Alexander Graham Bell's 1876 telephone patent, commemorated by this banquet, had led to the formation of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, and AT&T used this dinner to show off two recent technical advances -- transcontinental telephone service plus greatly improved radio transmitters for audio transmissions. Although not mentioned in this extract from the full article, both advances had been made possible by improvements in vacuum tube engineering. The "Arlington wireless station" which serenaded the banquet with the Star Spangled Banner was Navy radio station NAA, located across the Potomac River from the capital. AT&T had set up an experimental high-power vacuum tube transmitter at this station, and it was from here that the 1915 transmissions to Honolulu and Paris, mentioned in this article, had originated.
National Geographic, March, 1916, pages 296-297, 299-303, 305:
VOICE VOYAGES BY THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY
A Tribute to the Geographical Achievements of the Telephone
PERHAPS never before in the history of civilization has there been such an impressive illustration of the development and power of human mind over mundane matter as was demonstrated at the annual dinner of the National Geographic Society, at the New Willard Hotel, in Washington, on the evening of March 7, the fortieth anniversary of the award of the patent for the invention of the telephone to Alexander Graham Bell.
The occasion was in itself inspiring. Science, art, diplomacy, statecraft, and business had sent their most distinguished representatives to join with the Society in honoring those whose services to civilization had been so far-reaching and which were to be so dramatically demonstrated during the evening. From the four corners of the country had come a nation's elite to join with the Society in crowning with the laurels of their affection and admiration the brilliant men whose achievements had made possible the miracles of science that were to be witnessed.
And if the occasion was impressive and its setting inspiring, the events of the evening were dramatic beyond measure, for it seemed indeed that at last fact had outrun fancy, and that imagination had acknowledged the supremacy of actuality.
Small wonder was it that at the evenings close the men who help guide the destinies of the nation had in subdued emotion declared that they felt "humbled and meek and overwhelmed!" What wonder that they in amazement exclaimed to one another, that in view of the things their eyes had seen and their ears had heard, "no man can say that anything is impossible!"
What wonder, indeed, was it that men declared that it might yet be possible to talk to Mars if it were inhabited; what wonder that they had come again to believe in fairies--only that these fairies were no longer creatures of the unseen world--but men with super-minds like Marconi, Vail, Carty, and Graham Bell; what wonder that men pronounced what they beheld as latter-day miracles, or that many men and women present felt that they were dining amid scenes closely bordering the supernatural!
For had they not heard the living voice across a continent! Had they not had brought home to them the fact that in the twinkling of the eye their voice had swept from sea to sea, across high mountains, low plains, prairies, and plateaus!
Had they not heard the Pacific's surf beat upon its rockbound coast, while they themselves were on the very threshhold of the Atlantic!
Had they not, indeed, heard and added their own voices to the strains of the Star Spangled Banner played by a phonograph at Arlington, Virginia, and carried to New York by wireless and back to Washington by wire in all its sweetness, with all its inspiration, and breathing patriotic faith--carried there at a speed that made the "wings of the wind" a misfit metaphor!
Think of a diner in that banquet ball hearing the strains of that music, after they had traveled four hundred miles, half way by wire and the other half by wireless, before they could reach the ear of a person at the very foot of the tower whence they started!
The dinner was given in honor of the achievements in the art of telephony through the forty years that have passed since Alexander Graham Bell first solved the problem of sound transmission by electricity.
The telephone paid tribute to Dr. Bell, its father, by transmitting with equal fidelity the sound of music, the roar of breakers, and the intonations of the human voice. It paid its tribute to President Vail by proving that it indeed had grown to be a national institution in its geography, in its use, and in its possibilities. It paid its tribute to the great engineering staff, headed by John J. Carty, by demonstrating that it had, through them, ceased longer to be dependent on wires, but could now make the Hertzian waves its messengers--messengers which can travel eight times around the earth between the beats of the human heart.
The big banquet hall of the New Willard is nearly a city block long and perhaps sixty feet wide. Eight hundred people were seated around the tables of receiver at his elbow. At the one end of the great hall was a large map, with electric lights marking every junction station on the transcontinental voice highway, from Florida to Puget Sound and from Ottawa, Canada, to El Paso, Texas.
VOICE VOYAGES TO SEATTLE
After the courses had been served, the chief of the engineering staff of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Mr. John J. Carty, announced that the assembled guests would take a voice voyage to Seattle, Washington. Eight hundred receivers went to eight hundred wondering ears and the transcontinental roll-call began.
"Hello, Washington, D. C." said Mr. Carty.
"Hello, Mr. Carty: this is Washington; Truesdale speaking." came the answer. And the bulb indicating the Nation's Capital on the electric map grew bright.
"Hello, Pittsburgh," called Mr. Carty.
"Hello, Mr. Carty; this is Pittsburgh; Meighan talking," came the reply.
"What is the temperature there?" inquired Mr. Carty, "and the weather?"
SPANNING THE CONTINENT
One by one, without a moment's loss of time, they came in--Chicago, Omaha, Denver, Salt Lake City, Pocatello, Boise, Walla Walla, Portland, and finally Seattle--and in the time that it takes to tell it the guests had swept on an ear voyage to the Northwest Pacific region, and 11 twinkling lights aglow on the electric map showed in how many places the diners had been transported as hearers in those few minutes. In truth, the human voice was speeding from ocean to ocean, stirring the electric waves from one end of the country to the other, and greeting every ear that was on the line to hear.
GREETINGS FROM CANADA
After thus sweeping across the continent, the dinner party started upon an invasion of foreign soil. In less time than it takes to tell it, the voice dispatchers had perfected a through route from the capital of the greatest nation to the capital of her greatest neighbor. Washington was in whispering distance of Ottawa.
And from Ottawa came messages of international amity and good-will that were heartily reciprocated by all present. "The Postmaster General of Canada sends greetings," came the voice from Ottawa, "to the Postmaster General of the United States, and trusts that for the common good of the two neighboring peoples the cordial relations which have always existed between the two departments will endure for all time."
And then from the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister, came hearty greetings to the National Geographic Society, a tribute to its work, and a word of hope and forecast for its future.
"My greetings," read the message, "to the National Geographic Society and my congratulations on their achievements of another successful year. In speaking through word of mouth across so many miles, it is a pleasure to recall that the distinguished scientist and inventor who has made this wonderful feat possible and who has been one of the guiding spirits of your Society has also had ties of close association with Canada. One of the objects of the National Geographic Society is to increase our knowledge and comprehension of the various countries of the world. The value of such knowledge is inestimable, and I would bespeak for your efforts an even greater influence and appreciation in the future."
FROM THE MEXICAN BORDER
"There shall be no North and no South," declared a patriot years ago; and there was not at the Geographic dinner, for as soon as the voice-visit to Ottawa was over the party proceeded to the Rio Grande at El Paso. Flashing by Pittsburgh, Chicago, Omaha, Denver, Trinidad, and Albuquerque with a word of greeting to each, Washington was in a minute speaking into the ears of men hundreds of miles apart and hearing a chorus of voices from five different States.
"Is General Pershing there?" inquired Mr. Carty of El Paso.
"Yes, sir," answered Mr. Roach, several thousand miles away.
"Hello, General Pershing!"
"Hello, Mr. Carty!"
"How's everything on the border?"
"All's quiet on the border."
"Did you realize you are talking with 800 people?"
"No, I did not," answered General Pershing. "If I had known it, I might have thought of something worth while to say."
"Well, you know it now, so you can say it," advised Mr. Carty.
"My greetings to the National Geographic Society. I have attended some of its great dinners and know what impressive functions they are. I am a member of the Society and esteem it a rare privilege to help further its splendid work."
And there were cheers at the sentiment, just as though the words had come from the speakers' table instead of from El Paso.
"General Scott, Acting Secretary of War and Chief of Staff, is here, General Pershing," said Mr. Carty, "and he will talk with you."
But General Scott was too modest. He could fight Indians, put an army through its maneuvers, and march into the "inferno of a fight" without turning a hair, but he could not talk to one of his generals over a telephone on such an occasion as this.
After El Paso, Texas, came Jacksonville, Florida, and while a chilling March rain was falling in Washington it was a balmy summery night in Jacksonville, with the thermometer registering 70-odd. And then the tide turned again. A switch in Washington moved and the voice-tide turned from the far Southeast to the extreme West. To Salt Lake City the route was the same as we had taken to Seattle, but there a switch was thrown and we were routed to San Francisco.
When we got there lights were shining on the electric map at 21 places in 17 States and one foreign country. We had visited them all on our dash around the country on the wings of the electric wave.
When we arrived in San Francisco, the toastmaster, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane, informed that city that the whole National Geographic Society envied those who lived there.
And then came Captain Gilmer, U. S. N., to the San Francisco telephone, and soon the head of the Navy at the Atlantic seaboard was conversing with one of his captains on the Pacific seaboard as though they were in adjoining offices instead of thousands of miles apart.
A VOICE FROM THE GOLDEN GATE
And then the voice of war yielded place to the voice of filial affection, and out of the Washington receivers floated a piping "Hello, mamma! How are you and daddy? I'm just fine." It was little Larry Harris, five years old, in San Francisco, calling to his mother, who, visiting in Washington, was one of the guests attending the Society's dinner.
Mrs. Lawrence W. Harris: "Where is King? Is King there?"
King: "I am, mamma."
Mrs. Harris: "Hello, King; how are you? King, we will see you in about two weeks. Your daddy wishes to speak to you."
Mr. Harris: "Hello, King; how are you, my boy? Who are you with ?"
King: "I am with grandma."
Mr. Harris: Well, you tell your grandma that this is no time for her to be out. Good-bye, boy."
Mr. Carty: "Mr. Harris didn't realize that it is now only half-past seven in San Francisco."
The voice of the little fellow and his brother King, age three, captivated 800 people and brought earnest applause as they at half-past seven in San Francisco said good-night to their parents at half-past ten in Washington.*
After the conversation was done, Washington began to say good-night to all of the stations with which it had talked, starting with San Francisco and coming east.
"Good-night, San Francisco," said Mr. Carty.
"Good-night, Mr. Carty," answered San Francisco, as her light on the electric map became dark. And so we said goodnight to all of them.
TALKING WITHOUT WIRES
And then came a new series of demonstrations. Up to that time we were talking over wires. The messages were not free to move anywhere but along particular wires to particular places.
Now sounds were to be mounted on steeds of inconceivable fleetness and dispatched through the circumambient to everywhere in general and New York in particular.
When a wireless telephone turns loose a word into space, it does not travel through a lane to the point of destination ; rather it spreads itself north, south, east, west, and literally tills the air with sound; so that we might, instead of "Those who have ears, let them hear," now say, "Those who have wireless telephones, let them hear." That is why Honolulu was able to eavesdrop on a conversation between Arlington and Paris. Dr. Bell has surely brought the eavesdroppers into their own when he has made it possible for them to hear in Honolulu what Washington says to Paris.
The first of these demonstrations was the talking over a circuit made up of two sections of wire and one of wireless. The banquet-room was connected by wire with Arlington wireless station. There the messages were transferred to the air. At New York they were picked up again by the wires and brought back to the banquet-hall.
And as people at the far ends of the hall held their receivers to one ear and listened to Mr. Carty and Secretary Lane talk into their telephones, the sound in the receiver seemed the voice, and the sound in the air the echo, so rapidly were the words conveyed on their 450-mile circuit.
A NATION'S HEART BEAT
But this was not yet the supreme test--the test that brought the guests to their feet with hearts heating fast, souls aflame with patriotism, and minds staggered as wonder had followed wonder as minute followed minute.
Now a screen was stretched across the end of the banquet-hall, a moving-picture machine was wheeled into action, and the Star Spangled Banner flashed its thrilling beauty upon the screen.
Over at Arlington wireless station a phonograph began to play. Out of its vibrant throat leaped a nation's patriotism expressed in song. A wireless transmitter gathered the notes and gave them to the Hertzian waves. The sounds that the phonograph itself released into the air were soon lost. They were as much slower than the wireless impulses they started as a snail is slower than the fastest big-gun projectile.
For nature made sound travel 360 yards a second, while the wireless telephone has given it a speed of 186,000 miles a second. Thus a wireless message envelops the whole earth in the time that a sound in its native element spreads over a circle 144 feet in diameter. Dr. Bell has made the human voice able to travel nearly a million times as fast as it could before he invented the telephone.
It was less than the proverbial twinkling of an eye between the utterance of the sound by the phonograph at Arlington and its receipt in the 800 receivers in the banquet-hall; and as it floated in gently and softly, yet clearly and impressively, its stirring appeal moved every soul to song, and the hundreds present joined in our national air:
"And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
It was an inspiring moment, quickening the pulse, electrifying the mind, and causing waves of enthusiasm to sweep over the banquet-hall as billows over the sea.
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."
It was then that Dr. Bell exclaimed: "We have just been hearing 'The Star Spangled Banner' by wireless and the audience has joined in singing it. It occurs to me that by means of the telephone the millions of people of the United States may soon sing 'The Star Spangled Banner' all at the same time."
And then came the speech-making; but it was a subdued, an overwhelmed, a reverent audience that the speakers addressed. The spirit of mirth and levity had no place among people who had witnessed such marvelous exhibitions.
ADDRESS OF THE TOASTMASTER, HON. FRANKLIN K. LANE, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
I do not know how you feel after the exhibition that has just been given to us, but for myself I can say that I feel humbled and meek and overwhelmed, for no man can say, after the things we have seen, after the things that we have heard, that anything is longer impossible.
They tell me that this is a cynical age--an age that is materialistic and without faith--but, standing in the presence of these miracles, these wonders, I say to you that it is, above all ages, the age of faith.
No man can say that it will not be possible at some future time to talk, as I threatened to talk tonight, to the planet Mars. There is probably not one man or woman here who, forty-five years ago, would have said that it would ever be possible to talk across this continent by wire, much less to talk to New York and back again to this hotel by wireless. This age is not cynical, is not without faith. The motto of this age might very well be the words from Peter Pan. We do believe in fairies. The only difference is that we have changed the kind of fairies that we believe in, and instead of believing in Hop-o'-my-Thumb and Jack of the Beanstalk, we believe in fairies like Marconi and Pasteur and Carty and Graham Bell.
We live in a city that is studded about with statues of men who have made large sacrifices and done great service for our country, statues of our generals, crowned by that wonderful monument that pierces the sky, to the man that led us in our fight for independence; and soon we will add to that the great Greek temple that is to be forever a monument to the man who kept this Union for us.
But where are the statues to the men who have made America? Where are the statues to the men who are the inventors and, the engineers and the discoverers of this continent? Out of my office every day go 250 patents. Our people have the greatest resources of any people in the world, not in their soil--although that is without equal; not in their minerals--though no other nations can rival as to minerals--but in the inventive genius of the American mind, which we honor tonight.
Other countries do honor to men of this class. They may command a knighthood or a baronetcy. We cannot indulge in such luxury, but the National Geographic Society can hold a banquet in honor of such men and crown them with the laurels of our affection and admiration.
THE INGENUITY OF MAN
The men who make this world and the men who serve this world are preëminently the men who work in laboratories and in workshops. The boys across the water may believe that theirs is the real conquest of the world; but it is not so. The world is being conquered by the mind and the ingenuity of man.
* This was not the first time that a youngster had talked across the continent, however, for the very first child's voice flashed through the transcontinental wires was that of Melville Bell Grosvenor, grandson of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, at the opening of the New York - San Francisco telephone, January 25, 1915.