"It appeals to the imagination to speak across the continent." --President Woodrow Wilson speaking on the phone from the White House to San Francisco, during AT&T;'s demonstration of its transcontinental system.


A Transcontinental Telephone Line 


July 1914

For five years AT&T had wanted to link the phone lines from one side of the country to the other. They finally found the device that could help them do it:  Lee De Forest's "audions," the first vacuum tubes. They placed them along the 3,400 miles of wires connecting one coast to the other. As a voice signal traveled along the wires it naturally weakened. Every time it hit an audion, the signal was boosted. 

The first trial took place in July of 1914, when the president of the company, Theodore Vail, spoke from one coast to the other -- his voice boosted in Pittsburgh, Omaha, and Salt Lake City along the way.

But the big celebration didn't occur until January 25, 1915, at a meeting in San Francisco. Sitting in New York, Alexander Graham Bell said into the phone what he had once said decades before: "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you." But this time Watson, sitting in San Francisco, replied, "It will take me five days to get there now!"

-- Crystal Fire by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson 


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