Monday, December 21, 2020

California's First Telephone: A Solano County Connection?

For decades inventors tinkered and experimented in an attempt to devise a successful telephone. Ultimately, in the 1870s, two men, Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, independently came up with workable models. Today, Bell is widely recognized as the inventor of the telephone, having received his first patent in 1876. Bell publicly demon- strated his device in June, 1876 at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. News of the new invention spread across the country and experiments with the emerging technology became popular. 

In June, 1916, E.E. Leake, editor of the Woodland Democrat, recalled an early telephone experiment in California. Writing in the Vallejo Daily Times, Leake claimed to have made the first successful telephone call in California. In the 1870s Leake had been a railroad agent and telegraph operator in Dixon. His brother performed the same job in Suisun. Here is how Leake recalled the experiment:

"So far as I have been able to discover, my brother and I were the first to experiment with the phone in California. This was about the close of 1876, or the beginning of 1877. He was telegraph operator at Suisun and I was railroad agent and operator in Dixon. We sent east for telephones and obtained permission to use the railroad [telegraph] wires after 8 o'clock at night."

"Our first experiments were unsuccessful. By reconnecting the telegraph wires we could consult each other as to the possible cause of our failure and suggest new methods of forming the proper connection."

"The second night we established the proper circuit, and I never was more excited in my life than when I heard my brother's voice. He was twenty miles away but it sounded as if he were just outside the building. That was the beginning in California."