This claim is found all over the place. Sometimes the phrase is “Ahoy-hoy!”, sometimes simply “Ahoy!”. In Wikipedia's article about “Ahoy”:

Alexander Graham Bell initially suggested that the standard greeting when answering a telephone should be 'ahoy', but instead 'hello' (suggested by Thomas Edison) was adopted.

This sentence cites two sources, a page on todayifoundout.com and the Wiktionary entry for ahoy. Both of these do not, however, provide further citations regarding Bell and ahoy.

Thomas Edison's connection with hello, which is of course the standard greeting these days, is fairly well established. (Incidentally, the OED entry for hello (behind a paywall) also says “[Edison's] rival, Alexander Graham Bell, preferred ahoy to be used”.) Another part of the claim is that hello ousted ahoy, and that Edison chose hello (partially) because it was different from ahoy—I'm not as interested in this as I am in whether Bell explicitly suggested that “Ahoy!” be the standard greeting.

I've found a book containing a report, said to be quoted from Thomas A. Watson, of the first long-distance telephone conversation in 1876, which states that Bell's first words were “Ahoy, Watson, Ahoy! What's the matter?”. However, Bell merely saying “Ahoy!” does not mean that he publicly endorsed or promoted it as a greeting instead of any other phrase.

1 Answer 1


Thomas A. Watson was an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell during the pioneering days of the telephone.

On 17th October 1913 Watson delivered an address at the Third Annual Convention of the Telephone Pioneers of America at Chicago, about his involvement in the development. There is a record of the address on Project Gutenberg entitled The Birth and Babyhood of the Telephone.

As the question states, Watson reports that on 9th October 1876

Plainly as one could wish came Bell’s “ahoy,” “ahoy!” I ahoyed back, and the first long distance telephone conversation began.

Further on in the address, Watson mentions a newspaper report:

Mr. Fisher returned this morning. He says that Watson, the organist and himself occupied the laboratory, sitting in their shirt sleeves with their collars off. Watson shouted his lungs into the telephone mouthpiece, “Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!” and receiving no response, inquired of Fisher if he pardoned for a little ‘hamburg edging’ on his language. . .

Watson goes on to say

The next morning a poem appeared in the Lawrence paper . . .
Lawrence, Mass., Daily American, Tuesday, May 29, 1877.

This dates the “Hoy!” reponse as 28th May 1877. So it would appear that during this experimental period of almost 8 months it was ahoy being used as the standard greeting.

Watson does not state whether it was a required policy, but this report might be as close as it gets to saying that it was Bell's preferred response.

A footnote to the Project Gutenberg edition confirms

Ahoy!” was the first telephone shout, and was used during the experiments, but “hello!” superseded it when the telephone got into practical use.

  • I deleted my comment to rewrite it: what is available on Project Gutenberg is a 2017 transcription of a booklet dated January 1st 1940. The footnotes appear to be part of that publication - note that they appear on page number 47 of 48. The note about "ahoy" was therefore presumably added by the anonymous editor who prepared this booklet for distribution by AT&T, along with the biography of Watson (including his date of death), the statistics (which go past that death date), and probably also the images.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 14 at 16:37
  • @IMSoP yes, the footnotes appear above "PRINTED IN THE U.S.A. 1-1-40" and above the section "Transcriber’s Notes" which mention what has been altered from the original. The whole is a biography of Watson's involvement, whose own words presumably end with "I thank you." Aug 14 at 16:46

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