First Long-Distance Voice Transmission Is Newest IEEE Milestone

The spot in Canada where the first long-distance voice transmission was honored this month

7 May 2008

The spot in Canada where the first long-distance voice transmission was received was honored this month with an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing. A commemorative plaque was unveiled at the old telegraph office in Paris, Ont., where Alexander Graham Bell heard voice signals being sent through wires from the telegraph office in Brantford, 13 kilometers away.

IEEE President Lewis Terman and IEEE Canada President Ferial El-Hawary were among the luminaries who joined members of the IEEE Hamilton Section for the 4 May unveiling. The ceremony coincided with the IEEE Region 7 (Canada) spring meeting in nearby Niagara Falls, Ont. A number of meeting attendees traveled to the site to help recognize the milestone.

The one-way transmission on 10 August 1876 was a giant leap forward, considering that previously Bell had been able to transmit voice signals only between rooms in a building. True telephony, with two-way voice transmission came a few months later.

“The most significant milestones are for things we take for granted today,” says IEEE Member Chris Maryan, chair of the Hamilton Section. “Despite using it constantly, most of us don’t even think about the effort that went into the development of the telephone in its infancy.” Maryan notes that a lot of intermediate steps between Bell’s initial experiments and the eventual commercialization of the telephone are lost to history. “What we have here represents one of the more significant jumps in the technology,” he says.

The Brantford-to-Paris call, which included a one-way conversation to Bell from his relatives and the voices of a choir singing in Brantford, took place over the telegraph network. The Paris site where the plaque is displayed was the local telegraph office at the time. The building has been rebuilt a number of times due to fires, most recently in 1901, and used for other purposes, but the site has always been remembered for its contribution to communications history, Maryan says.

The IEEE Milestone Program highlights the role in the advancement of science and technology played by IEEE’s geographic regions and organizational units such as its technical societies. IEEE recognizes more than 75 engineering and computing milestones around the world. Innovative technical achievements that are more than 25 years old are eligible to be named a milestone.

For more information on the program,visit the IEEE History Center Web page

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