“Mr. Edison’s phonograph preserves a conversation for 100 years. But conversations can be preserved that long without a phonograph. For instance, there is the celebrated conversation between the Governor of North Carolina and the Governor of South Carolina….”
— From Daily Alta California, Dec. 26, 1887 (via Louisville Courier-Journal)
How many people today would recognize this once world-famous expression, much less any of its numerous origin stories?
Not many, the Google Ngram Viewer suggests.
On this day in 1906: A decade after Guglielmo Marconi of Italy sent the first radio signal, Reginald Fessenden makes the first voice transmission. From a station in Brant Rock, Mass., he broadcasts to ships at sea a program of two musical selections (including his own violin rendition of “O, Holy Night”), a Scripture reading and a short talk.
Fessenden, a native of Canada who had been Thomas Edison’s chief chemist, laid the groundwork for his breakthrough during two years’ research on the Outer Banks; barely a dozen miles away, the Wright Brothers were preparing to fly at Kitty Hawk.
A storm almost sank the Fessenden expedition on the way to Roanoke Island. Conditions continued to be harsh — crew members often had to wear mosquito netting — but 50-foot transmission towers were erected on Roanoke and Hatteras.
Reg Fessenden was considered by at least one contemporary scientist to be “the greatest wireless inventor of the age — greater than Marconi.” But the question of who would profit from radio was complex and treacherous, and Fessenden lost out in extended, bitter litigation over patent rights.
On this day in 1918: Concluding a rustic road trip that began nine days ago in Pittsburgh, inventor Thomas Edison, automaker Henry Ford, tiremaker Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs check into Asheville’s Grove Park Inn.
The celebrity nature-seekers, who camped in tents by the mountain roads, were delayed along the way by crowds of admirers. In Weaverville, Edison declined calls for a speech but answered the Asheville Citizen’s request for a comment on the world war: “Man’s foolishness. That’s all you can make out of it. Man is a fool.”