The farmer no longer depends upon the mails; like the city man, he telephones. This instrument is thus the greatest civilizing force we have, for civilization is very largely a matter of intercommunication. Indeed, the telephone and other similar agencies, such as the parcel post, the rural free delivery, better roads, and the automobile, are rapidly transforming rural life in this country. In several regions, especially in the Mississippi Valley, a farmer who has no telephone is in a class by himself, like one who has no mowing-machine. Thus the latest returns from Iowa, taken by the census as far back as 1907, showed that seventy-three per cent of all the farms--160,000 out of 220,000--had telephones and the proportion is unquestionably greater now. Every other farmhouse from the Atlantic to the Pacific contains at least one instrument. These statistics clearly show that the telephone has removed half the terrors and isolation of rural life. Many a lonely farmer's wife or daughter, on the approach of a suspicious-looking character, has rushed to the telephone and called up the neighbors, so that now tramps notoriously avoid houses that shelter the protecting wires. In remote sections, insanity, especially among women, is frequently the result of loneliness, a calamity which the telephone is doing much to mitigate.
In the United States today there is one telephone to every nine persons. This achievement represents American invention, genius, industrial organization, and business enterprise at their best. The story of American business contains many chapters and episodes which Americans would willingly forget. But the American Telephone and Telegraph Company represents an industry which has made not a single "swollen fortune," whose largest stockholder is the wife of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor (a woman who, being totally deaf, has never talked over the telephone); which has not corrupted legislatures or courts; which has steadily decreased the prices of its products as business and profits have increased; which has never issued watered stock or declared fictitious dividends; and which has always manifested a high sense of responsibility in its dealings with the public.
Two forces, American science and American business capacity, have accomplished this result. As a mechanism, this American telephone system is the product not of one but of many minds. What most strikes the imagination is the story of Alexander Graham Bell, yet other names--Carty, Scribner, Pupin--play a large part in the story.
The man who discovered that an electric current had the power of transmitting sound over a copper wire knew very little about electricity. Had he known more about this agency and less about acoustics, Bell once said himself, he would never have invented the telephone. His father and grandfather had been teachers of the deaf and dumb and had made important researches in acoustics. Alexander Graham Bell, born in Edinburgh in March, 1847, and educated there and in London, followed the ancestral example. This experience gave Bell an expert knowledge of phonetics that laid the foundation for his life work. His invention, indeed, is clearly associated with his attempts to make the deaf and dumb talk. He was driven to America by ill-health, coming first to Canada, and in 1871 he settled in Boston, where he accepted a position in Boston University to introduce his system of teaching deaf-mutes. He opened a school of "Vocal Physiology," and his success in his chosen field brought him into association with the people who afterward played an important part in the development of the telephone. Not a single element of romance was lacking in Bell's experience; his great invention even involved the love story of his life. Two influential citizens of Boston, Thomas Sanders and Gardiner G. Hubbard, had daughters who were deaf and dumb, and both engaged Bell's services as teacher. Bell lived in Sanders's home for a considerable period, dividing his time between teaching his little pupil how to talk and puttering away at a proposed invention which he called a "harmonic telegraph." Both Sanders and Hubbard had become greatly interested in this contrivance and backed Bell financially while he worked.