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Downtown in Northwest Washington in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

The First Wireless Telephone Call

June 3, 1880

— The Photophone —

 
 
Alexander Graham Bell Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Craig Swain, May 22, 2008
1. Alexander Graham Bell Marker
Inscription.  
From the top floor of this building was sent on June 3, 1880 over a beam of light to 1325 L Street, the first wireless telephone message in the history of the world. The apparatus used in sending the message was the photophone invented by Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.

This plaque was placed here by Alexander Graham Bell Chapter Telephone Pioneers of America, March 3, 1947, the Centennial of Dr. Bell's Birth.
 
Erected 1947 by Alexander Graham Bell Chapter, Telephone Pioneers of America.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: CommunicationsScience & Medicine. A significant historical date for this entry is June 3, 1880.
 
Location. 38° 
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54.136′ N, 77° 1.765′ W. Marker is in Northwest Washington in Washington, District of Columbia. It is in Downtown. Marker is at the intersection of 13th Street Northwest and K Street Northwest, on the right when traveling north on 13th Street Northwest. Located on the Franklin School Building, next to Franklin Square. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 925 13th Street Northwest, Washington DC 20005, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Franklin Square (a few steps from this marker); The Leonard "Bud" Doggett House (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Messer Building (about 600 feet away); Written with Water (about 600 feet away); Asbury United Methodist Church (about 600 feet away); John Barry Memorial (about 700 feet away); "The First of Patriots - The Best of Men" (about 700 feet away); Josephine Butler (about 700 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Northwest Washington.
 
Also see . . .
Alexander Graham Bell Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Allen C. Browne, September 12, 2015
2. Alexander Graham Bell Marker
 "On the Production and Reproduction of Sound by Light". Presentation describing the photophone given by Dr. Bell to American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Boston, August 27, 1880 (Submitted on April 2, 2009, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.) 
 
Additional commentary.
1. “Messages” versus “Calls”
The phone companies in the United States referred to each telephone call as a “message,” and this nomenclature found its way into the text of this historical marker. In promotional materials of the era, telephone companies repeatedly stated that they were in the business of delivering messages when what they actually did was connect calls. For most of the 20th century commercial telephone rates for local calls in most large cities were charged by the “message unit,” which was defined as as the origination of single answered call
Franklin School Building image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Craig Swain, May 22, 2008
3. Franklin School Building
The plaque at the front of the building, to the left.
of any length. For residential service, monthly rates included a certain number message units, and additional units were billed at a few cents each. Or for a higher monthly charge, unlimited local calling was available.
    — Submitted May 27, 2023, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.

2. 1947 Franklin School ceremony
“On March 3, 1947, the centenary of Alexander Graham Bell's birth, the Telephone Pioneers of America dedicated a historical marker on the side of one of the buildings, the Franklin School, which Bell and Sumner Tainter used for their first formal trial involving a considerable distance. Tainter had originally stood on the roof of the school building and transmitted to Bell at the window of his laboratory. The plaque, …did not acknowledge Tainter's scientific and engineering contributions...” — Wikipedia
    — Submitted September
Illustration of the Photophone’s Receiver image. Click for full size.
From Silvanus P. Thompson's Notes on the Construction of the Photophone, 1881
4. Illustration of the Photophone’s Receiver
The transmitter in this line-of-sight system aimed its light beam at this parabolic receiving unit.
21, 2015, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.

3. The Photophone
In December 1879, Alexander Graham Bell rented a house at 904 Fourteenth Street and a laboratory at 1325 L Street, N.W., in the Franklin School neighborhood. Here, with his assistant Charles Sumner Tainter, he conducted experiments in his laboratory on the photophone, an invention for transmission of sound by light waves. After his first success on February 19, 1880, he wrote to his father:

“I have heard articulate speech produced by sunlight! I have heard a ray of the sun laugh and cough and sing!...I have been able to hear a shadow, and I have even perceived by ear the passage of a cloud across the sun's disk. Can imagination picture what the future of this invention is to be!...We may talk by light to any visible distance without any conducting wire...In warfare the electric communications of an army [by photophone] could neither be cut nor tapped. On
Photophone Technical Drawing image. Click for full size.
Drawn by Alexander Graham Bell (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons, 1888
5. Photophone Technical Drawing
the ocean communication may be carried on...between vessels...and light-houses may be identified by the sound of their lights. In general science, discoveries will be made by the Photophone that are undreamed of just now...now...The twinkling stars may yet be recognized by characteristic sounds, and storms and sun-spots be detected in the sun.”

—National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Franklin School by Tanya Edwards Beauchamp and Carolyn Pitts, 1994.
    — Submitted September 23, 2015, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.
 
Alexander Graham Bell image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Allen C. Browne, August 9, 2015
6. Alexander Graham Bell
This c. 1895 photo of Alexander Graham Bell by an unknown photographer hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

“Inventor Alexander Graham Bell sparked a communications revolution when he patented the telephone in 1876. But Bell considered his work with the deaf to be his true calling. Born to a deaf mother and a father renowned for his work in enunciation, Bell adapted his father's work — a visual, symbolic alphabet for use in producing spoken sounds — for use in teaching speech to the deaf. He opened a teacher training school and became a leader in the education of the deaf. Bell's teaching speech to the deaf was not viewed favorably by all; many advocates thought signing was the appropriate language for the hearing-impaired.”
—National Portrait Gallery
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on May 28, 2023. It was originally submitted on April 2, 2009, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 2,793 times since then and 116 times this year. It was the Marker of the Week May 28, 2023. Photos:   1. submitted on April 2, 2009, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.   2. submitted on September 21, 2015, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.   3. submitted on April 2, 2009, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.   4. submitted on May 27, 2023, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.   5. submitted on September 21, 2015, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.   6. submitted on October 28, 2015, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland.

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Apr. 20, 2024