot do business with our feet. We regard it as a victory over the hostility of nature when we do an hour's work in a minute or a minute's work in a second. Instead of saying, as the Spanish do, "Life is too short; what can one person do?" an American is more apt to say, "Life is too short; therefore I must do to-day's work to-day." To pack a lifetime with energy—that is the American plan, and so to economize that energy as to get the largest results. To get a question asked and answered in five minutes by means of an electric wire, instead of in two hours by the slow trudging of a messenger boy—that is the method that best suits our passion for instantaneous service.

It is one of the few social laws of which we are fairly sure, that a nation organizes in proportion to its velocity. We know that a four-mile-an-hour nation must remain a huge inert mass of peasants and villagers; or if, after centuries of slow toil, it should pile up a great city, the city will sooner or later fall to pieces of its own weight. In such a way Babylon rose and fell, and Nineveh, and Thebes, and Carthage, and Rome. Mere bulk, unorganized, becomes its own destroyer. It dies of clogging and congestion. But when Stephenson's Rocket ran twenty-nine miles an hour, and Morse's telegraph clicked its signals from Washington to Baltimore, and Bell's telephone flashed the vibrations of speech between Boston and Salem, a new era began. In came the era of speed and the finely organized nations. In came cities of unprecedented bulk, but held together so closely by a web-work of steel rails and copper wires that they have become more alert and cooperative than any tiny hamlet of mud huts on the banks of the Congo.

That the telephone is now doing most of all, in this binding together of all manner of men, is perhaps not too much to claim, when we remember that there are now in the United States seventy thousand holders of Bell telephone stock and ten million users of telephone service. There are two hundred and sixty-four wires crossing the Mississippi, in the Bell system; and five hundred and forty-four crossing Mason and Dixon's Line. It is the telephone which does most to link together cottage and skyscraper and mansion and factory and farm. It is not limited to experts or college graduates. It reaches the man with a nickel as well as the man with a million. It speaks all languages and serves all trades. It helps to prevent sectionalism and race feuds. It gives a common meeting place to capitalists and wage-workers. It is so essentially the instrument of all the people, in fact, that we might almost point to it as a national emblem, as the trade-mark of democracy and the American spirit.

In a country like ours, where there are eighty nationalities in the public schools, the telephone has a peculiar value as a part of the national digestive apparatus. It prevents the growth of dialects and helps on the process of assimilation. Such is the push of American life, that the humble immigrants from Southern Europe, before they have been here half a dozen years, have acquired the telephone habit and have linked on their small shops to the great wire network of intercommunication. In the one community of Brownsville, for example, settled several years ago by an overflow of Russian Jews from the East Side of New York, there are now as many telephones as in the kingdom of Greece. And in the swarming East Side itself, there is a single exchange in Orchard Street which has more wires than there are in all the exchanges of Egypt.

There can be few higher ideals of practical democracy than that which comes to us from the telephone engineer. His purpose is much more comprehensive than the supplying of telephones to those who want them. It is rather to make the telephone as universal as the water faucet, to bring within speaking distance every economic unit, to connect to the social organism every person who may at any time be needed. Just as the click of the reaper means bread, and the purr of the sewing-machine means clothes, and the roar of the Bessemer converter means steel, and the rattle of the press means education, so the ring of the telephone bell has come to mean unity and organization.

Already, by cable, telegraph, and telephone, no two towns in the civilized world are more than one hour apart. We have even girdled the earth with a cablegram in twelve minutes. We have made it possible for any man in New York City to enter into conversation with any other New Yorker in twenty-one seconds. We have not been satisfied with establishing such a system of transportation that we can start any day for anywhere from anywhere else; neither have we been satisfied with establishing such a system of communication that news and gossip are the common property of all nations. We have gone farther. We have established in every large region of population a system of voice-nerves that puts every man at every other man's ear, and which so magically eliminates the factor of distance that the United States becomes three thousand miles of neighbors, side by side.

This effort to conquer Time and Space is above all else the instinct of material progress. To shrivel up the miles and to stretch out the minutes—this has been one of the master passions of the human race. And thus the larger truth about the telephone is that it is vastly more than a mere convenience. It is not to be classed with safety razors and piano players and fountain pens. It is nothing less than the high-speed tool of civilization, gearing up the whole mechanism to more effective social service. It is the symbol of national efficiency and cooperation.

All this the telephone is doing, at a total cost to the nation of probably $200,000,000 a year—no more than American farmers earn in ten days. We pay the same price for it as we do for the potatoes, or for one-third of the hay crop, or for one-eighth of the corn. Out of every nickel spent for electrical service, one cent goes to the telephone. We could settle our telephone bill, and have several millions left over, if we cut off every fourth glass of liquor and smoke of tobacco. Whoever rents a typewriting machine, or uses a street car twice a day, or has his shoes polished once a day, may for the same expense have a very good telephone service. Merely to shovel away the snow of a single storm in 1910 cost the city government of New York as much as it will pay for five or six years of telephoning.

This almost incredible cheapness of telephony is still far from being generally perceived, mainly for psychological reasons. A telephone is not impressive. It has no bulk. It is not like the Singer Building or the Lusitania. Its wires and switchboards and batteries are scattered and hidden, and few have sufficient imagination to picture them in all their complexity. If only it were possible to assemble the hundred or more telephone buildings of New York in one vast plaza, and if the two thousand clerks and three thousand maintenance men and six thousand girl operators were to march to work each morning with bands and banners, then, perhaps, there might be the necessary quality of impressiveness by which any large idea must always be imparted to the public mind.

For lack of a seven and one-half cent coin, there is now five-cent telephony even in the largest American cities. For five cents whoever wishes has an entire wire-system at his service, a system that is kept waiting by day and night, so that it will be ready the instant he needs it. This system may have cost from twenty to fifty millions, yet it may be hired for one-eighth the cost of renting an automobile. Even in long-distance telephony, the expense of a message dwindles when it is compared with the price of a return railway ticket. A talk from New York to Philadelphia, for instance, costs seventy-five cents, while the railway fare would be four dollars. From New York to Chicago a talk costs five dollars as against seventy dollars by rail. As Harriman once said, "I can't get from my home to the depot for the price of a talk to Omaha."

To say what the net profits have been, to the entire body of people who have invested money in the telephone, will always be more or less of a guess. The general belief that immense fortunes were made by the lucky holders of Bell stock, is an exaggeration that has been kept alive by the promoters of wildcat companies. No such fortunes were made. "I do not believe," says Theodore Vail, "that any one man ever made a clear million out of the telephone." There are not apt to be any get-rich-quick for-tunes made in corporations that issue no watered stock and do not capitalize their franchises. On the contrary, up to 1897, the holders of stock in the Bell Companies had paid in four million, seven hundred thousand dollars more than the par value; and in the recent consolidation of Eastern companies, under the presidency of Union N. Bethell, the new stock was actually eight millions less than the stock that was retired.

Few telephone companies paid any profits at first. They had undervalued the cost of building and maintenance. Denver expected the cost to be two thousand, five hundred dollars and spent sixty thousand dollars. Buffalo expected to pay three thousand dollars and had to pay one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Also, they made the unwelcome discovery that an exchange of two hundred costs more than twice as much as an exchange of one hundred, because of the greater amount of traffic. Usually a dollar that is paid to a telephone company is divided as follows:

Rent............ 4c Taxes........... 4c Interest........ 6c Surplus......... 8c Maintenance.... 16c Dividends...... 18c Labor.......... 44c —— $1.00

Most of the rate troubles (and their name has been legion) have arisen because the telephone business was not understood. In fact, until recently, it did not understand itself. It persisted in holding to a local and individualistic view of its business. It was slow to put telephones in unprofitable places. It expected every instrument to pay its way. In many States, both the telephone men and the public overlooked the most vital fact in the case, which is that the members of a telephone system are above all else INTERDEPENDENT.

One telephone by itself has no value. It is as useless as a reed cut out of an organ or a finger that is severed from a hand. It is not even ornamental or adaptable to any other pur-pose. It is not at all like a piano or a talking-machine, which has a separate existence. It is useful only in proportion to the number of other telephones it reaches. AND EVERY TELEPHONE ANYWHERE ADDS VALUE TO EVERY OTHER TELEPHONE ON THE SAME SYSTEM OF WIRES. That, in a sentence, is the keynote of equitable rates.

Many a telephone, for the general good, must be put where it does not earn its own living. At any time some sudden emergency may arise that will make it for the moment priceless. Especially since the advent of the automobile, there is no nook or corner from which it may not be supremely necessary, now and then, to send a message. This principle was acted upon recently in a most practical way by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which at its own expense installed five hundred and twenty-five telephones in the homes of its workmen in Altoona. In the same way, it is clearly the social duty of the telephone company to widen out its system until every point is covered, and then to distribute its gross charges as fairly as it can. The whole must carry the whole—that is the philosophy of rates which must finally be recognized by legislatures and telephone companies alike. It can never, of course, be reduced to a system or formula. It will always be a matter of opinion and compromise, requiring much skill and much patience. But there will seldom be any serious trouble when once its basic principles are understood.

Like all time-saving inventions, like the railroad, the reaper, and the Bessemer converter, the telephone, in the last analysis, COSTS NOTHING; IT IS THE LACK OF IT THAT COSTS. THE NATION THAT MOST IS THE NATION WITHOUT IT.


The telephone was nearly a year old before Europe was aware of its existence. It received no public notice of any kind whatever until March 3, 1877, when the London Athenaeum mentioned it in a few careful sentences. It was not welcomed, except by those who wished an evening's entertainment. And to the entire commercial world it was for four or five years a sort of scientific Billiken, that never could be of any service to serious people.

One after another, several American enthusiasts rushed posthaste to Europe, with dreams of eager nations clamoring for telephone systems, and one after another they failed. Frederick A. Gower was the first of these. He was an adventurous chevalier of business who gave up an agent's contract in return for a right to become a roving propagandist. Later he met a prima donna, fell in love with and married her, forsook telephony for ballooning, and lost his life in attempting to fly across the English Channel.

Next went William H. Reynolds, of Providence, who had bought five-eights of the British patent for five thousand dollars, and half the right to Russia, Spain, Portugal, and Italy for two thousand, five hundred dollars. How he was received may be seen from a letter of his which has been preserved. "I have been working in London for four months," he writes; "I have been to the Bank of England and elsewhere; and I have not found one man who will put one shilling into the telephone."

Bell himself hurried to England and Scotland on his wedding tour in 1878, with great expectations of having his invention appreciated in his native land. But from a business point of view, his mission was a total failure. He received dinners a-plenty, but no contracts; and came back to the United States an impoverished and disheartened man. Then the optimistic Gardiner G. Hubbard, Bell's father-in-law, threw himself against the European inertia and organized the International and Oriental Telephone Companies, which came to nothing of any importance. In the same year even Enos M. Barton, the sagacious founder of the Western Electric, went to France and England to establish an export trade in telephones, and failed.

These able men found their plans thwarted by the indifference of the public, and often by open hostility. "The telephone is little better than a toy," said the Saturday Review; "it amazes ignorant people for a moment, but it is inferior to the well-established system of air-tubes." "What will become of the privacy of life?" asked another London editor. "What will become of the sanctity of the domestic hearth?" Writers vied with each other in inventing methods of pooh-poohing Bell and his invention. "It is ridiculously simple," said one. "It is only an electrical speaking-tube," said another. "It is a complicated form of speaking-trumpet," said a third. No British editor could at first conceive of any use for the telephone, except for divers and coal miners. The price, too, created a general outcry. Floods of toy telephones were being sold on the streets at a shilling apiece; and although the Government was charging sixty dollars a year for the use of its printing-telegraphs, people protested loudly against paying half as much for telephones. As late as 1882, Herbert Spencer writes: "The telephone is scarcely used at all in London, and is unknown in the other English cities."

The first man of consequence to befriend the telephone was Lord Kelvin, then an untitled young scientist. He had seen the original telephones at the Centennial in Philadelphia, and was so fascinated with them that the impulsive Bell had thrust them into his hands as a gift. At the next meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Lord Kelvin exhibited these. He did more. He became the champion of the telephone. He staked his reputation upon it. He told the story of the tests made at the Centennial, and assured the sceptical scientists that he had not been deceived. "All this my own ears heard," he said, "spoken to me with unmistakable distinctness by this circular disc of iron."

The scientists and electrical experts were, for the most part, split up into two camps. Some of them said the telephone was impossible, while others said that "nothing could be simpler." Almost all were agreed that what Bell had done was a humorous trifle. But Lord Kelvin persisted. He hammered the truth home that the telephone was "one of the most interesting inventions that has ever been made in the history of science." He gave a demonstration with one end of the wire in a coal mine. He stood side by side with Bell at a public meeting in Glasgow, and declared:

"The things that were called telephones before Bell were as different from Bell's telephone as a series of hand-claps are different from the human voice. They were in fact electrical claps; while Bell conceived the idea—THE WHOLLY ORIGINAL AND NOVEL IDEA—of giving continuity to the shocks, so as to perfectly reproduce the human voice."

One by one the scientists were forced to take the telephone seriously. At a public test there was one noted professor who still stood in the ranks of the doubters. He was asked to send a message. He went to the instrument with a grin of incredulity, and thinking the whole exhibition a joke, shouted into the mouthpiece: "Hi diddle diddle—follow up that." Then he listened for an answer. The look on his face changed to one of the utmost amazement. "It says—'The cat and the fiddle,'" he gasped, and forthwith he became a convert to telephony. By such tests the men of science were won over, and by the middle of 1877 Bell received a "vociferous welcome" when he addressed them at their annual convention at Plymouth.

Soon afterwards, The London Times surrendered. It whirled right-about-face and praised the telephone to the skies. "Suddenly and quietly the whole human race is brought within speaking and hearing distance," it exclaimed; "scarcely anything was more desired and more impossible." The next paper to quit the mob of scoffers was the Tatler, which said in an editorial peroration, "We cannot but feel im-pressed by the picture of a human child commanding the subtlest and strongest force in Nature to carry, like a slave, some whisper around the world."

Closely after the scientists and editors came the nobility. The Earl of Caithness led the way. He declared in public that "the telephone is the most extraordinary thing I ever saw in my life." And one wintry morning in 1878 Queen Victoria drove to the house of Sir Thomas Biddulph, in London, and for an hour talked and listened by telephone to Kate Field, who sat in a Downing Street office. Miss Field sang "Kathleen Mavourneen," and the Queen thanked her by telephone, saying she was "immensely pleased." She congratulated Bell himself, who was present, and asked if she might be permitted to buy the two telephones; whereupon Bell presented her with a pair done in ivory.

This incident, as may be imagined, did much to establish the reputation of telephony in Great Britain. A wire was at once strung to Windsor Castle. Others were ordered by the Daily News, the Persian Ambassador, and five or six lords and baronets. Then came an order which raised the hopes of the telephone men to the highest heaven, from the banking house of J. S. Morgan & Co. It was the first recognition from the "seats of the mighty" in the business and financial world. A tiny exchange, with ten wires, was promptly started in London; and on April 2d, 1879, Theodore Vail, the young manager of the Bell Company, sent an order to the factory in Boston, "Please make one hundred hand telephones for export trade as early as possible." The foreign trade had begun.

Then there came a thunderbolt out of a blue sky, a wholly unforeseen disaster. Just as a few energetic companies were sprouting up, the Postmaster General suddenly proclaimed that the telephone was a species of telegraph. According to a British law the telegraph was required to be a Government monopoly. This law had been passed six years before the telephone was born, but no matter. The telephone men protested and argued. Tyndall and Lord Kelvin warned the Government that it was making an indefensible mistake. But nothing could be done. Just as the first railways had been called toll-roads, so the telephone was solemnly declared to be a telegraph. Also, to add to the absurd humor of the situation, Judge Stephen, of the High Court of Justice, spoke the final word that compelled the telephone legally to be a telegraph, and sustained his opinion by a quotation from Webster's Dictionary, which was published twenty years before the telephone was invented.

Having captured this new rival, what next? The Postmaster General did not know. He had, of course, no experience in telephony, and neither had any of his officials in the telegraph department. There was no book and no college to instruct him. His telegraph was then, as it is to-day, a business failure. It was not earning its keep. Therefore he did not dare to shoulder the risk of constructing a second system of wires, and at last consented to give licenses to private companies.

But the muddle continued. In order to compel competition, according to the academic theories of the day, licenses were given to thir-teen private companies. As might have been expected, the ablest company quickly swallowed the other twelve. If it had been let alone, this company might have given good service, but it was hobbled and fenced in by jealous regulations. It was compelled to pay one-tenth of its gross earnings to the Post Office. It was to hold itself ready to sell out at six months' notice. And as soon as it had strung a long-distance system of wires, the Postmaster General pounced down upon it and took it away.

Then, in 1900, the Post Office tossed aside all obligations to the licensed company, and threw open the door to a free-for-all competition. It undertook to start a second system in London, and in two years discovered its blunder and proposed to cooperate. It granted licenses to five cities that demanded municipal ownership. These cities set out bravely, with loud beating of drums, plunged from one mishap to another, and finally quit. Even Glasgow, the premier city of municipal ownership, met its Waterloo in the telephone. It spent one million, eight hundred thousand dollars on a plant that was obsolete when it was new, ran it for a time at a loss, and then sold it to the Post Office in 1906 for one million, five hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.

So, from first to last, the story of the telephone in Great Britain has been a "comedy of errors." There are now, in the two islands, not six hundred thousand telephones in use. London, with its six hundred and forty square miles of houses, has one-quarter of these, and is gaining at the rate of ten thousand a year. No large improvements are under way, as the Post Office has given notice that it will take over and operate all private companies on New Year's Day, 1912. The bureaucratic muddle, so it seems, is to continue indefinitely.

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