The First Transcontinental Call Was Made Today in 1915

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96 years ago, Alexander Graham Bell placed the first transcontinental phone call, ringing up Thomas A. Watson in San Francisco from New York. It was actually a reprisal of an earlier conversation the two men had, the New York Times reported back then:

On October 9, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson talked by telephone to each other over a two-mile wire stretched between Cambridge and Boston. It was the first wire conversation ever held. Yesterday afternoon the same two men talked by telephone to each other over a 3,400-mile wire between New York and San Francisco. Dr. Bell, the veteran inventor of the telephone, was in New York, and Mr. Watson, his former associate, was on the other side of the continent. They heard each other much more distinctly than they did in their first talk thirty-eight years ago.

According to Google, the trip from 15 Dey Street to 333 Grant Ave in San Francisco would take you 39 days walking. The phone was roughly instantaneous.

I got curious what's now installed in these two historic locations. Inside the 333 Grant building, there's now a Lulemon Athletica, a store which caters to yoga bunnies. It's next door to an American Apparel. In New York, whatever once stood at 15 Dey is now gone. In its place stands a Century 21 Department Store at 17 Dey. There is a Starbucks across the street.

Point being that technological history is not preserved the way that political and cultural history often are. Our important locations go unmarked, if they are remembered at all.

Bell, courtesy of the Library of Congress:

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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