And the answer: Ahoy.
Although nautical in origin, "Ahoy" was favored by Alexander Graham Bell as the standard telephone greeting, and he would go on to use it for the rest of his life. "Ahoy" comes from the Dutch word "hoi," meaning "hello." Along with several of the first-published phonebooks, Thomas Edison endorsed "hello" as the proper greeting when answering the phone.
Before we had the telephone, we had Alexander Graham Bell. Born to a hard-of-hearing mother, Bell used his experience to first become a voice teacher with his father, who developed a written system of symbols that instructed the deaf to pronounce sounds called Visible Speech. In 1873, Bell became a professor of vocal physiology at Boston University where he met his future wife, Mabel Hubbard, a student who had completely lost her hearing from a bout of scarlet fever. Living and working with the hearing impaired was formative to Bell’s interest in the principles of acoustics, and to his experiments in transmitting sound waves over wires. Even Bell himself began to suffer from hearing loss later in life. Despite this, however, Bell held fast to the belief that it made his work better, as he faced less distraction. The inventor explained:
“My deafness has not been a handicap, but a help to me.”
Bell ultimately laid the groundwork for the widespread communication we enjoy today. To honor the inventor’s contributions to acoustical science, the standard unit for the intensity of sound waves was named the “bel” in the 1920s. Today, you’ll recognize that phrase as “decibel,” as it is the most commonly used metric for measuring the magnitude of noise.
Did you know?
In addition to inventing the first phone, Alexander Graham Bell also created the first wireless phone prototype! Over a hundred years before the proliferation of cell phones, Bell called his invention the “photophone” (from the Greek words for “light” and “sound”). The invention used beams of light to transmit conversations.