November 23, 2010

The telephone and diseases of the ear

Seen in The British Medical Journal, 2 August 1879, p162.

A manageress of a Manchester manufactory was talking on the telephone with their office two miles away, during a storm, when she suffered an electric shock and temporary deafness.  Luckily she made a full recovery.  The woman's doctor wrote to the BMJ and some aspects of his report made an impression on me.

It was common in the early days for businesses to have an exclusive telephone line connecting office and factory (literally a telephone in each location joined by a length of wire in the middle).  They were not connected to a switchboard and we cannot talk of a 'network' in any meaningful sense just yet.  This seems to be the case here.

The clap of thunder that the woman heard "appeared to be conveyed through the wire."  Her ear acted as a lightning conductor!

The woman wasn't talking on the phone, or making a phone call (as we would say today); she was "listening to a message."

After examining his patient, the doctor concludes that "the telephone is almost useless to those who have even a comparatively slight degree of deafness."  You don't say!  Ironic that Bell was working on an invention to help deaf people communicate.

The doctor doesn't want to cause panic and does concede that the new invention is "no doubt destined to become a most useful agent in daily intercourse."

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Digital Telephone Book by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.