In 1876, Elisha Gray files with the U.S. Patent Office a "Caveat" announcing his intention to file for a patent within three months, for "the art of transmitting vocal sounds or conversations telegraphically through an electric circuit", the working apparatus of which would become known as the "telephone", although the word appears nowhere in Gray's filing.
Controversial Invention of the Telephone
Two hours later, lawyer Marcellus Bailey, representing rival inventor Alexander Graham Bell, arrives to file for a patent on an essentially identical device. The dueling claims will result in an epic lawsuit involving Gray, Bell and Edison - who will provide a key technological innovation which will make the telephone practical for long-distance communication - along with telegraph titan Western Union, which in 1877 will attempt to buy out both Gray and Bell, as well as making a royalty arrangement with Edison.
On Nov. 10, 1879, on the strength of his two hours' priority and the fact that at the time Bell filed he could not provide a working device (which would have been an automatic disqualifier for a patent prior to 1870), Elisha Gray will win his lawsuit. The fledgling Bell Telephone Company will be forced to give up its equipment and subscribers, essentially going out of business. The defeat of Bell will mark an era of communications dominance for Western union and its increasingly important subsidiary Gray Telephonics (later Gray Communications) which will endure until the telecommunications colossus is broken up in the 1980s. By then, Western Union's original business of telegraphy will be a mere appendage of the company, which will be formally disbanded at last in 2005.