Two Men and a Piece of Wire - and Faith
OPERATOR 1 (FILTER) New York calling Denver . . . calling St. Petersburg . . .
Kansas City . . . Hartford (FADING) Philadelphia . . . Chicago . . .
NARRATOR Easy, isn't it? You lift the receiver, ask for the operator ...
OPERATOR 2 (FILTER) Number please? One moment, please . . .
NARRATOR "One moment, please . . ." It's a matter of moments now. It's one
hundred million miles of wire, with radio-telephone links overseas. It's a
highly skilled organization of more than half a million men and women on the
job day and night to serve you - serving America in a thousand ways, in crisis
and everyday affairs.
VOICE 1 (MAN) Watch-tower ten reporting. Hello. Brush fire a-running south by
southwest. Wind up to thirty miles an hour.
VOICE 2 (WOMAN) May I have Main 4-6000, please.
VOICE 3 (WOMAN) Operator, please connect me with the nearest hospital.
VOICE 4 (MAN) And say, Joe, I'd like to increase that order by twenty tons.
How soon can you ship out of Chicago? Two days? Fine. (FADING) Give me a ring
if there's any delay . . .
(MUSIC TO CHORD AND OUT)
NARRATOR That's the familiar picture. That's part of our age. We're used to
miracles today. But how about the birth of miracles? Mr. Shirley, would you
read the opening paragraph of this sheet of paper, please?
SHIRLEY (ANNOUNCER) Of course. "The proprietors of the Telephone, the
invention of Alexander Graham Bell, for which patents have been issued by the
United States and Great Britain, are now prepared to furnish telephones for
the transmission of articulate speech through instruments not more than twenty
miles apart . . ." (PAUSE)
NARRATOR It's all right - just read on, if you will.
SHIRLEY (CLEARS HIS THROAT) "Conversation can be easily carried on after
slight practice and with the occasional repetition of a word, or sentence. On
first listening to the Telephone, though the sound is perfectly audible, the
articulation seems to be indistinct; but after a few trials the ear becomes
accustomed to the peculiar sound and finds little difficulty in understanding
the words." Well!
NARRATOR Mr. Shirley, you've just read the opening of the first Telephone
advertisement, which appeared in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May, 1877, the year
following Bell's first successful transmission of speech over wire. "Not more
than twenty miles apart . . ." That makes us smile today, doesn't it? Always
easy to look back and smile.
(MUSIC COMES IN BEHIND)
What kind of country did we have in the 70's?
She was a sprawling and still green country,
On her way to big things, finding her power,
Fifty million people then, native and immigrant
Crowding the cities and spilling over to the open west.
Colorado was a new state in the Union,
Wyoming, Idaho and Utah were just territory
Waiting for the homesteaders - there was room for awhile!
Room for the dreamers, the kind who make their life
Out of wilderness and hope - the pioneers.
Around this time they had a thing called a bicycle.
Made of wood; and P. T. Barnum was going strong;
And a steamboat paddled from New Orleans to St. Louis
In less than four days - a record, they say.
(SOUND OF OLD TYPE RAILROAD WHISTLE APPROACHING)
The Union Pacific heading for the Utah territory,
With the Central Pacific coming the other way.
And at a place called Ogden, you may remember . . .
(SOUND: HAMMER ON A SPIKE)
They drove in the Golden Spike,
Tied a strip of steel together,
Linking the continent all the way!
(SOUND OF THRESHING MACHINE)
Harvester and thresher walking the prairie;
Machines take over the vast spaces.
(SOUNDS: DERRICK, RIVETING, STEEL ROLLING MILL)
New sounds for America: sounds of construction:
Iron and steel echoing across the land:
Rolling steel for the spine of a nation!
(A LOW TWANGING SOUND OF THE PLUCKED VIBRATING REED USED ON BELL'S FIRST
One moment, that sound . . . It almost went by.
Let's have that sound again, please.
(REPEAT THE SOUND)
A vibrating reed. A thin strip of magnetized steel
Sending tone and for the first time
Its overtone . . . faintly . . .
(SOUND: REPEAT STEADILY UNDER, MUSIC SNEAK TO SAME TUNE AND TEMPO)
Heard in the attic room of an old frame house
In Boston in the year 1875, and the man listening
Was Alexander Graham Bell. O this miracle
Not even to the height of a whisper,
And yet to his ear, tuned and trained,
This secret sound being sent from the next room
Had a meaning only he understood.
(MUSIC ABRUPTLY OUT)
BELL (EXCITEDLY) Watson, where are you? Watson, are you there!
(SOUND: DOOR OPEN)
BELL Watson . . .
WATSON Yes, Mr. Bell? What is it?
BELL What did you do? Don't change anything. Let me see.
WATSON I plucked the vibrating reed . . . it seemed to stick. Like this.
(SOUND OF VIBRATING REED)
BELL So . . . at last. This is the key, Mr. Watson. And the door we unlock
next - who knows - may be the sending of human speech over a wire. It must be
done. At least, we will try.
NARRATOR Almost a year later, on March 10, 1876, Bell was at work in his room,
seated near a transmitter, while Watson, his assistant, was several rooms away
at the receiving end of a one-way line. It was just another day of tedious
experimentation - testing, hoping, trying. As Bell leaned over the work-bench,
his arm spilled some battery acid on his clothes. He jumped up and called
out . . .
BELL Mr. Watson, come here, I want you! (PAUSE) Hmmm. I've ruined this jacket.
How did I ever . . .
BELL Yes, what is it, Mr. Watson? Have you seen a ghost?
WATSON Mr. Bell, Mr. Bell ... I heard every word you said - over the wire !
BELL You . . . heard?
WATSON "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you." I heard it distinctly! (PAUSE)
That was the first sentence ever heard over the telephone, sir.
BELL Not much of a sentence, was it?
(BELL LAUGHS EXCITEDLY. WATSON JOINS)
NARRATOR Well, that's how it began. Two men and a piece of wire - and faith.
Would it work? Soon this plaything, which many people called it, went into
business, and the way you went about getting early telephone service was
something like this . . .
HUBBARD Now let's see, Mr. Emery. You have an office here in the city, but
you'd like to be able to talk to your home in Somerville.
EMERY That's right, Mr. Hubbard.
HUBBARD You know about setting your own poles and stringing your wire -
EMERY Guess I do. Got a stretch of poplars along the road part way. Would they
do for poles?
HUBBARD They'll do fine.
EMERY Not so sure about stringing the wire, though.
HUBBARD Well now, we can get it done for you, at five dollars a mile. Not
counting the price of wire, that is . . . You'll need some insulators, too.
Cost twenty-five cents each. After all that's set up, we leave you two
telephones, price forty dollars a year, payable semi-annually in advance. We
keep the line in repair free of charge.
EMERY Meant to ask . . . Need any trainin' to run the thing?
HUBBARD Not a bit! Nothing complicated. Just a place to listen out of, and a
place to talk into. We'll do the rest.
NARRATOR By August 1877, sixteen months after the first transmission of the
human voice over wire, there were 778 telephones in use. A staggering figure
for the time, you can be sure! There were still the doubters and scoffers, but
some said the telephone thing was here to stay! And, in 1878 the first
commercial telephone switchboard was put into operation in New Haven,
Connecticut, with eight lines and twenty-one subscribers. But there were
problems. Like the calling apparatus. Nothing like a bell at first. Someone
just tapped a pencil on the diaphragm and if someone heard it at the other
end, fine. If not, well, you'd keep on trying. Then there was a "buzzer" call.
(MUSIC OUT. SOUND OF WATSON'S BUZZER: MUCH LIKE AN OLD RAUCOUS AUTOMOBILE
Folks didn't like that too much, especially at night. Next came the bell model
with the hand crank.
(SOUND OF HAND CRANK BELL)
In the early telephone exchanges, when you'd put in a call, there was no
charming young lady operator at the other end, but . . .
OPERATOR 1 (BOY) What do _you_ want!
(PLAYFUL MUSIC CHORD)
NARRATOR Or, a bit more conversationally -
OPERATOR 2 (BOY) Rudley Leather Shop? Line is busy, - I said the line is busy.
What's that? You don't believe me? Now that's too bad. Stick your head in a
NARRATOR Or, in the midst of a conversation, the boy operator at the exchange
would cheerfully cut in . . .
OPERATOR 1 (BOY) You still talking? Why don't you get off and take a deep
breath? Ha, ha, ha . . .
(LAUGHTER BEHIND. MUSIC: OVER AND OUT)
OPERATOR (GIRL) This is Central. 426? Thank you. I'll ring them for you.
NARRATOR Yes, it wasn't long before the voice with a smile greeted the
subscriber, and with it a new era of expanded service. "I believe," said
Alexander Graham Bell in 1878, "that in the future wires will unite different
cities, and a man in one part of the country may communicate by word of mouth
with another in a distant place." And slowly it came to pass.
This is Boston.
This is Detroit.
Hello New York.
(FADING) Hello. Hello. Hello . . .
NARRATOR The century turning, bringing new cities, and the thunder of
industry. The spaces of the West being filled, the endless footsteps of
migration, opening of new vistas; the railroads branch out, the roads breaking
forest and desert; everywhere the tireless heart of America stirs with the
energy of many peoples. And everywhere the telephone lines go forward.
Hello St. Louis.
New Orleans calling Cleveland.
Hello Dallas. Hello Denver.
(FADING) Hello. Hello. Hello . . .
NARRATOR Wires humming between cities. The switchboards grow from a few
circuits to hundreds, thousands . . . Until one day a ceremony is performed.
It is January 25, 1915. Seated at a long desk, the now gray-haired Alexander
Graham Bell, with a wisp of a smile - remembering the early struggles perhaps?
- picks up his telephone in New York City.
BELL Ready, gentlemen?
VOICE 1 In a moment, sir.
VOICE 2 Will they hear you in San Francisco, Mr. Bell?
BELL I believe so.
VOICE 2 But still, it's over 3,000 miles . . .
BELL It can be three million. As long as the poles are standing, and the wires
drawn, and the human voice can speak, why then it shall be heard.
ENGINEER Circuit open, Mr. Bell. Go ahead.
BELL Hello, San Francisco. (PAUSE) Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!
WATSON (FILTER) Mr. Bell, I would be glad to oblige, but it would take at
least a week.
(LIGHT LAUGHTER - MURMUR OF VOICES BEHIND)
BELL How's your voice today, Mr. Watson?
WATSON Pretty good.
BELL Let's hear you sing a little song for my friends. Come on, you've done it
before . . . How about Auld Lang Syne?
WATSON I'll try.
(BEGINS TO SING. MUSIC TAKES THEME OVER AND DOWN BEHIND)
NARRATOR The future throws its giant shadow; radio-telephone:
The human voice lifts across the Atlantic,
From land to sea to land - encircles the globe,
And the drama is brotherhood, man's joining.
The sound of guns, names of the past break in,
Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Woods and Soissons;
And the newer names: Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Anzio,
Utah Beach, Normandy . . . and the guns become quiet.
Again the wires and lines connecting, joining.
Binding the space between the broken cities,
Man calling man to the arts of labor and construction.
The hundred-voiced switchboards of the large cities,
The single voice of the village, each holding open
The tens of million miles of wire, touching
Homes and rooms and desks and the roaring traffic.
The speech of a nation, voices of the big and little.
The family of peoples in a house of many states.
Instantly touching . . . while men in the laboratories
Bring the cosmic secrets, large as the hemispheres.
Into the hand of man. And mighty are its wonders:
Mobile telephones, the coaxial cable to carry the flow
Of five hundred separate voices, television, radar, sonar . . .
The search goes on, begun from the tremor of a voice.
Where will it end? It does not end. It begins always.
(MUSIC: UP AND OUT. APPLAUSE)
Originally broadcast: 3 March 1947
-- the hundredth anniversary of the
birth of Alexander Graham Bell -- as a
dramatic sketch on the Bell Telephone Hour