This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for March 7, 2017: A World of Singers

Mar. 7, 2017: on this day: Alexander Graham Bell receives a patent for the telephone

On this day in 1876, a 29-year-old Scottish-born teacher and inventor named Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for what became known as “the telephone,” a device that would allow two people to speak over wires from separate locations.

Three days after filing his patent, Alexander Graham Bell sent the first successful message. He said, “Mr. Watson, come here; I need you.” Watson came running.

Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent two hours before another inventor, Elisha Gray, filed his patent for his own telephonic device. For years afterward, Gray would accuse Bell of stealing his idea. There were a total of 585 challenges to Bell’s patent over the years.

Soon enough, the idea caught on and became quite successful. The president of Western Union had originally turned down the opportunity to buy Bell’s patent for $100,000, thinking the telephone was merely a toy, so Alexander Graham Bell started the Bell Telephone Company himself, even though he found his invention annoying and refused to have a telephone installed in his home.

Alexander Graham Bell also worked on designs for airplanes, helicopters, kites, and an early version of the metal detector. He even filed a patent for a “photophone” in 1880, a wireless device in which the speakers could see each other as they talked. He said, “The day will come when the man at the telephone will be able to see the distant person to whom he is speaking.”