Pioneers of Communication - Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 to August 2, 1922)
Alexander Graham Bell was the scientist and inventor best known for inventing the first working telephone in 1876. He also went on to found the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. Born in Scotland Bell gained an understanding of sound through numerous experiments and as well as by furthering his father’s work on Visible Speech for the deaf. Visible Speech was a description of speech based on the sounds and movement of the mouth. Bell worked with Thomas Watson to design, create and patent the design and patent the first practical telephone. Bell also held patents on 18 patents in his name alone and 12 that he shared with collaborators.
Alexander’s father was keen for his son to continue in the family business, however a young Bell was put off by his father's controlling manner. As way of an escape, Alexander offered to care for his grandfather when he fell ill in 1862. It was during this time, encouraged by his father Alexander gained an appreciation for learning and other intellectual pursuits. By the age of 16, Alexander had re-joined his father in his work with the deaf and soon assumed full charge of his father’s London operations.
In July of 1870 the family moved from Edinburgh over to Ontario in Canada. There, Alexander set up a workshop to continue his study of the human voice and became interested in the idea of transmitting the human voice over wires.
Thomas Watson, a skilled electrician, was hired who also quickly became enamoured with Bell’s idea of voice transmission. The two created a great partnership with Bell bringing ideas and Watson having the expertise to bring them to reality.
Throughout 1874 and 1875, Bell and Watson worked on Bell’s idea. Bell gained some investors who saw the value of voice transmission and filed a patent on the idea before the device was even fully developed. On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell perfected what would go on to become his most well-known invention, the telephone, and made his first telephone call.
The Bell Telephone Company was set up 2 years later on July 9, 1877. In January 1915, Bell was invited to make the first transcontinental phone call. From New York, he spoke with his former associate Thomas Watson in San Francisco.
Over the next 18 years, the Bell Company faced over 550 court challenges from others who claimed to have conceived the telephone before him, including several that went to the Supreme Court, however none were successful.
Even during these court battles, the company grew. Between 1877 and 1886, over 150,000 people in the U.S. owned telephones. The device was constantly improved through this time including the addition of a microphone, invented by Thomas Edison, which eliminated the need to shout into the telephone to be heard.
Work with the Deaf
Alexander Graham Bell continued his work with the deaf throughout his life, establishing the American Association to Promote Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1890. He is also credited with working with Helen Keller and introducing her to her to Anne Sullivan who would go onto to become the most important person in Helen’s life.
After the invention and success of the telephone, Bell would go on to devoting a lot of time to exploring flight. In 1907, Bell formed the Aerial Experiment Association with Glenn Curtiss and several other associates. The group developed several flying machines, including the Silver Dart. The Silver Dart was the first powered machine flown in Canada. He later worked on boats, specifically hydrofoils and set a world record for speed for this type of boat.
Alexander Graham Bell died on August 2, 1922, at his home in Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The entire telephone system was shut down for one minute in tribute to his life.