It was on this day in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call. Bell’s first successful telephone used a liquid transmitter: a diaphragm that caused a needle to vibrate in water, similar to the way sound waves vibrate in air. He spoke to his assistant, electrical designer Thomas Watson, who was in the next room. He said, “Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.” Later that day, he wrote an excited letter to his father. He wrote, “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.”
“Hello” is, of course, the standard greeting when most English-speaking people answer the phone, but this was not Bell’s preferred greeting, and it was some time before the protocol was sorted out. In The First Telephone Book, author Ammon Shea tells us that Bell favored “Ahoy!” and stubbornly used it for the rest of his life. His competitor Thomas Edison, on the other hand, preferred “Hello.” Shea posits that “hello” caught on in part due to the “How To” section in early phone books, which recommended “a hearty ‘hulloa'” as a proper greeting. The phone book’s recommended sign-off — “That is all!” — never took root.
The above was excerpted from today’s issue of The Writer’s Almanac.
“That is all!”