The Somerville Times Historical Fact of the Week – July 26

On July 26, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Eagle Feathers #134 –Weaving the Web

By Bob (Monty) Doherty

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Somerville’s fifth birthday, March 3, 1847. Thirty years later, after moving to America, he became the recipient of the United States Patent #174465. This is often considered the most valuable patent ever granted. It acknowledged him as the inventor of the telephone and father of its industry.

The creation of this incomparable device took place in the Boston electrical shop of Charles Williams, Jr. of Somerville. His shop was an incubator for electrical pioneers, and Williams was liberal in sharing his knowledge and equipment. He had experience in creating burglar alarms and fire telegraph systems. The earliest inventions of Bell and Thomas Edison occurred there.

The first outside test of Bell’s telephone was sent over a three-mile phone line. It stretched from Williams’ shop at 109 Court Street in Boston to his dwelling at

One Arlington Street in Somerville. The conversation was between Charles and his wife, and he told her that he was coming home shortly. Bell assigned William’s home telephone number as #1, and his Boston shop telephone number as #2.

The next telephone line went to the Downer residence at 170 Central Street on Winter Hill. Roswell Downer was one of Bell’s closest friends. He asked Roswell’s father, Cutler Downer, who was a Boston Banker and Winter Hill land developer, to invest in the enterprise. Cutler declined, calling the telephone an amusing toy.

Despite this, both his sons, Ross and Frank, invested and were given telephone numbers #3 and #4. This second call was from Bell, telling Downer to send a note by messenger to Bell’s girlfriend in Cambridge. Until more telephone lines were laid across the city, a Winter Hill phone-messenger service was created and flourished. It was located at the intersection of Temple Street and Broadway.

While he and his crew were laying more lines, Williams became the first person to receive payment for a telephone service. He was also the sole manufacturer of these early telephones until the demand exceeded the little shop’s capabilities.

Bell’s patents were secured by 1877. Thanks to him, today billions of telephones, cell phones, iPhones and satellites help keep the pulse of our lives going. It began 140 years ago with the three-mile wire strung from 109 Court Street in Boston to One Arlington Street in Somerville. Today, it has woven itself into … “THE WORLD WIDE WEB.”


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