CHAPTER II. THE BUILDING OF THE BUSINESS

Month after month, the little Bell Company lived from hand to mouth. No salaries were paid in full. Often, for weeks, they were not paid at all. In Watson's note-book there are such entries during this period as "Lent Bell fifty cents," "Lent Hubbard twenty cents," "Bought one bottle beer - too bad can't have beer every day." More than once Hubbard would have gone hungry had not Devonshire, the only clerk, shared with him the contents of a dinner-pail. Each one of the little group was beset by taunts and temptations. Watson was offered ten thousand dollars for his one-tenth interest, and hesitated three days before refusing it. Railroad companies offered Vail a salary that was higher and sure, if he would superintend their mail business. And as for Sanders, his folly was the talk of Haverhill. One Haverhill capitalist, E. J. M. Hale, stopped him on the street and asked, "Have n't you got a good leather business, Mr. Sanders?" "Yes," replied Sanders. "Well," said Hale, "you had better attend to it and quit playing on wind instruments." Sanders's banker, too, became uneasy on one occasion and requested him to call at the bank. "Mr. Sanders," he said, "I will be obliged if you will take that telephone stock out of the bank, and give me in its place your note for thirty thousand dollars. I am expecting the examiner here in a few days, and I don't want to get caught with that stuff in the bank."

Then, in the very midnight of this depression, poor Bell returned from England, whither he and his bride had gone on their honeymoon, and announced that he had no money; that he had failed to establish a telephone business in England; and that he must have a thousand dollars at once to pay his urgent debts. He was thoroughly discouraged and sick. As he lay in the Massachusetts General Hospital, he wrote a cry for help to the embattled little company that was making its desperate fight to protect his patents. "Thousands of telephones are now in operation in all parts of the country," he said, "yet I have not yet received one cent from my invention. On the contrary, I am largely out of pocket by my researches, as the mere value of the profession that I have sacrificed during my three years' work, amounts to twelve thousand dollars."

Fortunately, there came, in almost the same mail with Bell's letter, another letter from a young Bostonian named Francis Blake, with the good news that he had invented a transmitter as satisfactory as Edison's, and that he would prefer to sell it for stock instead of cash. If ever a man came as an angel of light, that man was Francis Blake. The possession of his transmitter instantly put the Bell Company on an even footing with the Western Union, in the matter of apparatus. It encouraged the few capitalists who had invested money, and it stirred others to come forward. The general business situation had by this time become more settled, and in four months the company had twenty-two thousand telephones in use, and had reorganized into the National Bell Telephone Company, with $850, 000 capital and with Colonel Forbes as its first President. Forbes now picked up the load that had been carried so long by Sanders. As the son of an East India merchant and the son-in-law of Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was a Bostonian of the Brahmin caste. He was a big, four- square man who was both popular and efficient; and his leadership at this crisis was of immense value.

This reorganization put the telephone business into the hands of competent business men at every point. It brought the heroic and experimental period to an end. From this time onwards the telephone had strong friends in the financial world. It was being attacked by the Western Union and by rival inventors who were jealous of Bell's achievement. It was being half-starved by cheap rates and crippled by clumsy apparatus. It was being abused and grumbled at by an impatient public. But the art of making and marketing it had at last been built up into a commercial enterprise. It was now a business, fighting for its life.