Twain and the Telephone"Hello Central! Is that you, Camelot?" (Twain 150).
It's 1876. You are 29 years old and working as a teacher in a foreign country. Teaching, of course, pays little; and your private business as a tutor has dropped to two students. Of these two, you are boarding with the family of one, a young man, and you realize you're in love with the other, a woman of 18. Her father won't let you marry her until you prove you can support her. What do you do?
You invent the telephone.
At least, that's what Alexander Graham Bell did. Patent #174,465, one of the most important patents ever issued, grew in part from these circumstances.
Bell began his career teaching deaf people to speak as much like hearing people as possible. To do this he used a written linguistic alphabet called Visible Speech, devised by his father and highly regarded among linguists. Bell was working on a way to make it possible to send more than one message at a time using the telegraph when he and his assistant, Thomas Watson, devised the telephone.
In addition to revolutionizing communications technology, this invention made it possible for Bell to marry Mabel Hubbard, one of his deaf students. Since her father was one of Bell's financial backers, the Hubbards and the Bells became wealthy. Bell always considered himself, however, a teacher of the deaf.
In order to use the earliest telephones, people connected with the operator at the central switchboard. They told the operator to whom they wished to speak, and the operator manually connected them. In Connecticut Yankee, Hank mentions that his sweetheart in the 19th century, Puss Flanagan, is a switchboard operator. Later Sandy hears Hank mumbling as he dreams of Flanagan, and she thinks "Hello, Central" is a person's name.
The telephone was originally marketed to stockbrokers, bankers, and other businessmen as a service. Switchboard operators, the majority of them women, were trained to be efficient, deferential, and pleasant (Green 256-57). Bell executives wanted phone service to be as simple as possible and to provide as much personal service as possible. As a result, they initially resisted automatic switching and the dial telephone. They feared that the customers would be inconvenienced too much by dialing their own numbers and would cancel the service (Green 259-60). If we depended upon operators to connect calls manually today, there would not be enough people to handle the job.
Bell is remembered primarily for inventing the telephone. During his lifetime, however, he continued his work with the deaf, most notably with Helen Keller. He also designed the hydrofoil and the aileron and established the journal Science. In 1888, he was a co-founder of the National Geographic Society (Luiten and Stephens).
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