“Mr. Watson! Come here! I want to see you.” After “what are you wearing” or “is there an Oliver Clothesoff there?” the preceding is arguably the single most famous half of a telephone conversation in the history of telephone conversations. Those words were spoken by not the inventor of the telephone per se, but the inventor who made it to the patent office an hour before the other guy who was independently inventing the telephone at exactly the same moment in history. Alexander Graham Bell spoke those words to one Thomas Augustus Watson and history was made. At least it was made for Mr. Bell. But whatever happened to the slightly famous Mr. Watson?
The story goes that Alexander Graham Bell spilled acid on his pants and in his excitement called out for Mr. Watson, who heard it over the contraption that Alexander had invented. Most experts agree the story is apocryphal at best and not very admirable at worst, but so be it. What most people who know the story of Mr. Watson being called into the room do not know is that without Thomas Augustus, ATT would probably have been called Ma Gray rather than Ma Bell. Thomas Watson did much of the actual invention work for Bell just like everybody else did the work for Thomas Edison. Watson had a tremendous knowledge of electrical devices especially something called a wound-coil. The wound-coil was essential in the Bell’s development of the telephone.
Fifteen years after Bell patented the telephone there were an estimated five million telephones in America. During that time Thomas Watson worked as Bell’s number one repairman. Mostly because nobody else could do the repairs for something that had just recently been invented. There was something else that Watson worked on during this time and that was the phone booth. Watson had a landlady who was not exactly thrilled with the fact that working a telephone in the early days required that the person practically yell into the receiver. Therefore, Watson covered up with blankets until eventually he created a design that looked not unlike the standard phone booth that Superman used to hop into. Except that Watson’s phone booth had a dome on top and came equipped with pen, ink and paper. Very cool, especially compared to those half-booths of the latter half of the 20th century before cell phones made them obsolete.
The famous Mr. Watson, not to be confused with Dr. Watson of Sherlock Holmes lore, made a ton of money off the royalties associated with the telephone. He quit the phone business before he was 30 and opened a machine shop that built marine engines. The 20th century equivalent of the current war in Iraq, that fabricated war known as the Spanish-American, provided Watson with nearly as much money as Dolly Parton and Mark Cuban if they got married and produced Bill Gates. Watson later went on to build schools in Massachusetts as well as establish the very first electric plant in his hometown of Braintree.
Think you get bored easily? Thomas Watson studied geology at MIT and became a prospector in Alaska. He studied acting in England before becoming a member of a respected Shakespearean troupe, before eventually founding his own acting troupe. His final years contained a bit of the Beatles about it as he traveled once again back to England to meet the famous Indian spiritualist Meher Baba.