Friday, January 18, 2013

Neither Emma Watson, Dr. Watson [Sherlock Holmes] nor "Jeopardy" Watson, but Thomas A. Watson

Not much is ever said about Thomas Watson...Alexander Graham Bell's assistant. And today is Watson's birthday.

The Writer's Almanac

It's the birthday of Thomas Watson, born in Salem, Massachusetts (1854). He was the assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, and helped him invent the telephone, although he never demanded credit. He was on the receiving end of the first telephone call: Bell said, "Watson, come here. I want to see you."

Bell was a professor at Boston University, and he was looking for help building a new kind of telegraph. He hired the 20-year-old Watson from a machine shop in Boston. The two men set up a secret lab in a Salem cellar to work on their new invention. Watson fine-tuned the device and invented the ringer, the ability to "hang up" the phone when it wasn't being used, and some early switchboards.

He worked with Bell for seven years, and then resigned, taking his royalty money and looking for a new adventure. He opened his own machine shop, building engines for small ships. By 1901, he was running the biggest shipyard in the country. When the company ousted him, he went to work in mining, evaluating ore deposits, and he discovered a new passion: the stage. He joined a Shakespeare company, starting with bit parts and working his way up to bigger roles.

He came full circle in 1915, when he and Bell were invited to place the first transcontinental telephone call from New York to San Francisco.

Thomas Watson [Wikipedia]

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