Hand Telephone

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Boys sitting on top of telephone booths, ca.1950. Toronto, Ontario.

“Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you.” With these words to assistant Thomas Watson (in the next room) on March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call. Bell solved the problem of turning human speech into electrical impulses, and converting them back into audible speech.

Brantford, Ontario:  First Long Distance Tests

While Bell made this first call in his Boston laboratory, the first tests over long distances were made in August 1876 over telegraph wires near his parents’ home outside Brantford, Ontario. This telephone belonged to J. T.Townsend, a telegrapher. Canada’s two largest telegraph companies were early but unsuccessful contenders to control Bell’s new technology.

Callers used this early hand telephone to both speak and listen, which made it awkward to use. Transmitting and receiving units were later separated so that users could talk and listen at the same time.

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