Thursday, April 17, 2008

Alexander Graham Bell's Laboratory

Everyone knows that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. (Or did he?) But did you know that he invented the telephone in Boston? Well, tucked inside the lobby of the Verizon Building fronting the south side of Post Office Square is Bell's laboratory, removed from the house on 109 Court Street where in 1876 he uttered his first words on the telephone: "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you." And thus, the era of telemarketers was born.

When the Court Street house in which Bell lived was torn down in the 1920s, the laboratory on the fifth floor was dismantled, and it has been reassembled inside the Verizon Building, an Art Deco structure that was built in the 1940s. The room was restored based on plans approved by Thomas Watson himself.

When you enter the Verizon Building, go to your right. On your right-hand side is a small room with a wooden interior. This rebuilt laboratory includes Bell's tools, patent application models, books on speech and hearing, work sketches, and his workbench. A window frame looks out onto a painting of the view of 1875 Boston that Bell would have seen from his workbench.

When you step inside the laboratory a short recorded narration begins to play, explaining the history of the laboratory, the invention of the telephone, and the artifacts on the workbench and in the display case. The display case includes the world's first commercial telephone and the first telephone switchboard. There is a replica of the transmitter-receiver that Bell used to utter his famous words and a replica of the telephone patent application. On the wall is a plaque that was placed by The Bostonian Society and the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company at 109 Court Street and unveiled by Bell himself in 1916. The plaque reads "Here the Telephone Was Born June 2nd 1875." That was the date that Bell and Watson first transmitted sound over the wires. (In addition to the Bell laboratory, there is a marker commemorating the first telephone on Cambridge Street.) The Verizon Building is located at 185 Franklin Street. While you're inside, also be sure to gaze at the amazing circular mural that rings the lobby. The artist was Dean Cornwell, and the mural is entitled Telephone Men and Women at Work and is 160 feet long.

13 comments:

Marilyn Terrell said...

Thanks for this information!

Rick C said...

I went there today and was disappointed to find that the laboratory has been removed, and the mural that showed the history of the phone company has also been removed.
I asked a security guard and was told the building changed hands and the new owners didn't want the mural or the lab.

Chris Klein said...

Rick C,

Thanks for passing on that news. That is simply outrageous! The mural, in particular, is so embedded in the architecture of the lobby that I can't imagine why they would even want to take it down. I see it's gotten considerable coverage in the newspapers today: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/10/02/murals_removal_stirs_outcry_among_lovers_of_history_art. Sounds like the mural might find a home but I'm not sure there's going to be much hope for the lab. Outside of the Museum of Science, I'm not sure what would be a good home for it.

Jay said...

Where is the lab now? In boxes in some warehouse?

Chris Klein said...

Good question, Jay. I have not heard an update on the location of the lab.

Ken Liss said...

I've heard rumors that Verizon is planning a telephone museum and is saving the lab (and maybe the mural) for that.

Anonymous said...

My family and I tried to visit the Lab today and discovered that the Verizon building was sold, they have stored the mural in an undisclosed location and dismantled the Lab. So disappointing.

scott davidson said...

Wonderful colors and organic natural forms. Reminds me of a painting like Rainy landscape, by Russian painter Kandinsky, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8EWL66, that I saw at wahooart.com, from where one can order a canvas print of it. Really good place to browse the painter’s work and other work similar to your style of painting.

George said...

I started with New England Telephone as a Janitor at 185 Franklin Street in Boston. Every now and then I had to clean Alexander's Lab. Something of a drudge for a 17 year old... But now pretty cool to a 62 year old.

George said...
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Christopher Klein said...

George, That's definitely cool.

josez davis said...
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Jade Graham said...

Tesla's lab would be the third address down in the taller building at the edge of the photo. science laboratory equipment manufacturers