On this day 107 years ago in 1915, the first transcontinental telephone call was made between New York City and San Francisco. The call was part of an advertising campaign by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) to show off their new technology: the telephone.
In reality, the very first transcontinental phone call ever made happened about six months earlier in July of 1914. That call was made by the then-president of AT&T, Theodore Vail. However, in order to publicize the miracle of the telephone, AT&T decided to have the first call be part of the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco. On January 25th, 1915, Alexander Graham Bell made the call from his office on 15 Dey Street in the Financial District of Manhattan to his assistant Thomas Agustus Watson in San Francisco.
Unlike the first words ever transmitted by telegraph, which were “What hath God wrought!”, Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.” Bell was being sarcastic, of course, because Watson was over 2,000 miles away on the West Coast. Watson replied, “It will take me five days to get there now!”
This 1915 call was the culmination of 30 years of work by AT&T to build a line of telephone wires running from New York City to San Francisco. Construction on the network started in New York in 1885 and quickly made it to Chicago in 1892. However, because of the depression of 1893-1897 and the lack of adequate technology to perpetuate electric signals over such a distance, workers on the telephone line didn’t reach Denver until 1911. Then, by the summer of 1914, the first transcontinental telephone line was completed and functional.
While the call may not be remembered widely today, early telecommunications technologies helped secure New York’s place as the banking and financial capital of the world. At the same time as the first transcontinental telephone line was completed, famous Financial District landmarks like the Woolworth Building and the Equitable Building were constructed. High-speed intercity communication meant that stockbrokers in New York could easily communicate with traders in Chicago. And a whole range of communications and transportation technologies helped create a stock market boom that would last until the Great Depression over a decade later.
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