Alexander Graham Bell is widely credited as the father of the telephone despite the fact that the rival inventor, Elisha Gray, applied for a similar patent on the same day as Bell. Up to you to judge and discover even more amazing things about the invention of the telephone and its inventor within the following amazing facts.
- Alexander Bell picked out his middle name himself
Born as just “Alexander Bell”, at age 10 he asked his father to have a middle name just like his two brothers Melvin James Bell (1845-1870) and Edward Charles Bell (1848-1867). For his 11th birthday, his father agreed and allowed him to adopt the name “Graham”, name chosen out of admiration for Alexander Graham, a Canadian being treated by his father and who was studying acoustic phonetics at the University.
- Initially, Bell had the desire for a career in music
From his early years, Bell showed a sensitive nature and a talent for art, poetry, and music that was encouraged by his mother. Inspired by the lessons of the pianist Benoit- Auguste Bertini, Bell had the desire for a career in music. But he was really more fascinated by studying phonetics.
Later, Bell wrote in his autobiography:
“I am inclined to think, however, that my early passion for music had a good deal to do in preparing me for the scientific study of sound”.
- Bell wasn’t a brilliant student
Bell left the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland at age 15. He was not a brilliant student and his school record was marked by absenteeism and lacklustre grades. His main interest remained in the sciences, especially biology, while he treated other school subjects with indifference, to the dismay of his father.
- His first invention was a contraption that separated wheat from their husks
At the age of 12 Bell built a homemade device that combined rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes, creating a simple dehusking machine that was put into operation and used steadily for several years.
- It is the deafness of his mother that profoundly influenced Bell’s life’s work
It is the deafness of his mother who had deeply affected Bell, inspiring him to follow in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather, both being prominent figures in the field of elocution and speech with deaf. He also developed a technique of speaking in clear, modulated tones directly into his mother’s forehead wherein she would hear him with reasonable clarity.
- The original intention was not to build a mass communication tool but a tool that would allow a person to speak individually with one deaf person
In 1863 his father took him to London to see a demonstration of devices capable of “speech” rudimentary mechanics. It was the automaton, developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone that inspired Bell: if it was possible to simulate a human voice through a mechanical resonance, the same vibrations can then be transmitted to the inner ear of deaf.
- Bell was aged 19 when he began experimenting with sound transmission by telegraph wire
Back home, Bell started building an artificial larynx to help him with the research on the nature of the resonance and on transmitting sound in general.
- A translation error will set Bell on the path of the telephone invention
Bell wrote a report on his work and sent it to philologist Alexander Ellis and it’s the response of the latter which will set Bell on the path of the telephone invention. Alexander Ellis wrote back indicating that the experiments were similar to existing work in Germany, and also sent Bell a copy of Hermann von Helmholtz’s work, The Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music. Preferring to use the original version of the book (written in German), Bell made a translation error which led him to believe that the transmission of vowels and consonants was already possible. It is this erroneous translation that stimulated Bell to continue his work and to experiment with mobile metal tabs attached to a wire.
Later, Bell said: “If I had been able to read German in those days, I might never have commenced my experiments!”
- The patent conspiracy
While Bell was still in Boston perfecting his invention, on February 14, 1876, Elisha Gray (1835-1901) arrived in Washington and filed a caveat with the U.S. Patent Office for a telephone design that used a water transmitter.
Bell had always known that Elisha Gray was closer to the goal than himself and that’s why he sent his lawyers to monitor the Patent Office in Washington and to be notified in case Elisha Gray would file the patent before him.
- Bell advantage: the receptionist Zenas Fisk Wilber
Zenas Fisk Wilber worked as a receptionist for the Patent Office.
In 1876, Wilber, an alcoholic at that time, was much in debt to Marcellus Bailey, the lawyer of Bell. Bailey then took advantage of this situation and asked Wilber to reject the patent application of Elisha Gray. Seeing this as a chance to clear his debt, Wilber agreed to meet the two conspirators.
- The rigged patent
It was during this meeting that Bell changed its own patent to incorporate elements of Gray’s patent.
Bell then gave $100 to Wilber who returned to the Patent Office to place the document in the stack so that it looked as Bell filed his patent before Gray. Bell’s patent was issued to Bell on March 7, 1876, by the U.S. Patent Office, the same day that Gray’s patent was rejected.
Bell then spent days resuming work and drawing in his notebook a diagram similar to that in Gray’s patent caveat.
- ” Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”
A few days later, Bell was ready to demonstrate “his” invention and thus performed the “first telephone communication” in the history when he called his assistant from the other side of the building with the famous “Mr. Watson, come here. I need to see you “. Watson, listening at the receiving end in an adjoining room, heard the words transmitted by wire clearly.
The exact words Bell spoke are also controversial but the retained version is the one Watson recalled.
- Alexander Bell / Elisha Gray telephone controversy
Ten years later on April 6, 1886, Wilber confessed in an affidavit about his role in the robbery and the cancellation of debts by Bailey.
However, it was too late because at that time, Bell Telephony Company had a significant weight and it was Bell who went down in history as the inventor of the telephone.
- The first transcontinental phone call
In January 1915, Bell made the first ceremonial transcontinental telephone call. Calling from the AT&T head office at 15 Dey Street in New York City, Bell was heard by Thomas Watson at 333 Grant Avenue in San Francisco.
- Bell considered the telephone as such an intrusion on his real work and private life that he refused to have a telephone in his office
The phone is one of the few inventions that really changed the world. Yet towards the end of his life, Bell doubted its usefulness and refused to install one in his laboratory.
- His last view of the land he had inhabited was by moonlight on his mountain estate
Bell died of complications arising from diabetes on August 2, 1922, at his private estate, Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, at age 75. His last view of the land he had inhabited was by moonlight on his mountain estate at 2:00 a.m. While tending to him after his long illness, Mabel, his wife, whispered, “Don’t leave me.” By way of reply, Bell traced the sign for “no” in the air —and then he died. To help celebrate his memory, his wife asked guests not to wear black (the traditional funeral colour) while attending his service, during which soloist Jean MacDonald sang a verse of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem”:
On 4th of August 1922, upon the conclusion of Bell’s funeral, “every phone on the continent of North America was silenced.
- Three countries claim Bell today
Originally from Scotland, Bell had first emigrated to Canada and USA, so that Bell has been proudly claimed as a “native son” by all three countries he resided in: The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The Accidental Scientist: The Role of Chance and Luck in Scientific Discovery, Graeme Donald
30,000 Years of Inventions, Thomas J. Craughwell
The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret, Seth Schulman