1st transcontinental phone call made, January 25, 1915

-January 25, 2017

Exactly 34 years after Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell founded the world’s first telephone company, the Oriental Telephone Company, on January 25, 1881, Bell would make the first transcontinental telephone call on January 25, 1915.

AT&T started on the line in 1885 and completed construction of the line on June 27, 1914, erecting the last pole at Wendover, Utah. However, the line was not made operational until San Francisco’s exposition to mark the completion of the Panama Canal.

Bell placed the call from New York to Thomas Watson, his former assistant, in San Francisco. (The image shows Bell (center) and  AT&T executives preparing to make the call.) Bell and Watson were asked to re-enact their first conversation on the telephone from March 10, 1876, so Bell said “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” This time Watson replied, “It would take me a week now.”

Bell was originally recorded saying "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you." to summon Watson from the next room at his Boston laboratory. Of course, the statement is one of several things disputed in Bell’s history. Though he is often credited as the inventor of the telephone, the United States Congress acknowledged Italian immigrant Antonio Meucci as the true inventor of the telephone in 2002. There are some who also believe Bell was merely a patent troll, stealing ideas from others and creatively crafting legal documents.

The circuit the 1915 call was made on consisted of 2,500 tons of copper wire, 130,000 poles, and three vacuum tube repeaters. The first transatlantic call would also be made in 1915, connecting Virginia and Paris briefly, followed by transatlantic service in 1927.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on January 25, 2013 and edited on January 25, 2017.

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