Gardiner Greene Hubbard at 1328 Connecticut Avenue

Gardiner Greene Hubbard was one of the most ambitious and driven businessmen and residents that Washington had ever seen. A lawyer by training, he was the patriarch of both the Hubbard and Bell families, the father of the Bell Telephone Company, the founder of the National Geographic Society, as well as a real estate speculator.

Gardiner Graham Hubbard.  Library of Congress.

In 1873, Hubbard moved to Washington from Cambridge, Massachusetts to lobby for the nationalization of the telegraph system and for the legislation that was named for him, the Hubbard bill.  In order to break Western Union’s monopoly on telegraphic communications, Hubbard needed patents on breakthrough communication technologies that he then planned on offering to the government, such as the capability of sending multiple messages simultaneously on a single telegraph wire. 

While Hubbard was busy lobbying in Washington, an unknown Canadian inventor and speech therapist, Alexander Graham Bell, was working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) conducting experiments in acoustics on a device that could translate sound vibrations into visible written marks. At this time, Bell also had two private students, six-year-old George, the son of Hubbard’s business partner, Thomas Sanders, and Hubbard’s fifteen-year old daughter, Mabel, with whom Bell fell in love. Hubbard and Sanders provided financial backing for Bell’s development of the acoustic telegraph, the technology that ultimately led to the invention of the telephone.

Early in 1876, Hubbard filed a patent application for Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone, which was granted three weeks later. Three days after that, Bell uttered the famous words to his assistant, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”

Hubbard abandoned his idea of giving new technologies to the government to defeat Western Union’s stronghold on electronic communications—he now had in his possession a revolutionary new device that would make the telegraph obsolete and him a very wealthy man.  

In 1877, Hubbard, Bell, Thomas Sanders and Bell’s assistant, Thomas Watson, together formed the Bell Telephone Company, taking its name from its inventor. Hubbard became its president and Sanders the treasurer. Because Bell did not have much of a feel for business, he took the position of chief electrician, an advisory role that left his time free for research into the causes of deafness. In the summer of that year, Alexander and Hubbard’s daughter Mabel were married. 

In 1880, Hubbard realized that he needed his chief electrician close by, and his daughter even closer. That year, he bought the Galt house on Dupont Circle for himself and architect John Fraser’s newly-completed home for John Brodhead only a few blocks away at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue for Bell and his family. Bell set up his first Washington laboratory in a rented house on L Street near Thomas Circle and, a year later, moved it to 1221 Connecticut Avenue, just a block to the south of his father-in-law’s house.

William Galt's house as it appeared when it was sold to Gardner Greene Hubbard in 1880.

As the first president of the Bell Telephone Company, Hubbard was also its public face.  Mark Twain once wrote to Hubbard at his Connecticut Avenue home complaining about the telephone service in Hartford, Connecticut, blaming Alexander Bell for his troubles. Twain claimed that it was the worst service on the face of the earth and that they even charged for night service “in their cold calm way, just the same as if they [actually] furnished it.” He continued, “And if you try to curse through the telephone, they shut you off.  It is this ostentatious holiness that gravels me…as you see yourself, the inventor is responsible for all this.” 

Hubbard died at the family summer home Twin Oaks in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood in 1897, and his funeral was held at the Church of the Covenant in Dupont Circle.  Former secretary of state and Dupont Circle neighbor, John Watson Foster, served as an honorary pallbearer for Hubbard’s funeral. The actual pallbearers were the sixteen officers of the board of the National Geographic Society. 
Gardiner Hubbard and his wife, Gertrude, relaxing on the veranda at Twin Oaks.

In 1907, Hubbard’s widow sold the house on Dupont Circle to a Kentucky whiskey distiller, Edson Bradley, and moved to Twin Oaks in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. Twin Oaks would remain the Bell family summer compound until in 1947, when it was sold to the Republic of China. It is now owned by the government of Taiwan and is used for official receptions.
Twin Oaks in Washington’s Cleveland Park

Copyright (c) 2020.  Stephen A. Hansen.  All Rights Reserved.

For a full history of Dupont Circle, see the author's book A History of Dupont Circle: Center of High Society in the Capital.  Charleston: History Press, 2014.


  1. This is wonderful and fascinating, but I believe the Bell family spent their summers at Beinn Bhreagh in Baddeck Nova Scotia.


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