Almanac: The day telephones fell silent across North America

National

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. (Photo: CBS NEWS)

(CBS NEWS)- On August 4, 1922, 97 years ago today, America’s telephones briefly fell silent. For that was the day Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone (and so much else besides) was buried on his estate in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Bell famously first used his device on March 10, 1876 to summon his assistant Thomas Watson, with the words: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”

Among Alexander Graham Bell’s other inventions: a metal detector to try to locate the bullet that ultimately took the life of President James Garfield; and a hydrofoil that reached the then-unheard-of speed of 72 miles per hour.

Bell died on August 2, 1922 at the age of 75. Two days later, on August 4, at 6:25 p.m. Eastern Time, just as Bell was buried, telephone service across the United States and Canada was shut down for one full minute … a moment of silence in Bell’s honor.

Fast forward to today, when the proliferation of ringtones in public places makes the idea of a moment of telephonic silence seem like some sort of fantasy.

Way back in 2003, James Katz (currently a media professor at Boston University) shared his bleak vision of the future: “We’re at just the tip of the iceberg.  We’re headed to ringtone hell, I’m sorry to say.”

Today, many might say we appear to have arrived.

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