It is a mistake to suppose that talking by electricity had never been conceived of or sought after prior to Bell's invention and discovery. In 1854 Bourseul, a French scientist, attempted a scientific statement of this problem. Taking the well known electo-magnetic telegraph--that is, the Morse system--as his basis, his suggestion was that if an armature at one end of the line could be made to vibrate and to make and break the circuit so as to produce emissions and intermissions of electric current with a rapidity corresponding to that of the sound waves, the armature at the other end would vibrate in exact correspondence and thus reproduce such sound waves. He did nothing, but was content to make the suggestion.
The New York Times, January 1, 1886, p.7:
THE TELEPHONE.WHAT IT HAS BEEN DOING
IN THE FIRST TEN YEARS OF ITS EXISTENCE.
A GLANCE AT ITS ORIGIN, ITS HISTORY,
ITS DEVELOPMENT, AND THE POSSIBILITIES OF ITS FUTURE.
The speaking telephone, dating from the time when the first official record was made of its conception, will be 10 years old on the 20th day of the present month.
It was on Jan. 20, 1876, that Alexander Graham Bell signed and made oath to his application for a patent which covered the speaking telephone. This application was received at the Patent Office on the 14th day of February following, and on the 7th of March in that year the first patent was issued.
It is curious that on the same 14th of February Prof. Elisha Gray, of Chicago, filed at the Patent Office a caveat covering the idea of a liquid transmitter, and idea which was contained in Bell's application signed on the 20th day of January, as above stated.
Bell's application was received earlier in the day than Gray's caveat, and it was therefore decided by the Commissioner that Gray was not entitled to an interference, and the patent was issued to Bell...
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Philip Reis, of Frankfort-on-the-Main, some years later, taking up and elaborating Bourseul's idea, constructed an instrument to do what Bourseul had suggested...
While the Reis instrument, or any instrument depending for its action upon the make and break current, can transmit the pitch, it is absolutely impossible for it to transmit speech...
Unquestionably Prof. Bell was familiar with the suggestions of Bourseul and the attempts of Reis... The researches of Helmholz have shown that sound waves vary not only in frequency and amplitude but in form, and it was the transmission of both the form and frequency of the sound waves that Prof. Bell set himself to accomplish. He rejected the "make-and-break" idea entirely and used a continuous current, and so molded and formed the current as to transmit not only the frequency of the vibrations, but their form as well.
It was well known that when a current of electricity was passing through a wire round the poles of an electro-magnet, the approach of an armature or piece of iron to the poles of the magnet would vary the force of the current; and, on the other hand, that withdrawing such an armature from such poles would vary the current oppositely. So, given a permanent and constant current, it became possible to increase and diminish its force at will; that is, to make it undulatory.
Bell accordingly took an electro-magnet and in front of its poles set up a stretched membrane, to the centre of which an armature was attached. At the other end of the line was a similar electro-magnet, a similar membrane, and a similar armature. The current of electricity, starting from one pole of the battery, flowed through the coils of the first magnet, then through the wire to the second magnet, thence to the "ground," thence through the earth to the "ground" at the other end, and thence to the coil in the first magnet, so that there was a uniform and continuous flow of electricity.
If, now, by means of the voice the first diaphragm was set into vibration, the armature attached to it was alternately pushed toward and withdrawn from the magnet, and the current of electricity flowing through the coils was alternately increased and diminished in force. That current had the same alternate increase and diminution, of course, at the other end; and the membrane there, carried by its armature, alternately approached and receded from its magnet, the magnetism of which varied correspondingly with the variations effected in the existing current, and this membrane, communicating its vibrations to the air, reproduced the same sound, perfect in form as well as pitch, that had produced the vibrations in the first instance...
The apparatus just described Mr. Bell mentions in his application of Jan. 20 as one made for producing this effect. This had no sooner been accomplished than Bell saw that the effect was produced by the superimposition of additional currents upon the constant current generated by the battery, and that the same results could be obtained without departing from the basic principle stated by using only these additional currents and omitting the battery current. This Bell accomplished by using the action of the armature in alternately approaching and receding from the magnet--permanent in this case--to produce a current of electricity ready molded to his wishes, rather than to mold a current already in existence.
This is the magneto telephone of to-day, and is exemplified in every hand receiver in use. Such a telephone properly connected will not only talk, but so far as distinctness of articulation is concerned will talk better than any form of telephone known; but over long distances it proves deficient in loudness.
This difficulty was overcome by working out the suggestions contained in Mr. Bell's original application, where he said: "The external resistance may also be varied. For instance, let mercury or some other liquid form part of the voltaic circuit. Then the more deeply the connected wire is immersed in the mercury or other liquid the less resistance to the does the liquid offer to the passage of the current..."
Taking up the idea of using a variable but always absolute contact between two solid substances for the production of variations in the resistance, rather than the liquid transmitter suggested by Bell, Mr. Blake sought to devise a suitable instrument for carrying it out. The result was "The Blake Transmitter," for which a patent was granted to Mr. Blake, and this he afterward sold to the American Bell Telephone Company. As a matter of fact, carbon in the form of buttons was found to be the best material for making the contact points, but that is not the invention of Mr. Blake [Emile Berliner, inventor of the gramophone--the disk phonograph--invented the carbon microphone; Bell also purchased Berliner's patent, and Berliner's microphone was actually used in early telephones]...
These two instruments, the Bell Receiver (or, more properly, the Bell Magneto Telephone, for it may be used either as a receiver or as a transmitter, and in the earlier exchanges it was used in both capacities,) and the Blake Transmitter are to-day the essential factors in practical telephony, and the fundamental principles of both, as expressed in Bell's original application, and wholly novel at that time, are in operation wherever the telephone is in use throughout the entire world.
It must not be supposed that all was smooth sailing for Bell and his associates as soon as he patented his device... The Western Union Telegraph Company set Mr. Edison to work and he had devised a variable resistance transmitter; that is, a method of doing the thing mentioned in Bell's patent and covered by it. He commenced a series of experiments and evolved "The Edison Carbon Transmitter." Then the Western Union set about establishing exchanges in competition with those established by the Bell Company... This resulted in one of the most celebrated cases in the annals of patent litigation, and is known as the "Dowd Case."
The Western Union had in the meantime bought Gray's claim. It already owned Edison's, and had already acquired by purchase the claims of several others. It employed the best counsel it could find and spent money without stint to accomplish its purpose. But when Gray, whom it set up as the original inventor of the telephone, went on the stand and swore that he never put pen to paper on the subject until three weeks after Bell had elaborated it in the specification contained in his application, the whole case fell to the ground.
To show the growth of the business and its present condition it may be stated that there are now in the United States about 140,000 telephone subscribers, and that the number of miles of wire required and in use to give them service exceeds 100,000. There are in all nearly 800 exchanges scattered over 46 States and Territories, while over 5,000 persons are constantly employed by the parent company and its licensees.
It has been the policy of the Bell Telephone Company from the direct outset not to engage directly in the telephone business, but to apportion the territory among a number of local companies, and to charge them an annual royalty for the use of its instruments. Thus the administration of the telephone business is local in all cases.
In the city of New-York, for instance, the telephone business is transacted by the Metropolitan Telephone and Telegraph Company. It has 11 exchanges in the city proper and has connection, within a fifty-mile radius, with some 80 outlying cities and towns. It has the largest exchange in the world. Within its own territory are about 6,000 subscribers, any one of whom may at any time, day or night, on week days, Sundays, or holidays, call up and talk with any other. In the whole territory with which it is connected there are something over 11,000 subscribers, and in the same way any of these may converse at will with any other. Any man who 10 years ago had conceived and expressed the bare possibility of such a thing would have been looked upon as a lunatic.
There is one element in the telephone business which, in justice to those engaged in it, should be understood. It seems strange to those who have not looked into the subject that the charge for telephone services in large cities is so much greater than in those of small population, or rather that the charge in an exchange having a large number of subscribers is so much greater than in one having a small number...
In an exchange of one hundred subscribers, each individual subscriber buys the right to talk at will with any one of the 100... In an exchange of a thousand subscribers, however, each individual buys the right to talk with any one of 1,000, and therefore he is getting just ten times as much as the man in the smaller exchange, and ought to pay more...
A branch of the telephone business to which much attention has late been given is that which concerns the transmission of messages over long distances; that is, distances exceeding 50 miles... because of its superior conductivity, copper wire was used instead of iron. Then, instead of using the earth for the return current, a second wire was employed, so as to make a complete metallic circuit. Specially devised transmitters were also applied, and the strength of the battery current was increased.
For the purposes of testing the system on a large scale, two copper wires were strung between Boston and New-York, and over this copper circuit conversation was daily carried on as easily as between any two offices in New-York City. In fact, the talk is better than will be obtained in many cases over short distances, because of the perfection of the circuit and the strength of the instruments.
Lines are now in process of construction for use in this way between New-York and Philadelphia, and it is expected taht they will be extended very largely through the country as a means of connecting the chief business centres.
The line from New-York to Philadelphia is to have 25 copper wires, and the poles will have a capacity for carrying 70. This will make 35 complete circuits, and enable that number of persons in Philadelphia to be simultaneously talking with an equal number of persons in New-York with as much ease as people now talk from one office to another in this city.
At first the wires were strung overhead separately, but there are many objections to this system. Wire exposed to the elements very rapidly corrodes and loses both strength and conductivity, for there are comparatively few poorer conductors than rust. Moreover, the destruction wrought by sleet storms, besides causing a large item of expense for repairs, produces a very serious interruption to business.
As a partial remedy for this defect, wires were gathered into cables, so that 100 conductors could be contained in a cable not over one inch in diameter. This was a distinct gain.
Much attention has been given by the telephone companies and much money has been spent in the matter of underground service, and, in this city, although it is not generally known, the Metropolitan Telephone Company already has over 600 miles of its wires underground. They are not in very long lengths, it is true, but they are just in those places where the aggregation of wires was very great. They are working comparatively well, and with such satisfaction to the Metropolitan Telephone Company that it has planned and laid before the Subway Commission a scheme that will do away with more than two-thirds of all its present overhead wire mileage.
In the city of Washington three-fourths of all the telephone company's trunk lines are underground, the wide streets and broad sidewalks of the capital offering special advantages for this sort of work.
It is very different in New York. Below Canal-street the space under Broadway is full already, for in putting in the sewers, water pipes, gas pipes, and steam pipes, &c., but little regard was paid to economy of space or the possible demands of the future, so that the question of putting wires underground in New-York is quite as much a mechanical as an electrical problem...
It was predicted in the early days of the telephone that it would become a serious rival to the telegraph, and tend to reduce the amount of business done by the telegraph companies. The result has been directly the reverse. Many small towns throughout the country, especially in the West, whose business is not such as to afford a telegraph office, have branch telephone lines connecting them with the nearest exchange, which is usually located in a town where a telegraph office exists. These outlying towns, heretofore cut off from telegraphic communication with the world at large, are now enabled to send their messages in by speech to the nearest telegraph office, whence they are dispatched in the ordinary way, and replies, upon being received at such telegraph offices, are sent out to the outlying towns by means of the telephone.
Thus, without a dollar of expenditure on the part of the telegraph companies, their field of operations has been enormously increased, with the result of correspondingly increasing their business. There are many towns, hitherto without telegraphic communication, who now find themselves part and parcel of the great electrical system of communication which covers the entire world...
What the future of the telephone is to be no one can say. Its sphere of usefulness is steadily increasing, and new uses are constantly being found for it. With the growth of population and of business the number of subscribers throughout the country is sure to increase...
It is easy to criticise it and easy to grow impatient when, being in Wall-street, a man wishing to talk to another in Harlem has to wait 60 seconds before the desired communication can be had. Time is money, and 60 seconds to a Wall-street man is often a matter of very serious consideration... We live so fast in this age that no sooner have we become familiar with one marvel than we demand another, and the man who has to wait over 30 seconds at his telephone before getting the person he has called for is apt to feel that he has been defrauded and seriously injured.
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