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Victorian inventions: the telephone

Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone

Thomas Watson, assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, tells the story of how he helped to make the first version of the telephone.

Bell was an expert in sound, but had no knowledge of electricity, which Watson had.

Their break-through happened by accident, while experimenting with two springs connected by a long piece of wire.

The idea was that Bell and Watson would be in different rooms - each with a spring - and when one of them waggled their spring, the spring at the other end of the wire would waggle too.

However, that wasn't what happened. Instead, the sound of the spring twanging in one room travelled along the wire and could be heard at the spring in the other room. After further work on the apparatus, it became possible to hear the sound of their voices along the wire, although the sound was very muffled and the connection was only intermittent.

It was far from perfect, but Bell decided to patent his invention anyway. He needed to act quickly as there were other inventors who could come up with the same idea and by patenting his device he effectively prevented other inventors from making theirs. And he was just in time, as two hours after he had taken out his patent, another inventor tried to take out the same patent and was refused.

All that remained was for Bell and Watson to make adjustments to create a working device, the forerunner of the telephones we use today.

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