On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell conducted a successful experiment with the telephone. This breakthrough, during which he uttered his famous directive to his assistant, Thomas Watson, is recorded in the March 10 entry in his 1875-1876 Lab Notebook.
Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.
That same day, an ebullient Bell wrote his father of his “great success” and speculated that “the day is coming when telegraph wires will be laid on to houses just like water and gas — and friends converse with each other without leaving home.”
Born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Alexander Graham Bell was the son and grandson of authorities in elocution and the correction of speech. Educated to pursue a career in the same specialty, his knowledge of the nature of sound led him not only to teach the deaf, but also to invent the telephone.
Bell’s unceasing scientific curiosity led to invention of the photophone, to significant commercial improvements in Thomas Edison’s phonograph, and to development of his own flying machine just six years after the Wright Brothers launched their plane at Kitty Hawk. As President James Garfield lay dying of an assassin’s bullet in 1881, Bell hurriedly invented a metal detector in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the fatal slug.
In 1915, fifty-four years after telegraph lines connected America’s coasts, transcontinental telephone lines were completed. Invited to play a role in the formal dedication of the line in New York, Bell used a duplicate of his 1876 telephone to speak to his former assistant, Thomas Watson, in San Francisco. Echoing his famous words of March 10, 1876, Bell again commanded, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” Watson replied that it would take him a week to do so.
- The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress contain correspondence, scientific notebooks, journals, blueprints, articles, and photographs documenting Bell’s invention of the telephone and his involvement in the first telephone company, his family life, his interest in the education of the deaf, and his aeronautical and other scientific research. Use the Timeline to learn more about the inventor or peruse some of the Collection Highlights. To dig deeper into the collection, browse the different series of papers or search on terms of special interest
- The Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection of Photographs of the Alexander Graham Bell Family is available to researchers in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room. Many of the collection’s images are also available online, although some can only be accessed on the Library of Congress campus.
- In 1887, Alexander Graham Bell befriended seven-year-old Helen Keller. Deaf and blind from age nineteen months, Keller later described Bell as “the door through which I should pass from darkness into light.” Leonard C. Bruno of the Library’s Manuscript Division describes the relationship between Bell and Keller in his comments on Keller’s 1893 poem “Autumn,” which is included in the collection Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years.
- Read Today in History features on inventors, including Elias Howe, Charles E. Minches, and Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre.
- Samuel F. B. Morse Papers at the Library of Congress, 1793 to 1919 document Morse’s invention of the electromagnetic telegraph, and his participation in the development of telegraph systems in the United States and abroad. The Special Presentation, Collection Highlights, provides selected examples of Morse’s efforts to invent the telegraph and Morse Code.
- Thomas Edison’s inventions are documented in Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies. An Improved Phonograph in the Special Presentation, Life of Thomas Alva Edison describes Edison’s reactions to the improvements made by Bell and his associates. For Edison’s work on the phonograph, see History of Edison Sound Recordings which includes sections on the Edison Cylinder Phonograph and the Edison Disc Phonograph.
- Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry describes Berliner’s development of the microphone and the flat recording disc and gramophone player. Berliner’s work on the microphone earned him a visit from Thomas Watson and subsequent employment by the Alexander Graham Bell Telephone Company.
- The Wright Brothers experiments with flight are presented in the Orville and Wilber Wright Papers at the Library of Congress. Bell congratulated the Wright Brothers on their “magnificent success.”
- Search for more information about American inventors in the historic U.S. newspapers featured in Chronicling America.