Watson’s great-granddaughter on the truth of Bell’s invention

June 6, 2008

Don’t believe the dramatic story that “that the telephone was born when Alexander Graham Bell spilled battery acid on himself and called out to Thomas Watson for help,” says Susan Cheever, Watson’s great-granddaughter. Writing to The New Yorker, she says:

March 10, 1876, the day Watson heard Bell through the wire, was a day completely without drama. There is no mention of the battery-acid accident in Bell’s log of the day. “The first recorded message was commonplace,” Watson complained in letters. “There was little of dramatic interest in the occasion.” It wasn’t until fifty years later, in 1926, when Watson sat down to write his lovely memoir, “Exploring Life,” that the battery-acid story was born. …

I come from a family of inspired storytellers, and Watson, who was my great-grandfather, was one of the best.


Gladwell: ‘Who says big ideas are rare?’

June 6, 2008

CartoonGood reading: Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker on “In the Air: Who says big ideas are rare?”


In order to get one of the greatest inventions of the modern age, in other words, we thought we needed the solitary genius. But if Alexander Graham Bell had fallen into the Grand River and drowned that day back in Brantford, the world would still have had the telephone, the only difference being that the telephone company would have been nicknamed Ma Gray, not Ma Bell.

This phenomenon of simultaneous discovery—what science historians call “multiples”—turns out to be extremely common.