On this date in 1876, the United States Patent Office issued Patent #174,465 to Alexander Graham Bell for “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically ... by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound,” or, as we know it now, the telephone. Three days later Bell finally achieved his initial goal when his famous quote “Mr. Watson, come here -- I want to see you” was transmitted between rooms of his workshop to his waiting assistant.
Over the next century the telephone developed from that primitive “apparatus” into a device that was, for better or for worse, present in most American households. In the last twenty years, advances in telephone technology have spread its use even farther, so that every individual person in that household can now carry one around in one's pocket.
We were nowhere near that point in 1919; the telephone was still a rather new invention, but it was at least known to most people. I suppose it may have seemed slightly miraculous to many, which brings us to this gospel song published in that year by Nazarene pastor Frederick M. Lehman, likening the process of prayer to talking on the telephone.
Central’s never “busy,” always on the line;
You may hear from Heaven almost any time;
’Tis a royal service, free for one and all;
When you get in trouble, give this royal line a call.
Telephone to glory, O what joy divine!
I can feel the current moving on the line,
Built by God the Father for His loved and own,
We may talk to Jesus thru this royal telephone.
There will be no charges, telephone is free,
It was built for service, just for you and me;
There will be no waiting on this royal line,
Telephone to glory always answers just in time.
Fail to get the answer, Satan’s crossed your wire,
By some strong delusion, or some base desire;
Take away obstructions, God is on the throne,
And you’ll get your answer through this royal telephone.
If your line is “grounded,” and connection true
Has been lost with Jesus, tell you what to do;
Prayer and faith and promise, mend the broken wire,
’Till your soul is burning with the Pentecostal fire.
Carnal combinations cannot get control
Of this line to glory, anchored in the soul;
Storm and trial cannot disconnect the line,
Held in constant keeping by the Father’s hand divine.
Frederick Lehman, 1919
Tune: THE ROYAL TELEPHONE (220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168 with refrain)
arr. Claudia Lehman Mays, 1919
This seems somewhat amusing to us today, but the idea of writing a song of praise to God with a technological theme is not altogether unknown. Offhand, I'm thinking of Life in the Loom by Mary Lathbury, and there are probably others. And I guess you could include Earth and all stars, a 1968 (copyrighted) hymn by Herbert Brokering which includes the lines:
Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test-tubes,
Sing to the Lord a new song!
but I don't know of any hymns yet about iPods or laptop computers.
Frederick Lehman published five volumes for congregational singing called Songs That Are Different, which included some other unusual numbers, such as one called John Barleycorn Is Dead, King Nicotine Must Die (we haven't talked much here about temperance hymns and hymnals, but they were big business too). Lehman wrote more conventional hymns and songs as well. including The Love of God, which seems to be enjoying a resurgence in recent years.