Chambers's Journal, September 1, 1877, pages 554-556:


PEOPLE are already to a certain extent acquainted through the newspapers with what is called the Telephone, or instrument for transmitting musical sounds to a distance. We wish to say something of this novelty. The conveyance of sound by means of an electric wire, has been practised through the instrumentality of the bell telegraph, used occasionally, though much less frequently than apparatus of a different kind. The signaller does not himself ring a bell, but sets in vibration a bell at the further or receiving end of the wire. The electric current, passing through the wire, acts upon a small magnet, and this in its turn acts upon a small bell or its hammer. By a preconcerted arrangement, one single sound is understood to denote a particular letter or word; two denote another letter or word; three quickly repeated, have a separate meaning; three separated by unequal intervals of silence, another--and so on. The receiver must have a quick ear, and much practice is necessary for a due fulfilment of his duties. Although the plan has an advantage in enabling him to understand a message in the dark as well as in the light, it has more than equivalent disadvantages; among which is the fact that it leaves no permanent record.
    But talking by electricity conveying the actual sounds of the voice for many miles--what are we to think of this? And a song--the words, the music, and the actual quality of the singer's voice; does not this seem almost beyond the powers of such a mode of transmission? Who first thought of such a thing is not now known. Very likely, as in most great inventions, the same idea occurred to many persons at different times, but was laid aside because the mode of realising it was not sufficiently apparent.
    It was about 1860 that Reis invented a contrivance for employing a stretched membrane vibrating to a particular pitch or note; a contact-piece was adjusted near the membrane; and a series of rapid contacts sent a series of clicks along an electric wire to an electro-magnetic receiver at the other end. But the apparatus could only convey one note or musical sound.
    Four or five years ago, Mr Edison, a telegraphic engineer at Newark in New Jersey, made an attempt in this direction. It is known that, in one form of automatic chemico-electric telegraph, signals are recorded by sending an electric current through prepared paper saturated with a chemical agent which changes in colour wherever the current touches it; the paper is moved on equably, and a pen or stylus rests upon it, conveying the impulse received from the electric wire. Mr Edison has tried to devise an arrangement for producing sound as well as discoloration, something for the ear to hear as well as something else for the eye to see. We are not aware whether his experiments have been sufficiently successful to produce a practically useful result.
    In 1874, M. La Cour sent audible signals from Fredericia to Copenhagen, by means of a tuning-fork, a contact-piece, a telegraphic wire, and a key to set the fork in vibration.
    Mr Elisha Gray appears to have made a more definite advance in this direction. He has transmitted the pianoforte sounds of a concert through the wire of an electric telegraph. The performer played at Philadelphia, to an audience at New York, ninety miles distant. The apparatus may be called a telephonic piano; it transmits the sounds of that instrument, but of no other. Public performances of this kind were given in the early months of the present year. On one evening the instrument was played at Chicago, and the music heard at Milwaukie, eighty-seven miles distant. The Last Rose of Summer, Yankee Doodle, The Sweet By-and-by, and Home, Sweet Home are named as the tunes thus played. On a second occasion the apparatus triumphed over a distance of no less than two hundred and eighty-four miles, from Chicago to Detroit; not much was attempted in actual music, but the sounds were audible at this great distance. Two instruments are required, a transmitter and a receiver. There is a keyboard of two octaves (available therefore only for simple melodies), a tuning bar, an electro-magnet, and an electric circuit. The play on the keys with the fingers produces vibrations, thuds, molecular movements, in rhythmical succession; these are transmitted by the electric wire to the receiving apparatus at the other end. This receiving apparatus is a large sounding-box, on which is mounted an electro-magnet. The box intensifies the sounds by its sonorousness, through the medium of the slight touches which the magnetised iron gives to the box at every expansion or elongation which the electro-magnetism gives it. Delicate experiments have shewn that there is a minute difference in the length of a bar of iron when magnetised and demagnetised; and Mr Gray appears to have taken advantage of this property in causing his magnetised bar to give a succession of taps to the resonant box. We believe that the apparatus requires wholly new setting for each tune. If so, the system bears the same relation to real pianoforte playing as the barrel organ does to the church organ; it does not lend itself to the spontaneous or extempore effusions of the player.
    More comprehensive, so far as the scientific descriptions enable us to judge, is Bell's telephone, for the transmission of talk and sing-song as well as of instrumental sounds. If present indications should be really justified by future results, the imagination can scarcely picture the number of practical applications that may ensue. The inventor, Mr Graham Bell, went to America in 1871. He is the son of Mr Alexander Melville Bell, whose system of 'Visible Speech' has attracted a good deal of notice on both sides of the Atlantic. Both father and son have been practically engaged in perfecting a system for teaching the dumb to speak; and Mr Graham Bell set himself the task of accomplishing something which would justify him in saying: 'If I can make a deaf-mute talk, so can I make iron talk.'*
    Mr Bell, when at Salem in Massachusetts, began to turn his attention to this subject, the telegraphy of sound, or telephony, in 1872; but three years elapsed before the matter assumed such a form as to enable him to send a little musical message through a two-mile wire. Securing his invention by a patent, he gave his first public exhibition of the system in the autumn of 1876. The talk or speaking of an operator at Cambridge, Massachusetts, was heard at Boston, in the ordinary conversational tones. It does not appear that the actual quality or timbre of the voice was distinguishable, but only a voice, speaking certain words. Early in the present year, however, further improvements were made in the apparatus which enabled it to shew even this kind of delicacy; that is, it transmitted not merely the words in sound, but also the tones and inflections of different voices. Singing being, in regard to acoustics, only one variety of speaking, it follows almost as a matter of course that if the apparatus can talk it can also sing. Accordingly, a lady sang The Last Rose of Summer, and was distinctly heard at the distant station; the sounds 'had about the same effect as if the listeners were at the rear of a concert-hall, say a hundred feet from the singer.' The sounds of laughter and applause were similarly transmitted, with the proper rhythm and key or musical pitch. In instrumental music a violin could be distinguished from a violoncello; a test more delicate than would be supposed by many persons.
    In all the earlier experiments of Professor Bell, he employed galvanic batteries to produce the current; but these were afterwards dispensed with, and their place supplied by permanent magnets. With this improved arrangement, sounds were conveyed through a wire to a distance of a hundred and forty-three miles, from Boston to North Conway in New Hampshire. Last February a lecture was delivered, on the subject of Telephony, by Professor Bell at Salem, and was audible, word for word, at Boston. In order to shew that the transmission is equally available in both directions, provided the proper apparatus is at both ends, the lecture from Salem to Boston was followed on the same evening by singing and speech-making from Boston to Salem.
    From the patent specifications and from the descriptions in American scientific journals, it would appear that a phonographic reporter of some skill is needed, to translate the audible sounds into words and write them down. We must first comprehend, however, the mode in which the sonorous transmission through the wire is brought about; for this it is which really constitutes the principle of the telephone. Ordinary telegraphic coils of insulated wire are applied to the poles of a powerful compound permanent magnet; and in front of these is a thin vibrating diaphragm or membrane, with a metallic contact-piece cemented to it. A mouth-piece or trumpet mouth, fitted to collect and intensify waves of sound, is placed near the other surface of the diaphragm. It is known that the motion of steel or iron in front of the poles of a magnet creates a disturbance of electricity in coils surrounding those poles; and the duration of this current will coincide with the vibratory motion of the steel or iron. When, therefore, the human voice (or any other suitable sound) impinges through the tube against the diaphragm, the diaphragm itself begins to vibrate, and the contact-piece awakens (so to speak) electrical action in the coils of wire surrounding the poles of the magnet; not a current, but a series of undulations, something like those produced by the voice in the air around us. The undulations in the coil produce a current in the ordinary telegraph wire with which it is placed in connection. A similar apparatus at the other end is hereby set in action, but in reverse order; that is, the wire affects another coil, the coil another diaphragm, and the diaphragm another tube, in which the sounds are reproduced in audible vibrations.
    It is said that even a whisper can in this way be reproduced at a distance, the maximum extent of which may possibly be much greater than has yet been achieved. At one of the exhibitions given to illustrate this system, Professor Bell stationed himself in the Lyceum at Salem; Mr T. A. Watson at Boston. An intermittent current, sent through the eighteen miles of telegraphic wire, produced in the telephone a horn-like sound. The Morse alphabet was then transmitted in musical sounds, audible throughout the lecture-hall. Then the sounds of an organ were made to act upon the apparatus, and these in like manner were transmitted; two or three tunes being distinctly heard in succession at Boston. Professor Bell then signalled to Mr Watson to sing a song; this was done, and the words as well as the tune of the song heard. A speech was then made at Boston in the simple words: 'Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to be able to address you this evening, although I am in Boston and you in Salem.' This speech was heard distinctly in the Lyceum at Salem, and was followed by many questions and answers sent to and fro.
    If monotones be adopted instead of those variations in pitch which belong to ordinary music, it is believed that several telephonic messages may be sent through the same wire at the same time. It would be agreed on beforehand that all sounds in C (for instance) shall be intended for one station alone; all those in B for another station, and so on; each diaphragm would vibrate in the manner belonging to the sound-waves impinging upon it; but each station would attend only to those in a particular pitch. Such is the theory. Whether it can be practically carried into effect, the future must shew.
    Mr Cromwell Varley, during his researches in duplex telegraphy, produced an apparatus which he is now trying to apply to telephonic purposes. A limited amount of success was achieved in July of the present year, through an electric wire connecting two concert-halls in London; but the apparatus requires further development. It comprises among other details a series of tuning-forks, one for each note.
    There does not, so far as description goes, appear a probability that telephones would be so applicable as the machines already in use for ordinary telegraphic purposes; for reasons which we need not detail here. The conveyance of sound is the novelty; and whimsical suggestions have been put forth concerning the possible results, such as the following: 'One of the first steps which a young couple, upon their engagement, would naturally take, would be to have the speaking-wires laid down to their respective rooms, and then, at any time, far from the curious eye of the world, they would be able to indulge in sweet converse.' Another: 'The extension of the system might not prove so pleasant in other cases. Thus, for example, university authorities might take it into their heads to attach an instrument to every room in the college, in order that the young men might report that they were steadily at work every quarter of an hour.' Another: 'It is hardly going too far to anticipate the time when, from St James's Hall as a centre, Mr Gladstone will be able to speak to the ears of the whole nation collected at a hundred different towns, on Bulgarian atrocities, or some other topic of burning interest. Nor need we despair of seeing Herr Wagner, from his throne at Bayreuth, dispensing the "Music of the Future" in one monster concert to St Petersburg, Vienna, London, New York--in short, to all the musical world at once.'
* The subject of 'Visible Speech' is not unfamiliar to the readers of Chambers's Journal. In the number for May 12, 1866, a succinct account of the system is given--a system intended to remedy the utter want of agreement between the appearance and the sound of a letter or a word.