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HOME > Short Stories > Ted and the Telephone > CHAPTER IX THE STORY OF THE FIRST TELEPHONE
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 "I am going down to Freeman's Falls this afternoon to get some rubber tape," Ted remarked to Laurie, as the two boys and the tutor were eating a picnic lunch in Ted's cabin one Saturday.  
"Oh, make somebody else do your errand and stay here," Laurie begged. "Anybody can buy that stuff. Some of the men must be going to the Falls. Ask Wharton to make them do your shopping."
"Perhaps Ted had other things to attend to," ventured Mr. Hazen.
"No, I hadn't," was the prompt reply.
"In that case I am sure any of the men would be glad to get whatever you please," the tutor declared.
"Save your energy, old man," put in Laurie. "Electrical supplies are easy enough to buy when you know what you want."
"They are now," Mr. Hazen remarked, with a quiet smile, "but they have not always been. In fact, it was not so very long ago that it was almost impossible to purchase either books on electricity or electrical stuff of any sort. People's knowledge of such matters was so scanty that little was written about them; and as for shops of this type—why, they were practically unknown."
"Where did persons get what they wanted?" asked Ted with surprise.
"Nobody wanted electrical materials," laughed Mr. Hazen. "There was no call for them. Even had the shops supplied them, nobody would have known what to do with them."
"But there must have been some who would," the boy persisted. "Where, for example, did Mr. Bell get his things?"
"Practically all Mr. Bell's work was done at a little shop on Court Street, Boston," answered Mr. Hazen. "This shop, however, was nothing like the electrical supply shops we have now. Had Alexander Graham Bell entered its doors and asked, for instance, for a telephone transmitter, he would have found no such thing in stock. On the contrary, the shop consisted of a number of benches where men or boys experimented or made crude electrical contrivances that had previously been ordered by customers. The shop was owned by Charles Williams, a clever mechanical man, who was deeply interested in electrical problems of all sorts. In a tiny showcase in the front part of the store were displayed what few textbooks on electricity he had been able to gather together and these he allowed the men in his employ to read at lunch time and to use freely in connection with their work. He was a person greatly beloved by those associated with him and he had the rare wisdom to leave every man he employed unhampered, thereby making individual initiative the law of his business."
The tutor paused, then noticing that both the boys were listening intently, he continued:
"If a man had an idea that had been carefully thought out, he was given free rein to execute it. Tom Watson, one of the boys at the shop, constructed a miniature electric engine, and although the feat took both time and material, there was no quarrel because of that. The place was literally a workshop, and so long as there were no drones in it and the men toiled intelligently, Mr. Williams had no fault to find. You can imagine what valuable training such a practical environment furnished. Nobody nagged at the men, nobody drove them on. Each of the thirty or forty employees pegged away at his particular task, either doing work for a specific customer or trying to perfect some notion of his own. If you were a person of ideas, it was an ideal conservatory in which to foster them."
"Gee! I'd have liked the chance to work in a place like that!" Ted sighed.
"It would not have been a bad starter, I assure you," agreed Mr. Hazen. "At that time there were, as I told you, few such shops in the country; and this one, simple and crude as it was, was one of the largest. There was another in Chicago which was bigger and perhaps more perfectly organized; but Williams's shop was about as good as any and certainly gave its men an excellent all-round education in electrical matters. Many of them went out later and became leaders in the rapidly growing world of science and these few historic little shops thus became the ancestors of our vast electrical plants."
"It seems funny to think it all started from such small beginnings, doesn't it," mused Laurie thoughtfully.
"It certainly is interesting," Mr. Hazen replied. "And if it interests us in this far-away time, think what it must have meant to the pioneers to witness the marvels half a century brought forth and look back over the trail they had blazed. For it was a golden era of discovery, that period when the new-born power of electricity made its appearance; and because Williams's shop was known to be a nursery for ideas, into it flocked every variety of dreamer. There were those who dreamed epoch-making dreams and eventually made them come true; and there were those who merely saw visions too impractical ever to become realities. To work amid this mecca of minds must have been not only an education in science but in human nature as well. Every sort of crank who had gathered a wild notion out of the blue meandered into Williams's shop in the hope that somebody could be found there who would provide either the money or the labor to further his particular scheme.
"Now in this shop," went on Mr. Hazen, "there was, as I told you, a young neophyte by the name of Thomas Watson. Tom had not found his niche in life. He had tried being a clerk, a bookkeeper, and a carpenter and none of these several occupations had seemed to fit him. Then one fortunate day he happened in at Williams's shop and immediately he knew this was the place where he belonged. He was a boy of mechanical tastes who had a real genius for tools and machinery. He was given a chance to turn castings by hand at five dollars a week and he took the job eagerly."
"Think how a boy would howl at working for that now," Laurie exclaimed.
"No doubt there were boys who would have howled then," answered Mr. Hazen, "although in those days young fellows expected to work hard and receive little pay until they had learned their trade. Perhaps the youthful Mr. Watson had the common sense to cherish this creed; at any rate, there was not a lazy bone in his body, and as there were no such things to be had as automatic screw machines, he went vigorously to work making the castings by hand, trying as he did so not to blind his eyes with the flying splinters of metal."
"Then what happened?" demanded Laurie.
"Well, Watson stuck at his job and in the meantime gleaned right and left such scraps of practical knowledge as a boy would pick up in such a place. By the end of his second year he had had his finger in many pies and had worked on about every sort of electrical contrivance then known: call bells, annunciators, galvanometers; telegraph keys, sounders, relays, registers, and printing telegraph instruments. Think what a rich experience his two years of apprenticeship had given him!"
"You bet!" ejaculated Ted appreciatively.
"Now as Tom Watson was not only clever but was willing to take infinite pains with whatever he set his hand to, never stinting nor measuring his time or strength, he became a great favorite with those who came to the shop to have different kinds of experimental apparatus made. Many of the ideas brought to him to be worked out came from visionaries who had succeeded in capturing the financial backing of an unwary believer and convinced themselves and him that here was an idea that was to stir the universe. But too many of these schemes, alas, proved worthless and as their common fate was the rubbish heap, it is strange that the indefatigable Thomas Watson did not have his faith in pioneer work entirely destroyed. But youth is buoyed up by perpetual hope; and paradoxical as it may seem, his enthusiasm never lagged. Each time he felt, with the inventor, that they might be standing on the brink of gigantic unfoldings and he toiled with energy to bring something practical out of the chaos. And when at length it became evident beyond all question that the idea was never to unfold into anything practical, he would, with the same zealous spirit, attack another seer's problem."
"Didn't he ever meet any successful inventors?" questioned Ted.
"Yes, indeed," the tutor answered. "Scattered among the cranks and castle builders were several brilliant, solid-headed men. There was Moses G. Farmer, for example, one of the foremost electricians of that time, who had many an excellent and workable idea and who taught young Watson no end of valuable lessons. Then one day into the workshop came Alexander Graham Bell. In his hand he carried a mechanical contrivance Watson had previously made for him and on espying Tom in the distance he made a direct line for the workman's bench. After explaining that the device did not do the thing he was desirous it should, he told Watson that it was the receiver and transmitter of his Harmonic Telegraph."
"And that was the beginning of Mr. Watson's work with Mr. Bell?" asked Ted breathlessly.
"Yes, that was the real beginning."
"Think of working with a man like that!" the boy cried with sparkling eyes. "It must have been tremendously interesting."
"It was interesting," responded Mr. Hazen, "but nevertheless much of the time it must have been inexpressibly tedious work. A young man less patient and persistent than Watson would probably have tired of the task. Just why he did not lose his courage through the six years of struggle that followed I do not understand. For how was he to know but that this idea would eventually prove as hopeless and unprofitable as had so many others to which he had devoted his energy? Beyond Mr. Bell's own magnetic personality there was only slender foundation for his faith for in spite of the efforts............
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