On this day in 1876 the first telephone conversation took place between Alexander Graham Bell and his lab assistant Thomas Watson. Bell had recently secured the patent for his new invention – the telephone – and three days later succeeded in making a call. He summoned Watson from the next room thus making the first, albeit very brief, telephone call. Controversy surrounds the invention of the telephone, as there have been claims that the credit for the invention in fact rests with another inventor: Elisha Gray. Gray had also been working on a device for transmitting voice messages and both filed the patent the same day, leading to speculations about who got there first.
Thomas Watson (1854 – 1934)
We can endlessly debate who deserves the credit for the invention of the telephone. However, whether erroneously or not, it is Alexander Graham Bell whose name is synonymous with the invention. Without that first, fleeting, conversation between Bell and Watson, there may have never been any more. So next time you’re on the phone to a loved one, dealing with a call-centre, ordering takeaway or having a phone interview, remember those nine words Bell spoke on March 10th 1876.
Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922)
“I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: “Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you.” To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said”
– Bell’s diary entry from March 10th 1876
Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827 – 1901)
On this day in 1870 Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African-American to sit in Congress, was inaugurated into the Senate as a Republican representing Mississippi. Before he was elected to the Senate, Revels was a Methodist minister and led black Union regiments during the Civil War. The passage of the fourteenth amendment in 1868 provided legal equality for African-Americans recently freed from slavery, paving the way for them to be elected to public office. Revels gained his post after the Mississippi state legislature voted for Revels to fill one of the state’s Senate seats which had been vacant since Mississippi seceded.
1870 letter from the Mississippi Governor certifying Revels’s election as United States Senator
His appointment was initially resisted by the Senate, and his legitimacy was debated for several days. On February 25th, the Senate voted to allow Revels to take up his seat, with only Republicans voting for him and Democrats against. His inauguration that day received a standing ovation as the Senate witnessed the first African-American member of Congress joining their ranks. Revels served one term in the Senate, consistently pushing for racial equality, until he resigned in 1871 to become a college president. Revels is an important and under-acknowledged figure in American history. Revels paved the way for other African-Americans to shatter the glass ceiling and reach the upper rungs of government. He defied those who questioned the ability of freed blacks to integrate into society and was the embodiment of political integrity and eloquence. Without Revels there may not have been a Robert Weaver (first African-American cabinet member), a Thurgood Marshall (first African-American Supreme Court justice), or even a Barack Obama (first African-American President).