Although it lacks a visual punch, this article concerning Alexander Graham Bell’s research on the telephone marks a pivotal moment in the history of technology. Presented without illustration, and comprising a mere ten pages within volume XII of the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the article resided in MIT’s open stacks until fairly recently.
In it, Bell describes the first successful transmission of human speech via the telephone: “I placed the membrane of the telephone near my mouth, and uttered the sentence, ‘Do you understand what I say?’ Presently an answer was returned … and I heard the sentence: ‘Yes; I understand you perfectly.’” Bell conducted his work, and presented his findings in Boston. He received the first U.S. patent for the telephone in the same year.
In May 1876 – the same month in which Bell presented this paper to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences – he also spoke to MIT’s Society of Arts at their monthly meeting. The Society’s handwritten minutes, held by MIT’s Institute Archives and Special Collections, describe the talk: “May 25th 1876 … Prof. A. Graham Bell read a paper, illustrated by several experiments, on ‘telephony,’ or the telegraphing of musical sounds ….”
This article is listed in Bern Dibner’s Heralds of Science as one of the 200 most important publishing events in the history of science and technology.