April 15, 1877: The first telephone is installed
Before cell phones, we had landlines. Before landlines, we had telegraphs. Before telegraphs, we had cans and wire, and before that, you had to write someone a letter if you wanted to tell them your thoughts. Even though it feels like we’ve had telephones forever, it’s been fewer than 150 years. On April 15, 1887, the first telephone was installed in Massachusettes so people could call each other from Boston to Somerville.
The long and winding road
From the advent of the first long-distance communication method to the installation of the first telephone, 210 years elapsed. During that time, numerous failed attempts paved the way for phones as we first came to know them. The concept of conveying messages through a taut wire was first proposed in 1667 by Robert Hooke. Just over a century and a half later, Innocenzo Manzetti suggested the possibility of a speaking telegraph or telephone.
Getting from the drawing board to a working prototype was an arduous journey involving failed attempts ranging from bizarre electrical transmissions directly to the human body to the Reis Telephone. The latter of the two instruments carried the first electrical voice signal 340 feet to a receiver to prove that the human voice could be understood through electrical signals at a distance. Johann Philip Reis’ electric telephone was the first true predecessor to the landline phone that would come to replace telegraphs. The trick then became carrying decipherable voice signals over increasingly large distances.
Famous first words
After Reis sent his iconic first phrase, “the horse does not eat cucumber salad,” to a receiver via electrical signals, the race was on to invent a telephone that could connect two speakers in separate cities. It took several inventors countless prototypes and 16 years before Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson finally hooked up the first working long-distance telephone between a workshop in Bosto