Thomas A Watson: An Apology

About this time of year, this blog gets a peak in search hits for Thomas A Watson of “Mr Watson, come here. I want you” fame.

Somewhere out there, I imagine, is a teacher who sets the same class assignment every year, and whose students flock obediently to Google in search of information and images. I applaud that teacher. Alexander Graham Bell’s collaborator is not as well known as he should be. While Bell had the big ideas, it was Watson’s talents as an electrical engineer that saw them successfully realised. He was one of the original hardware hackers.

So every year I feel a twinge of guilt that I’m somehow letting down my audience, given the flippancy with which I invoked Watson’s name in a post that contains little meaningful information about the man himself.

To make amends, I have tracked down a copy of Ted Clarke’s wonderfully titled biography “Thomas A. Watson: Does That Name Ring A Bell?” which paints a picture of a true Renaissance man.

Here are 10 cool things about Thomas A. Watson. Nine of them are actual true facts from Mr Clarke’s book. The other one is a barefaced lie made up by me to add a little piquancy for the Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V squad. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.

  1. Tom Watson came from beginnings so humble that as a young man he was accustomed to eating only with a knife. The more educated Alexander Graham Bell introduced him to the delights of the three-pronged fork
  2. Before making the first telephone, Bell commissioned Watson to make an experimental “autograph telegraph” which was intended to transmit facsimile pictures and writing by wire
  3. Bell’s summons to Watson is famous as the first understandable sentence ever transmitted by telephone. It is less well-known that Bell had just spilled acid on his clothes when he issued that command
  4. Watson was offered a 10% share in all future profits from Bell’s patents, but took two whole weeks before he agreed to give up his steady $3-a-day job to join the partnership full-time
  5. Early demonstrations of the telephone were given in theatres where Watson would sing “Yankee Doodle” and “Do Not Trust Him, Gentle Lady” over the equipment to rapturous applause
  6. While Bell invented the telephone, Watson invented the bell to signal incoming calls, making him the father of the ringtone. This took some years and was preceded by other devices known as “Watson’s Buzzer” and “Watson’s Thumper,” a kind of metal hammer
  7. Thomas Edison once offered to decide a patent dispute by playing Watson at a game of Four-Ball Billiards. However a judge ruled in Bell and Watson’s favour before the match could take place
  8. Watson invested his telephone fortune in building up one of America’s biggest shipyards, which went on to supply much of the USA’s First World War fleet
  9. Aged 56, he took up acting and travelled Europe performing Shakespeare with a touring theatre company
  10. Watson was a keen amateur geologist and discovered a fossilised Cambrian gastropod, which was named “Watsonella” in his honour.

Sincerely, I think the World needs more Thomas A Watsons.

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mattedgar

Product strategy and design leadership in web and mobile media. Before that I was a newspaper journalist and history student

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