Technology

Can you hear me now? The Birth of Wireless Communication on L Street

Illustration of the Photophone’s Receiver, Originally From: 1881 1880. http://www.bluehaze.com.au/modlight/ModLightBiblio.htm. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Photophony1.jpg.

Of all the great minds to inhabit Washington, D.C. through the years, perhaps one of the most consequential yet often overlooked, was Alexander Graham Bell. Though his famous 1876 telephone experiment took place in Boston, Bell moved to the District shortly thereafter and worked on what he considered to be his greatest inventions in several Northwest labs over the next few decades. Of his many D.C.-based achievements, perhaps the most significant occurred at his small lab on L Street and led to the eventual birth of fiberoptic communication.

Lincoln's Secret Weapon: The Telegraph

Today, Washingtonians rely upon Twitter, smart phones, and 24-hour cable news channels to continually fill our craving for information. But a century and a half ago, during the Civil War, the only source of instantaneous news from far away was the telegraph, and in Washington, there was only one place to get it: The Department of War's headquarters building, which stood at the present site of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House. 

Before the war, amazingly, the government didn't even have its own telegraph operation, instead relying upon the same commercial telegraph offices that civilians used.