Google+ Georgia On My Mind: Hello, Jekyll Island!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hello, Jekyll Island!

What are the three most important words in the history of telephone communication?

No, no, no. Don’t be silly. The answer is not “Watson, come here.”

Sure, those were the first words uttered by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant Mr. Watson, but there are three words that matter even more, especially to Georgians, when it is concerning coast-to-coast communication.

On January 25, 1915 a group of men sat huddled around what we would consider today to be crude form of the telephone in the Jekyll Island Club off the coast of Georgia. In New York City a group of men including Alexander Graham Bell sat around a second phone. A third group sat with Bell’s assistant Thomas A. Watson in San Francisco while President Woodrow Wilson was ready to congratulate AT&T president Theodore Vail from the Oval Office of the White House.

An army of 1,500 AT&T employees stood at the ready from Jekyll Island, to Washington D.C. to New York, and across to San Francisco for any problem that might arise, and it’s a good thing too. Along the 4,500 mile line a pesky tree fell over the lines at some point, but it was soon removed and the line was reconnected.

Theodore Vail had his entire reputation and the success or failure of AT&T riding on his shoulders that day. At a point when it looked like AT&T would be going out of business and phone calls were limited to a 2,000 mile distance he make a huge prediction much like President Kennedy’s prediction regarding the United States reaching the Moon. Theodore Vail declared that coast-to-coast communication would occur and soon.

Of course all of Vail’s friends and colleagues had complete confidence in him. The Jekyll Island Blog quotes publisher B.C. Forbes….”What Woolworth was to the five-and ten, what McCormick was to the harvester, Vail is to the telephone. Bell invented it, but Vail put it on the map.”
Actually, a Newsday article advises that AT&T had completed the construction of the first transcontinental phone line when the last pole was erected in Wendover, Utah on June 27, 1914, and the first trancontinental call could have been made then. However, the company waited until the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco to open before the important call was made.

So, you might be wondering why such a momentous event took place on one of Georgia’s barrier islands. It’s very simple. Since 1886 members of the Jekyll Island Club had owned Jekyll Island using it as a winter hunting and vacation spot. Members included J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, George Macy, Edwin Gould, Marshall Field, William Rockefeller, William Vanderbilt, Frank Goodyear, and of course, Theodore Vail. These business giants and their families enjoyed their island, their very large club, and their cottages (many were 8,000 plus square feet) for many years. W hen they were all present the members of the club represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth at that time. Besides sunning, hunting, and supping the club members talked business. In fact, Jekyll Island is the location where the ideas behind the Federal Reserve Bank were hatched.

Actually though Vail had intended on leaving Jekyll Island in time to be in New York for the all important call, however, he injured his leg and was unable to make the trip.

When the big moment came on January 25, 1915 Alexander Graham Bell placed the call to Watson and said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you,” which of course was a reinactment of the first ever call made on March 10, 1876. A Newsday article regarding the transcontinental phone call advises Mr. Watson joked and stated it would take him “a week” to come here since “here” was in New York and he was in San Francisco.

The words “Hello, Jekyll Island,” also sounded across the phone lines as Mr. Vail was hailed and congratulations flew across both ends of the line, and President Wilson offered his words of pride to Bell and Vail.

The all important Jekyll Island Club survived for a bit longer as the playground of the rich, but during World War II and the increase of income taxes the club members began to come to the island less and less. The property was finally condemed by the State of Georgia for $675,000 in 1946. The island was then turned into a state park for all to enjoy. The club building is still on the island and is open as a resort. The “cottages” are still intact and can be toured. The magic of Jekyll is that the majority of the island is still natural and undeveloped; however, there are some who are attempting to change this.

Make sure you check out my related posts listed below.

Related Posts: Jekyll Island Development: What's Your Opinion?
A Shameful Part of Georgia's History


mel said...

Thanks for keeping up with this issue! Excellent post.
Senator Chapman is going to introduce a resolution basically protecting the beach from development and he really needs our support.
For more info, read today's post on
It's pretty amazing what the JIA is trying to pull.

Andrea said...

Great post, very interesting. I have never been to Jekyll Island. My oldest daughter has for a work seminar.

Andrea said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. Please do get involved with Sky Watch Friday. It is so much fun and will make you look upward more often for that perfect sky picture. Just go to Dot's blog at and she has all the details. Make sure you sign in on Mr. Linky so everyone will know you are a part of Sky Watch Friday.

DarylE said...

Fascinating and a place I will add to my list of places I want to see.. there is far more to Georgia than Atlanta (so far the only city there I have visited)!

Mrs Mecomber said...

Excellent post! I always enjoy reading your posts.

Ah yes, Jekyll Island, where the Federal Reserve Bank idea was hatched and the scheme to sneak it through Congress was formed! This "Federal" bank is about as federal as Federal Express, it has been said, lol.

Lot of history at that place, eh? ;)

EHT said...

Thanks for visiting everyone. Yes, Andrea I'll give more than a thought to the skywatch thing...when I whittle my to-do list down a bit.

Daryle...Jekyll is a wonderful place and there's more there than beach culture.

Mrs. Mecomber, I've toured some of the "cottages" and they are unbelievable.

Mel, I couldn't help posting this when I discovered how close I was to the actual anniversary!

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