March 10: The Telephone

Thomas_watsonOn this day in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell wrote in his notebook, describing an experiment he and his assistant Thomas Watson conducted earlier that afternoon: “I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: ‘Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.’ To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.” Yes, it was on March 10, 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call.

But we’re not here to talk about Bell today. No, we’re going to look at the man seen at right, the man whose name was the first thing ever said on a telephone, Mr. Watson himself. Watson was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1854. He was working in a machine shop in Boston when Bell, then a professor at Boston University, hired him as an assistant. Watson had experience as a mechanic and electrical engineer, so Bell thought he would make for an ideal associate.

The two soon began exploring acoustic telegraphy, working with reeds and wires. One day, Watson accidentally plucked one of the reeds, and bell heard the reed’s overtones at the other end of the wire, which led Bell to realize that only one reed was needed to help a telephone transmit sound.

Following the successful experiment, Watson parted ways with the Bell Telephone Company in 1881 when he was just 27 years old and used the money he made from his role in the invention of the telephone to become a farmer. After a short while though he returned to engineering, first opening up his own machine shop and later establishing the Fore River Ship and Engine Building Company. Fore River’s shipyard quickly became one of the busiest in America, producing many naval destroyers. Of course, Watson would remain historically connected with Bell. In fact, in 1915, Watson was in San Francisco to receive the first transcontinental telephone call from Bell who was in New York.

Let’s raise a glass to Watson and Bell on the anniversary of their historical first phone call. Watson is a springtime cocktail that comes to us from Upstairs at New York’s Kimberly Hotel. It’s a rework of the Pimm’s Cup, with the requisite gin and Pimms No. 1, but with white cranberry juice adding a refreshing twist. Upstairs traditionally serves Watson with a cucumber that’s been shaped into a flower. You can leave that task to more experienced carvers and use a standard cucumber wheel.


  • 1 1/2 ounces Gin
  • 2 ounces white cranberry juice
  • dash of fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 dashes Pimm’s No. 1
  • 3 slices fresh cucumber

Muddle the cucumbers in a mixing glass and then add ice and the remaining ingredients. Shake and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cucumber flower or cucumber wheel.

Tomorrow: We play Twenty-One.


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