02 May 2009

The Telephone in America’s Past: Saved By the Bell

Image4 Alexander Graham Bell’s first coherent telephone message - “Mr. Watson, come here; I want you” – was in fact a cry for help. He had spilled battery fluid on his pants and instinctively made the first emergency phone call. And phones have been helping out in crises ever since.

In rural areas, in particular, Bell’s amazing new invention became a vital lifeline. Farmers relayed news of tornadoes, storms, or impending frosts in time for others to round up livestock and protect crops. Many a tale is told of heroic operators who remained at their posts to warn about floods and coordinate rescue efforts even as the waters rose around their switchboards.

Nor were their urban colleagues any less dedicated. A New Jersey operator once received a call from a panicked druggist, who said that a customer had walked off with a bottle of acid instead of eye drops. Tracking the woman down through calls to a postmaster, relatives, and other subscribers, the operator finally located her in a New York City hotel just moments before she gave her eyes an acid bath.

A reporter covering a potential suicide once proved resourceful. While police debated ways  to coax the man in from a hotel’s 14th-floor ledge, the newsman simply placed a call to the room. Following an ingrained reflex, the would-be suicide dashed in to answer the telephone.

coax verb [transitive]
to gently persuade someone to do something or not to do something
Rescuers told how they coaxed a man out of a suicide attempt.
coherent adjective
expressed in a clear and calm way, so that other people can understand what they are saying
He’s so calm when he answers questions in interviews. I wish I could be that coherent.
crisis noun [countable/irregular plural – crises]
situation in which something or someone is affected by one or more very serious problems
Natural disasters have obviously contributed to the continent’s economic crisis.
crop noun [countable]
plants such as wheat and potatoes that are grown in large quantities for food.
Rice farmers here still plant and harvest their crops by hand.
dash verb [intransitive]
to run or go somewhere very quickly because you are in a hurry
People dashed into the street when the ground started trembling.
druggist noun [American – countable)
a pharmacist, a chemist (UK)
frost noun [countable]
ice crystals that cover the ground when the temperature outside falls below the freezing point
The wind has veered to the north, bringing clear skies and a keen frost.
impending adjective
used to describe something that is going to happen very soon
On the morning of the expedition, I awoke with a feeling of impending disaster.
He’d spoken to Simon that morning of his impending marriage.
ingrained adjective
an ingrained attitude, belief, or habit has existed for a long time and cannot be easily changed
ledge noun [countable]
a narrow surface that continues out from the side of a cliff, wall or other surface
They were perched on a narrow ledge near the top of the cliff.
lifeline noun [countable]
something that enables an organization or group to survive or to continue with an activity
Information about the job market can be a lifeline for those who are out of work.
The orders will throw a lifeline to Britain’s shipyards.
livestock noun [uncountable]
animals such as cattle or sheep which are kept on a farm.
The heavy rains and flooding killed scores of livestock.
pants noun [American - plural only] Note: In British English, the word is trousers. In British English, pants are a piece of underwear which have two holes to put your legs through and elastic around the top to hold them up around your waist or hips.
piece of clothing that covers the lower part of your body and each leg.
She described him as wearing brown corduroy pants and a white cotton shirt.
postmaster noun [countable]
someone whose job is to manage a post office
relay verb [transitive]
to say something that has been said to you, you repeat it to another person; to pass on information
The decision will be relayed to Iraq’s ambassador at the UN.
resourceful adjective
good at finding efficient ways of dealing with problems
spill verb [transitive/intransitive] Note: irregular in British English – spilt, spilt ; regular in American English – spilled, spilled
to accidentally flow over the edge of a container
70,000 tons of oil spilled from the tanker.
Don’t spill water on your suit.
subscriber noun [countable]
someone who pays money in order to receive something regularly, for example copies of newspapers or magazines, or a service
switchboard noun [countable]
a large piece of equipment in an office, hotel, public building etc that a person called and a switchboard operator uses to answer telephone calls and to connect the people calling with the people they want to speak to
tale noun [countable]
a spoken account of one’s experiences, especially when they are made to seem more exciting or pleasant than they really were
He entertained us with tales of his adventures during the war.
track down verbal phrase [transitive]
to find someone or something after a long search
I finally managed to track him down in Manchester.
warn verb [intransitive/transitive]
to make someone conscience of possible danger so they will not be hurt
The report warns consumers that they could end up paying higher prices.

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