Monday, February 16, 2015

Call Me Anytime

The 1800s were busy times for inventors.  Two of them were Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell.  Gray (1835-1901) was prolific in coming up with ideas, getting at least 70 patents in his lifetime.  Bell (1847-1922) was another busy man.  He obtained 18 patents on his own and another 12 with collaborators.

In 1876 they both arrived at the U. S. patent office to submit applications for a patent for the telephone.  It has been said that Bell arrived one hour before Gray, and thus, his patent was accepted and he is known as the inventor of the telephone.  Some insisted Gray was the first but didn't get there in time to get the documentation he deserved for his invention.

Did they each know of the other and the work that was being done?  I really don't know.  Some folks do like to talk with others about what they are working on, and it has been reported that Bell's co-inventors were not happy about his diversion to the phone, for they were busy with something else they felt he should also be involved in.  But was this known prior to the patent, or did the information become public later?

Gray wasn't left out of recognition for his inventions.  His 70 patents testify to that.  And he did go on to found Western Electric as well.

The phone has changed much over the years.  Young people today would not believe some of the things that happened over its evolution.  I'm thinking in particular of party lines - shared lines where the intended recipient was alerted to incoming calls via ring patterns.

Do you remember the movie "Pillow Talk" starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.  It came out in 1959 and they portrayed two parties sharing a phone line.  They despised each other and would argue over the phone about the other tying up the line for extended periods, limiting their own ability to make and receive call.

Of course they lived in New York City in rather posh circumstances.  All the more unrealistic to today's young people to imagine the necessity of sharing your phone and line with a complete stranger who has the ability to listen to your entire communication life.  Because of course you could not at that time conceive of taking your personal own phone with you wherever you might travel.

So thank you to Alexander Graham Bell, but also to Elisha Gray for all the work you both did to advance civilization's communication abilities.

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