Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you

On this day in 1876, shortly after making history, Alexander Graham Bell wrote the following letter to his father. To read his diary entry from that same day, visit Diaries of Note. And don’t forget to sign up for the Letters of Note newsletter.

Born in Scotland in 1847, Alexander Graham Bell hailed from a family of scientists and inventors, with his father, grandfather, and brother all having worked in the field of speech and hearing. The direction of Bell’s own work was also influenced by his wife’s deafness and that of his mother, whose hearing began to fade when he was only 12 years old. On March 10th, 1876, still only 29 years old, Bell’s hard work paid off, and he made history by using his newly invented telephone—patented three days earlier—to speak the first words ever transmitted clearly over a wire: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” He wrote this letter to his father hours later. This breakthrough moment marked the beginning of a new era in communication technology and solidified Bell’s place as one of the greatest inventors of all time.

Letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Alexander Melville Bell. 1876. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Library of Congress.
The Letter

Boston University

Boston, March 10, 1876

Dear Papa:

I write to announce a great failure and a great success. George Brown has thrown up telegraphy as it cannot be made a commercial success in England — Telegraphy being there a Government concern. The success is this. Articulate speech was transmitted intelligibly this afternoon. I have constructed a new apparatus operated by the human voice.

It is not of course complete yet but some sentences were understood this afternoon.

I was in one room at the Transmitting Instrument and Mr. Watson at the Receiving Instrument in another room out of ear-shot.

I called out into the Transmitting Instrument,

“Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you”

— and he came!

He said he had heard each word perfectly distinctly come from the electro-magnet at the other end. We then exchanged places. Mr. Watson sang an air. Every note was audible. He then read from a book and the voice came from the electro-magnet in a curious half muffled sort of a way.

The sense was not intelligible but I caught a word here and there such as “to”—”out”—”further.”

The last sentence, however, I heard very plainly and distinctly. It was “Mr. Bell, do you understand what I say?” We tried other sentences, “How do you do” etc.— with satisfactory results.

This is a great day with me. I feel that I have at last struck the solution of a great problem — and the day is coming when telegraph wires will be laid on to houses just like water or gas and friends converse with each other without leaving home.

I have settled upon the 1st of April to give the diplomas as that is the anniversary of the Introduction of Visible Speech into America. Please try to come down a few days before that.

The Examination will be held the last Saturday in March.

Your loving son,