The birth of a telephone giant
The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) was incorporate in New York in 1885. Then a subsidiary of the American Bell Telephone Company, after 14 years, AT&T bought the assets of its parent and became the new parent of the Bell Telephone System. One of the famous co-founders of the Bell Telephone System was none other than Alexander Graham Bell.
The corporate charter of the Bell System was to emphasize the future importance of long distance telephone service. Part of the company charter read that the Bell Telephone System would, "Connect one or more points in each and every city, town or place in the state of New York with one or more points in every other city, town or place in said state and in each and every other of the United States, Canada and Mexico; and each and every of said cities, towns and places is to be connected with each and every other city, town or place in said states and countries, and also by cable and other appropriate means with the rest of the known world." Although telephony was still new, the Bell Telephone System recognized the importance of international long distance service and was determined to be the driving force behind it. And although many critics had a hey-day poking fun at the Bell Telephone System charter, the company's idealism definitely paid off!
The first international long distance line went from New York to Philadelphia and was installed in 1886, just one year after the company's foundation. By 1892, the longest line was approximately 950 miles between New York and Chicago. Although this was as far as the technology of the time could go, the invention of loading coils soon permitted the company to take their long distance phone lines all the way out to Denver. Loading coils were tightly strung copper coils wound up on top of an iron coil and positioned about once each mile along the cable to which they were connected. This invention permitted the use of thinner telephone wires.
Unfortunately, there were downsides to this new loading coil technology. After 1,000 to 1,500 miles, the signal that ran along the telephone wire was often lost or the signal was so weak that a voice could not carry clearly over the wire. Because of this problem, coast-to-coast long distance was put on hold for a while.
However, in 1906, private inventor Dr. Lee De Forest invented the three-element vacuum tube known as the audion. This device allowed a long distance phone signal to be amplified. The patent was purchased six years after its invention by AT&T in 1912. Once AT&T purchased the patent, they devised a way to increase the vacuum of the audion chamber and lessened the quantity of internal gases, allowing the device to be used even more effectively for international long distance telephony. This invention spurred the progress of coast-to-coast long distance until on June 17, 1914, the last pole went up in Wendover, Utah, linking the lines originating on the West Coast and the East, enabling the first transcontinental telephone call, which was not made until January 25, 1915. This momentous event was delayed so long so that it would coincide with the exposition that was to be held in San Francisco that year celebrating the end of construction on the Panama Canal.
The transcontinental line was the world's longest phone line. It used more than two-and-a-half thousand tons of copper wire, which was strung along nearly 130,000 poles, with three audions in place to act as amplifiers along the way.
Present at the first transcontinental phone call from San Francisco to New York were a variety of dignitaries including Alexander Graham Bell who was there for the call in New York. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, D.C. also celebrated and took part in the inaugural call, as did AT&T president, Theodore Vail, who was located in Jekyll Island, Georgia.