On this day 101 years ago at 4:40 pm Alexander Graham Bell lifted the receiver at his end of the telephone line in New York City, while Thomas A. Watson did the same in San Francisco: “Hello, Mr. Watson,” Bell said. “Can you hear me?” “I hear you perfectly,” Watson replied. Staged so as to coincide with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebration in San Francisco, this call entered history as the inaugural moment of the first transcontinental telephone service, connecting New York City (East coast) with San Francisco (West coast). It was a solemn moment witnessed by President Wilson, Mayor Mitchell of New York and many other notabilities of the day. Yet, the line that connected telephones in New York, Jekyl Island, Washington, and San Francisco (a 4,750-mile extension) had already been concluded by the end of June 1914 and successfully tested by the President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Theodore N. Vail, in July that same year. It was the highlight of a project that had begun in 1885 in New York City: the development of a long-distance telephone network throughout the U.S. By 1892 the net had reached Chicago, expanding steadily westward towards Colorado and beyond. Alexander Bell’s call on 25 January 1915 made the achievement of a telephone net between the Atlantic and the Pacific coast official, and on 1 March that year the transcontinental telephone line was opened for commercial purposes.

From March 10, 1876, when Bell first spoke over the phone to Watson in a boarding house in Boston, to 9 October, 1876, when both communicated over a two-mile phone wire between Cambridge and Boston, to a net of 4,750 miles of wire in 1915 between New York City and San Francisco, connecting several cities on the way, wired communication between people and communities had advanced enormously.

You may enjoy reading the New York Times article on “Phone to Pacific from the Atlantic”. A look at the Timeline of the Telephone shows that telephone communication throughout history has been influenced by a great number of people. The Telecommunications History Group looks at the impact of telecommunication on society.


Alexander G. Bell about to call Thomas A. Watson – By Irving Underhill – Bonham’s, Public Domain