Bell, Alexander Graham
Bell, Alexander Graham
Alexander Graham Bell invented one of the most common instruments in use today, the telephone. With his supporters, he founded Bell Telephone, which has become one of the world's most successful corporate conglomerates, American Telephone & Telegraph Co. (AT&T). He was also an outstanding teacher of the deaf and a prolific inventor of other devices.
Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, taught deaf-mutes to speak and wrote text books on correct speech. His mother, Elisa Grace Symonds, was a portrait painter and an accomplished musician. Known as Aleck in his early years, Bell received his primary education at home from his mother. Aleck also had natural musical talent and studied music. He could play by ear and improvise at the piano from childhood and continued to play throughout his life. His fine ear helped him in his later work with the human voice.
At the age of 14, Aleck showed his inventive spirit when he combined a nail brush with a paddle and made a rotary-brushing wheel that removed the husks from wheat for a flour mill. Encouraged by their father, Aleck and his older brother later designed and built a speaking machine with a mouth, throat, nose, maneuverable tongue, and a bellows lung. The boys worked long hours perfecting the machine and learned how the sounds of a voice are produced. The apparatus actually produced human-like sounds.
In 1860, Aleck spent a year with his grandfather in London. He gave Aleck lessons in elocution, Shakespeare, and the treatment of speech effects, and refined the boy's country manners and dress. When Aleck enrolled soon after as a student-teacher at Weston House, a boy's school near Edinburgh, his students had no idea that the London gentleman was only 15 years old. Aleck taught music and speech and, in turn, received instruction in other subjects.
Aleck's father had invented "Visible Speech," symbols for all spoken sounds used in teaching deaf people to speak. When Aleck was 15, he and his two brothers started helping their father demonstrate Visible Speech. While the boys waited outside, audience members suggested difficult sounds which were written in symbols on a blackboard. When the boys returned to the room, they could always reproduce the sounds from the symbols on the board, even Russian words, for example, or the sound of a yawn. Aleck studied at Edinburgh University in 1864 and later at University College, London. When Grandfather Bell died in 1865, Aleck's family moved to London. From 1868-70, Aleck assisted his father at University College teaching the deaf Visible Speech.
After Aleck's two brothers died of tuberculosis, Melville Bell decided to take his remaining family to Canada's healthier climate. In 1870, the Bells settled in Brantford, Ontario. In 1871, Alexander Graham Bell began his professional career as an educator, inventor, and scientist in Boston, Massachusetts.
On July 11, 1877, 30 year-old Alexander Graham Bell married his student, 19 year-old Mabel Hubbard, the deaf daughter of his partner Gardiner Hubbard. For their wedding, Aleck gave Mabel 1,497 shares of Bell Telephone stock and kept only 10 shares for himself. The stock made the Bells wealthy. But because they sold a large portion early on Bell did not become as rich as other entrepreneurs like John Rockefeller. During their 45 year marriage, Bell's wife helped him through difficult periods in his career. She managed the family finances and up to 40 employees to support his experiments and prevented Bell from withdrawing completely from society. Later in his career, Bell limited his social activities in order to do the necessary thinking work for his various inventions. His daily routine included sleeping until 10 or 11, walks with Mabel, meals, dictation, and work in the lab up until three or four in the morning. For more than 25 years, he spent weekends in total seclusion on his houseboat at his summer home on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
In 1882, Bell became a naturalized United States citizen. Always curious about the world, Bell and his wife traveled extensively even in their 70s. Alexander Graham Bell died on August 2, 1922. On the day of his funeral all AT&T telephone lines fell silent for one minute.
While teaching Visible Speech in London, Bell became deeply interested in the study of sound and the mechanics of speech. As Edwin S. Grosvenor and Morgan Wesson wrote in Alexander Graham Bell, "Aleck sketched how the mouth produces sounds and used tuning forks to measure tones of different parts of speech. Impressed by the young man's original research, leading phonetician Alexander Ellis referred him to the work Hermann von Helmholtz had done with electrical tuning forks. Mistakenly thinking that the German scientist had transmitted vowel sounds electronically, Aleck then began to study electricity." He came to believe that it would be possible "to talk by telegraph some day."
Bell joined the Boston School for the Deaf—the first such school in the world in 1871. Shortly afterwards, he became a professor of vocal physiology and speech at Boston University and also tutored private pupils. Boston, an important center for commerce and culture, proved a fertile location for Bell's creative talents.
In 1873, Bell began experimenting with different technologies to investigate the transmission of sound over wires. In particular, he worked on the harmonic telegraph—a device that could send several messages simultaneously over a single wire. To transmit the human voice, Bell also experimented with vibrating membranes and an actual human ear. Financial backing for his work came from Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, the father of one of his deaf pupils.
Early in 1874, Bell met Thomas A. Watson, a young machinist and technician, at a Boston electrical shop. Watson brought the necessary electrical engineering expertise to Bell's experiments and became the inventor's indispensable assistant. The two men spent endless hours experimenting. In the summer of 1874, Bell formed the basic concept of the telephone. He used a varying but unbroken electric current to transmit the varying sound waves of human speech. But no one believed the telephone would be anything more than a toy, and Hubbard insisted that the inventor focus his efforts on the harmonic telegraph. Bell complied, but when he patented one of his telegraph designs in February 1875, he discovered Elisha Gray, a professional inventor, had patented a multiple telegraph just two days earlier.
Greatly discouraged, Bell consulted Joseph Henry, a physicist who invented the first electromagnetic telegraph. He urged Bell to pursue his idea of speech transmission. Consequently, Bell and Watson continued to work on the harmonic telegraph but with the telephone still in mind. Accidentally, in June 1875, an intermittent transmitter produced a steady current and transmitted sound. Bell had proof that his 1874 idea worked, and he quickly sketched a design for an electric telephone that Watson then built. The partners experimented all summer, but failed to transmit voice sounds. That fall, Bell began to write the patent specification. Hubbard finally filed for the patent on February 14, 1876—just hours before Gray appeared at the same patent office to file an intent to patent his own telephone design.
Bell's patent, U.S. Patent No. 174,465, was granted on March 7, 1876, four days after his 29th birthday. On March 10, the first message transmitted by telephone passed from Bell to Watson in their workshop: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!" Three months later, Bell's invention became a star attraction at the International Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the largest fair in American history. Despite this progress, Bell was still broke, desperate for money to apply for patents overseas and even begging lunch money from Watson.
After a year of refining his telephone, Bell and his financial backers, Hubbard and Sanders, founded the Bell Telephone Company on July 9, 1877. Later that year, the first telephone was installed in a private home. While on his honeymoon in summer 1877, Bell introduced the telephone to England and France and one year later, the first subsidiary, the New England Telephone Company, was organized. One decision important to the success of the Bell Telephone Company was to lease telephones instead of selling them. Leased telephones could be easily replaced as improved models were developed. This concept helped spread telephone technology and standardize equipment, an important factor for high quality service and the eventual financial success of Bell Telephone.
Chronology: Alexander Graham Bell
1869: Began teaching deaf students in London.
1874: Elected president of National Association of Teachers of the Deaf.
1876: Received U.S. Patent for his telephone.
1881: Financed Science magazine.
1884: Opened school for hearing and hearing-impaired children.
1897: Elected president of National Geographic Society.
1907: Organized Arial Experiment Association.
1911: Designed 100 science experiments for children.
1914: Coined the term "greenhouse effect."
1919: Developed world's fastest ship with Casey Baldwin.
Although the phone company grew rapidly, Bell left its day-to-day operations to others. He remained active in the company, however, as the principal defender of his telephone patents. Bell Telephone encountered early competition from the Western Union Telegraph Company. Bell had offered to sell his invention to Western Union for $100,000, but the company had refused. Later however, Western Union employed two prominent inventors, Thomas A. Edison and Elisha Gray, to work against Bell. Western Union's actions nearly ruined Bell Telephone financially before a patent infringement suit was filed. The courts upheld Bell's patent and in 1879 Western Union had to agree to stay out of the telephone business. Altogether, the Bell Telephone Company was involved in 587 lawsuits, five of which went to the Supreme Court; Bell won every case. A convincing argument was that no competitor claimed originality until 17 months after Bell's patent.
After returning to the United States from England in 1879, Bell continued his work as an inventor. In 1880, he won the French government's Volta Prize for his telephone. With the $10,000, he established the Volta Laboratory for research, invention, and work for the deaf. Among the new devices Bell invented were the graphophone for recording sound on wax cylinders or disks; the photophone for transmitting speech on a beam of light; the audiometer for measuring hearing ability; the telephone probe used in surgery before X-rays; and the induction balance for detecting metal within the human body. Bell also remained interested in education of the deaf. With the profits from the Columbia Gramophone Company's commercialization of his phonograph records, Bell established the Volta Bureau in Washington to study deafness. In 1890, he founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, renamed the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.
In the 1880s Bell became involved with organizations and publications that introduced the results of scientific research to a broader public. In 1882 he and Hubbard acquired Science magazine. Despite significant losses in its first years, they were convinced it would be successful. In 1888, 33 prominent scientists, explorers, and authors responded to the partners' invitation to start a group to be called the National Geographical Society. After Hubbard's death, Bell took over its presidency in 1899 and helped establish the society and its magazine, National Geographic.
After 1895, Bell's primary interest was the possibility of flight. He built gliders capable of carrying human beings, supported pioneering aviation experiments, and helped organize the Aerial Experiment Association in 1907.
In his 70s, Bell continued reading, studying, and working long hours on various projects. He designed a hydrofoil boat that moved across the water on a cushion of air, and worked on air conditioning, a sheep breeding project, an early iron lung, solar distillation of water, and sonar detection of icebergs. Many of his experiments involved energy conservation. He created devices that used the waste heat in chimneys and lamps as well as rooftop devices to collect heat from the sun.
Social and Economic Impact
Bell's invention of the telephone changed the world significantly. His patent for the "electric speaking telephone" was the most valuable single patent ever issued. It opened a new age in communication between people and businesses, as well as in communication technology. The Bell Company built the first long-distance line in 1884, connecting Boston and New York. Today, millions of phone calls are made daily, connecting the most remote places all over the world. Bell's vision of transmitting voice messages from one place to another made advanced communication devices—wireless and cellular phones, pagers, and personal communication systemspoasible.
Bell also contributed to the development of other key technologies. Decades before the radio, Bell's "photophone" used light waves to transmit sound, the basic principle of today's fiber optics technologies. So advanced was the photophone, that improvement was impossible until the invention of the laser in 1957 (this helped overcome transmission interference over longer distances). Bell's support of scientists interested in aviation led to the development of the hydrofoil boat, which set the world water speed record in 1918, and a biplane, which recorded the first flight in Canadian history.
The organizations and publications Bell helped to establish are powerful forces today. By the 1980s AT&T, which emerged from Bell Telephone, controlled virtually all telephone traffic in the USA. Although Congress has since passed laws deregulating long-distance service and ending AT&T's monopoly, the company still employed 128,000 people in 1998. Science magazine is still the official organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a group with over 143,000 members in 1998. The National Geographic Society, known for its award-winning nature broadcasts and high quality monthly magazine, has millions of members throughout the world. According to Grosvenor & Wesson, "One of Bell's lesser known invention-the nonprofit society promoting membership nationally through a popular magazine-would serve as a model for publications such as Smithsonian, National History, Audubon, and National Wildlife."
Inspired by his two daughters and nine grandchildren, Bell remained interested in education throughout his life. He founded a kindergarden for deaf and hearing children. Later, Bell supported the ideas of educator Maria Montessori, which stressed schoolchildren's interests rather than forcing them to memorize, and designed experiments that taught basic science principles. The Bells founded the Montessori Educational Association, funded its magazine, Freedom for the Child, and opened Canada's first Montessori school.
Far ahead of his time on many things, Bell even fore-saw the environmental problems the world is grappling with today. By 1917, he worried about what would happen when coal and oil resources were used up and encouraged engineering students to develop new sources of energy. He also wondered about the effects of burning fossil fuels on the atmosphere. Bells answer is quoted by Grosvenor and Wesson: "While we would lose some of the sun's heat, we would gain some of the earth's heat which is normally radiated into space," Bell wrote. "We would have a sort of a greenhouse effect . . . . The net result is that the greenhouse becomes a hot-house."
Sources of Information
American Association for the Advancement of Science. "General Information." Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1998. Available from http://www.aaas.org/aaas/geninfo.html.
AT&T web site. "AT&T: A.G. Bell Net Grahams." New York: AT&T, 1998. Available from http://www.att.com/agbell/netgrahams.html.
Brogan, Tom. "Alexander Graham Bell." Canadian Geographic, March-April 1997.
Byers, Paula K., and Suzanne M. Bourgoin, eds. Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998
Delaney, Arthur A. "Alexander Graham Bell: Canadian-American Hero," Stamps, 20 January, 1996.
Flatow, Ira. They All Laughed . . . . New York: HaperCollins Publishers, 1992.
Grosvenor, Edwin S., and Morgan Wesson. Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.
"Happy Birthday, Alexander Graham Bell." Newsbytes, 4 March 1997.
"Birth of the Society." National Geographic Washington, DC: National Geographic, 1998. Available from http://www.nationalgeographic.com/society/ngo/birth/.
World of Invention. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.
Bell, Alexander Graham
Born March 3, 1847 (Edinburgh, Scotland)
Died August 2, 1922 (Nova Scotia, Canada)
Alexander Graham Bell's most famous invention, the telephone, was the result of his primary career focus: teaching the deaf to speak. Bell had been successful in his work with the hearing-impaired and had instructed a generation of teachers in his methods. He sought to reproduce human speech by creating a machine with a wire that could be vibrated by the voice. Backed by a team of eager financial supporters, Bell and his assistant, Thomas Watson (1854–1934), perfected their speech-transmission device in March 1876. Their invention revolutionized communication and created an entirely new industry.
"Business is hateful to me at all times."
Bell family background
Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was the middle child of three sons. He shared the same given name as his well-known grandfather, who was a professor of elocution (the art of public speaking in which gesture, vocal production, and delivery were emphasized) in London, England, and the author of several books on speech impediments and pronunciation. Bell's father, Alexander Melville Bell, carried out similar research on human speech and elocution and devised a system he called visible speech. This was a set of symbols that indicated the proper position of the lips, throat, and tongue for each of the sounds produced by the human voice. It was the first universal phonetic alphabet, and was originally created by Bell's father as a learning tool for foreign languages. He realized that it could also be used to teach the sounds of speech to the deaf, an important discovery in his own household, for his wife and Bell's mother, Eliza Grace Symonds, began to lose her hearing in the late 1850s.
Bell was taught at home by his mother when he was very young, but at the age of ten he entered McLauren's Academy in Edinburgh. He finished at the city's Royal High School at the age of thirteen. He spent several months with his grandfather in London and then took a student teaching position at the Weston House Academy in Elgin, Scotland. He was already conducting experiments in speech with his brother, once building a skull that spoke the word "ma-ma" when air was blown through it. He became particularly fascinated by the work of a German scientist, Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894), which involved reproducing vowel sounds with the help of tuning forks that had been wired with a basic electrical current.
When Alexander Bell, the grandfather, died in 1865, Bell's father relocated to London in order to continue his work. The twenty-year-old Bell joined him there in 1867, the same year his younger brother, Edward, died of tuberculosis, an infectious disease of the lungs. In 1868 Bell enrolled at University College in London, where he studied anatomy and physiology. He also carried on his father's research work on visible speech while his father visited the United States on an extended lecture tour in 1868. Melville Bell's book, Visible Speech: The Science of Universal Alphabets had failed to attract much attention in European scientific circles, and when Melly, the eldest of the three Bell sons, also died of tuberculosis, the family decided to move to Canada for its better climate. They settled in Brantford, Ontario, in August 1870.
Bell in Boston
Bell continued to experiment with various means of reproducing sound and began working on his version of a harmonic telegraph, which could tell the difference between various musical notes. It had a potentially profitable use in the field of telegraphy, the first electronic form of communication. A working transmitter that used this principle would allow the transmission of several messages across a single telegraph wire, thereby reducing costs significantly.
Bell's main focus during these years, however, was teaching the deaf, which grew out of his work with visible speech. He devised a method to notate his father's work and was invited to come to Boston, Massachusetts, to train teachers of the deaf there. By late 1872 he had founded his own school in the city, and the following year he became a professor of vocal physiology and the mechanics of speech at Boston University's School of Oratory. He became well known for his methods and was a leading advocate in his time for teaching the deaf to communicate orally. Sign language was another means of communication for the hearing-impaired, but Bell recognized that there were varying degrees of deafness. Some students, he discovered, could be taught the phonetic sounds of the alphabet, and how to use them to communicate orally.
Bell took private pupils occasionally, and in 1873 he moved in with a wealthy family in Haverhill, Massachusetts, to teach their son, who had been deaf since birth. The boy's progress under Bell's education so impressed the father, Thomas Sanders, that the prosperous leather merchant offered to finance Bell's scientific experiments in the harmonic telegraph and the phonautograph, another invention he was working on at the time. The phonautograph, based on an earlier version created by a French inventor, Leon Scott (1817–1879), would help deaf students correct their tone. Both of these research projects led Bell to the creation of the telephone.
Teamed with Watson
By 1874 Bell learned that Elisha Gray (1835–1901), an employee of the Chicago-based Western Electric Company, which supplied the relays and other equipment to the telegraph industry, was also working on a project similar to the harmonic telegraph for the transmission of sounds through electrical current. Thomas Sanders and another backer, a well-connected Bostonian named Gardiner G. Hubbard who was also president of a school for the deaf, urged Bell to file the paperwork for a patent. A patent is a legal document giving an inventor the exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention for a certain term of years. In early 1875 Bell began working out of an electrical shop on Court Street in Boston, and teamed there with a young assistant to perfect his harmonic telegraph. Thomas Watson was a skilled machinist from Salem, Massachusetts, who had a particular expertise in electrical engineering, which Bell lacked.
The first of Bell's two important patents, No. 161,739, for an "Improvement in Transmitters and Receivers for Electrical Telegraphs," was filed on April 6, 1875. Two months later Bell realized when tuning the reeds of his harmonic telegraph model that a steel spring could reproduce both the tone and the overtones (higher notes) that gave the sound the necessary complexity similar to human speech, and therefore made it understandable to the listener. He instructed Watson to develop a new device, and the next day they tested it. Watson could hear Bell's voice but could not understand all of the words. They kept making improvements, and finally, on March 10, 1876, Watson brought over a new transmitter to the Boston rooming house where Bell was then living and working. They went into separate rooms, and Bell said the famous words, "Mr. Watson, come here; I want you," the first words ever spoken by telephone.
No. 178,399, the second significant patent of Bell's career, was filed on June 6, 1876, for a Telephonic Telegraph Receiver. A few weeks later, Bell demonstrated it before a well-respected panel at the International Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He then spent the next several months working with Watson on perfecting a transmitter. On April 3, 1877, they conducted the first telephone conversation, which occurred over telegraph wires between Boston and New York. By the end of May of that same year, they had installed a working telephone line in Boston that ran between the offices of two bankers, as well as another that ran from the banker's office to his home in nearby Somerville. In July 1877, Bell and Watson, along with Thomas Sanders and Gardiner Hubbard, became partners in the newly formed Bell Telephone Company.
Milestones in Telephone History
- First local telephone exchange in the United States established in New Haven, Connecticut.
- First long distance line installed between New York and Philadelphia.
- New York to Chicago long-distance service begins; rate is $9 for the first five minutes.
- First transcontinental telephone runs between New York and San Francisco, California; rate is $20.70 for the first three minutes.
- AT&T introduces the first dial telephones in Norfolk, Virginia.
- Transatlantic service begins from New York to London; rate is $75 for the first three minutes.
- Transpacific telephone service begins between the United States and Japan.
- AT&T introduces early mobile telephone service using antennas.
- Direct-dialing for long-distance telephone calls begins in New Jersey.
- First commercial modem introduced by AT&T.
- Touch-tone telephones introduced in Pennsylvania.
- Direct-dialing for international long-distance calls begins.
- Chicago area is site of first commercial cellular telephone system.
Two days after the company was formed Bell married Mabel G. Hubbard, the deaf daughter of his financial backer. In August the couple sailed for Europe, where they spent their honeymoon month demonstrating the telephone to excited audiences across England and France.
Achieved world fame with his invention
The success of Bell's invention, and of the company named after him, was not without some accompanying drama. The Western Union Telegraph Company filed a patent-infringement lawsuit, based on a caveat (a legal warning to stop proceedings) Elisha Gray had filed with the U.S. Patent Office in February 1876, and that and other legal battles went on for a number of years. In total there were nearly six hundred lawsuits filed against Bell and the company, but the U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor. In another settlement, Western Union agreed to not venture into telephone service, and in return Bell's company agreed to stay out of the telegraph business.
Bell's telephone business remained his secondary career. He considered himself primarily an inventor and remained actively involved in teaching deaf students. In 1880, when he received the Volta Prize for scientific achievement from the French government, he established the Volta Laboratory with the prize money to further his research efforts in both fields. He constructed a photophone, which could transmit speech through a ray of light, and the first working metal detector, which was tested on President James A. Garfield (1831–1881; served March-September 1881). He improved on the early phonograph invented by Thomas Edison (1847–1931; see entry) by creating a wax cylinder that vastly improved the quality of the recorded sound, and sold his 1886 patents for this.
With the money he earned from those patents, Bell established the Laboratory Volta Bureau for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge Relating to the Deaf, which was associated with the American Association for the Promotion of the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. He served as president of the organization and wrote books about the hearing-impaired, including his 1884 work The Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race. Although he was married to a deaf woman, Bell advocated enforced sterilization (a medical process by which a person was rendered unable to produce children) for deaf women and the criminalization of marriage between two deaf people. Such attitudes were not unusual in his era, and Bell believed such measures would help eliminate congenital (existing from birth) deafness in following generations.
Other inventions and achievements
Bell's list of other scientific projects was impressive. He invented a tetrahedral kite, which demonstrated to aviation skeptics that an object with a large surface area could still be light enough to achieve flight; an early air conditioning system; a device that used sonar waves to locate icebergs under water; and one of the first working iron lungs, a machine used for artificial respiration. He was fascinated by flight and founded the Aerial Experiment Association in 1907. From 1914 to 1918 he worked on a motorboat that reached a speed of seventy-one miles per hour. He also cofounded the magazine Science, which later became the periodical of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and served as president of the National Geographic Society from 1896 to 1904. He was a member of the governing board of the Smithsonian Institution after 1898 and earned numerous honors during his lifetime.
The Bell Telephone Company went through numerous changes, even in its early years, but was a success from its formation and continued to be an innovator in its field. By 1878 Bell had sold his part of the business, and seven years later it became the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). In 1913, with government approval, AT&T became a monopoly (a company holding the exclusive right to produce or sell a particular good or service). Telephone service became a necessary element in commerce and in daily life after 1945, and by 1960 only 21 percent of U.S. households were without a telephone. That rate fell sharply to 2.4 percent by 2000, according to U.S. Census data. AT&T retained its monopoly until 1984, when it agreed to break up its local regional operating companies into the so-called Baby Bells, among them Nynex in New England and SBC, which was formerly known as Southwestern Bell of Texas.
Bell became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1882. He spent his summers on an estate in Nova Scotia, called Beinn Bhreagh, and died there on August 2, 1922. During his burial at nearby Bras d'Or Lakes, all telephones in North America went silent in honor of his achievement.
For More Information
Brooks, John. Telephone: The First Hundred Years. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1973.
Milestones in AT&T History. http://www.att.com/history/inventing.html (accessed on July 7, 2005).
Bell, Alexander Graham
Because of family tradition and upbringing, Alexander Graham Bell was, perhaps, destined to create one of the world's most commonly used inventions today: the telephone. He came from two generations of men who were students of speech and language and a hard-of-hearing mother who was a musician. These influences led him to dedicate his life to science and sound as well as to the education of the deaf.
"It is possible to connect every man's house, office or factory with a central station, so as to give him direct communication with his neighbors."
Teacher of the Deaf
Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the middle of three sons born to Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds. Alexander Melville's father, Alexander Bell, had been an actor and later became a speech teacher. Alexander Melville followed in his footsteps and worked for many years as a teacher of elocution, which is the art of speaking correctly and effectively. He also studied the way a person uses his larynx, mouth, tongue, and lips to form sounds. After years of teaching and study, Bell invented Visible Speech, a set of symbols based on the position and action of the throat, tongue, and lips while making sounds. This technique would later be used in the education of the deaf.
Eliza Grace, the daughter of a surgeon in the Royal Navy, was an accomplished pianist despite the fact that she was hearing impaired. She was able to hear some sounds with the use of a speaking tube. She was Alexander Graham's first and most important teacher.
In 1865, the Bell family moved to London where Alexander Melville continued the work begun by his father who had recently died. In London, Alexander Graham became his father's assistant and studied anatomy and physiology at University College. He also began experimenting with the transmission of sounds using his family's piano and tuning forks. But his discoveries would soon be placed on hold. By 1870, both of his brothers had died of tuberculosis, and his father persuaded his family to move to Brantford, Ontario, Canada, where he considered the climate to be better for their health.
Alexander Melville had become well known for his work with Visible Speech, and when he was invited to introduce this technique to Sarah Fuller's School for the Deaf in Boston, he instead sent his partner and son, Alexander Graham. From then on, Alexander Graham Bell dedicated his life to teaching the deaf and developing new instruments for their use. He visited various schools for the deaf in the Boston area, and in 1873, he became professor of vocal physiology and the mechanics of speech. He presented lectures at Boston University and the University of Oxford.
When he was a teenager, Alexander Graham Bell and his older brother made a "speaking machine" that mechanically produced vocal sounds. A local butcher had given them a larynx from a lamb, and the boys made a model of the lamb's vocal organs. They attached levers that moved the organs. When they blew into a tube, it moved the levers which, in turn, made the organs produce sounds like human cries.
Bell also began to take private deaf students. From 1873 until 1876, Bell had the sole responsibility of educating the five-year-old, deaf son of Thomas Sanders in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Sanders would later become treasurer of the Bell Telephone Company. At the same time, Bell met another influential man, Gardiner G. Hubbard, who also had a deaf child and was dedicated to her education. Hubbard later became trustee of the Bell Telephone Company. On July 11, 1877, Bell, a slender, dark-haired young man, married Hubbard's eighteen-year-old daughter, Mabel, who had been deaf since early childhood.
A Man of Inventions
Thomas Sanders and Gardiner Hubbard were so impressed with Bell, they encouraged him to pursue his ideas and continue with his experiments. And they gave him the money to do it. At that time, Bell worked mostly on three kinds of equipment: a phonoautograph, a device that would help a deaf person see a sound; a multiple telegraph, a device that could transmit two or more messages over wire at the same time; and an electric speaking telegraph, or telephone.
All of the experiences he had prior to 1876, led Bell to one of the greatest inventions in history. He had a special ear for pitch and tones, thanks to music lessons with his mother; he had a mind for science like his father and grandfather; and he had knowledge gained from his experiments with the telegraph and other sound-producing devices. Bell developed a basic concept for the phone and worked diligently for over a year to get it to work. Finally, he discovered that he could reproduce the tone and overtones of the human voice through a wire.
Bell gave the plans to build the first telephone to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson (1854-1934), and on March 10, 1876, they used the phone to communicate for the first time. Two months later, Bell introduced the telephone to the scientific world at the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston. By July 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was formed and the first telephone was installed in a private home.
Bell continued experimenting with communication equipment and developed many noteworthy devices including the photophone, a device that transmits sound on a beam of light. The photophone was the predecessor of today's optical fiber systems. He also worked on an audiometer, an instrument used to measure how well a person hears, and the first successful phonograph record.
Beginning in 1895, Bell's scientific interests moved into the area of aviation. He worked with a friend, Samuel P. Langley, on things like gunpowder rockets and the rotating blades of helicopters. Bell eventually received five patents for aerial vehicles and four for a system called hydrodynamics, which propels a vehicle by skimming the surface of water.
After the Phone
Bell, his wife, and two daughters moved from Boston to Washington, D.C., in 1882, where he became a United States citizen. By this time, he had become a stout man with a full, gray beard, reminiscent of Santa Claus. And, just like Santa, his benevolent acts continued throughout his lifetime.
Patricia F. Russo: Lucent's New Leader
Taking over a failing company is not a job many want. After losing $16 million and 90 percent of its stock value, one of Lucent's goals for 2002 was to find a leader who would help them at least break even. The company found just the person to fill the job: Patricia F. Russo
Russo was born in New Jersey, one of seven children. "In a big family, everyone pitches in," she said in a 2002 Wall Street journal interview. She attended college at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard University, and received an Honorary Doctorate in Entrepreneurial Studies from Columbia College in South Carolina.
Russo began her business career in sales and marketing at IBM, one of the leading technology companies in the world. Although she majored in political science and history, not computer science, she was able to successfully sell mainframes and other computer equipment. At the time, she was one of only a few women who held this type of job. In 1981, she joined AT&T as a manager, and from 1992 through 1996, she was president of AT&T's Business Communications Systems division.
In 1996, Russo was one of the founding executives who helped launch Lucent Technologies. She remained at Lucent for the next five years. From 2001 to 2002, Russo was president and chief operating officer (COO) of Eastman Kodak Company (see entry). She returned to Lucent in January 2002, as president and CEO.
After it was announced that Russo would fill the job as leader of Lucent, she said that she would focus on employee morale and building customer relationships. In a 2002 Wall Street journal article, the authors said, "The fact that Ms. Russo has played golf since she was a teenager probably doesn't hurt her sales pitch. Nor does the fact that she knows her customers extremely well." Russo was named one of the "50 Most Powerful Women in American Business" by Fortune magazine in 1998, 1999, and 2001.
He was partly responsible for ensuring the advancement of science and Bell continued research to benefit the deaf. He helped develop the journal Science in 1880, became president of the American Association for the Promotion of the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1890, joined the board of the Smithsonian Institution in 1898, served as president of the National Geographic Society from 1898 to 1903, succeeding his father-in-law, Gardiner Hubbard, who was founder of the society, and organized the Aerial Experiment Association in 1907.
During most of his later years, Bell and his family spent increasingly more time at a Baddeck, Nova Scotia, summer home they had purchased in 1886. Eventually they lived there year-round. Bell continued his work, often working and studying past midnight, enjoying the solitude of the quiet hours when everyone else was asleep. He died there at the age of seventy-five.
Alexander Graham Bell will always be remembered as the inventor of the telephone. But his life and works reached far beyond that. For his two daughters, nine grandchildren, and the countless numbers of deaf and hearing children who crossed his path, perhaps he was also remembered as a kind soul and a good teacher.
For More Information
Grosvenor, Edwin S., and Morgan Wesson. Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone. New York: Harry Abrams, Inc., 1997.
Berman, Dennis K., and Joann S. Lublin. "Russo's Goal as Lucent's New Chief: Restore Luster." The Wall Street Journal (January 8, 2002): pBl.
Bruce, Robert V., and Ira Block. "Alexander Graham Bell." National Geographic (September 1988): p. 358.
Chang, Kenneth. "The Precursor to Tiniest Chip is Developed." New York Times (October 18, 2001): p. A22.
Peraino, Kevin. "An Earlier ATT Spinoff Sputters: Once a High Flier, Lucent Hits a Downdraft." Newsweek (November 6, 2000): p 53.
"Telecom: $3-billion Stock Offering, Part of Plan to Split AT&T, Gives Equipment Firm a Value of About $15 million." Los Angeles Times (April 4, 1996): p. D-1.
"Telephones in the United States." Popular Mechanics (March 2002): pS6.
"The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers in the Library of Congress 1862-1939" [On-line] http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/bellhtml/bellhome.html (accessed on August 15, 2002).
AT&T. [On-line] http://www.att.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).
Lucent Technologies. [On-line] http://www.lucent.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).
Bell, Alexander Graham
Born March 3, 1847
Died August 2, 1922
Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada
Inventor of the telephone
"All really big discoveries are the results of thought."
I t is possible that Alexander Graham Bell is the world's bestknown inventor. He is well known for inventing the telephone. This device would completely change how people communicated: Soon it became possible to talk instantly with anyone in the world with access to a telephone. Bell also worked in many other fields, including aviation, the design and manufacture of aircraft. He invented the hydrofoil, a craft that skims above the surface of the water.
Born into a family of speech experts
Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1847 to a family of experts in human speech. His grandfather, Alexander Bell, taught elocution, the art of speaking clearly, and his father, Alexander Melville Bell (1819–1905), was also an expert in elocution and the physiology of speech. (Physiology is a branch of biology that studies the functions of living matter, such as body organs. The physiology of speech involves the study of the mouth, tongue, throat, and voicebox, for example.) It was thus not a surprise that the young Bell entered into the same field as his elders. Bell's mother was Elisa Grace Symonds Bell, a painter who was mostly deaf.
Bell's first job after graduating from the University of Edinburgh and University College in London was to assist his father on a project he called "visual speech"—teaching deaf people to speak by imitating the movements of the lips of the teacher. (Children learn how to speak by imitating sounds they hear; the deaf cannot do this.)
In 1870, the Bell family moved to Canada, and shortly afterwards Bell got a job teaching in Boston, Massachusetts, at a school for the deaf, the first public school established especially for deaf children. He also took in private students and later became a professor of speech at Boston University, in 1873. Bell was a leader in the field of teaching the deaf. He organized conventions for other teachers of the deaf and founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf.
Over the next three years, Bell conducted experiments with a variety of devices in connection with his work with the deaf. He received financial support from, among others, Gardner Hubbard (1822–1897), whose daughter was one of Bell's students and also his future wife. Hubbard was interested in Bell's idea for sending more than one telegraph message over the same wires at the same time. At the time, the Western Union company had a monopoly on, or complete control over, sending telegrams, the written messages created by alternating short and long tones ("dots" and "dashes") over wires. At the time, the telegraph was the fastest way of communicating over long distances. Bell persuaded Hubbard and other investors that it might be possible to send several messages at the same time by generating different tones (comparable to musical notes), one for each message.
His work on what was called a "harmonic telegraph" gave Bell the further idea that a whole range of messages could be sent over wires and made to simulate the human voice. Bell called this version of his work an "electronic speaking telegraph," which eventually became known as the telephone. The underlying idea was that electrical impulses sent over wires could make an object at the other end move or make a sound, much as the telegraph invented by Samuel F. B. Morse (1791–1872).
Bell's work with the telegraph led directly to the telephone. He started by developing a way to send more than one message at a time over a single telegraph wire by using different harmonics, or tones (like notes on a musical scale). From this work, Bell got the idea of sending the sounds of a voice by developing what he called a "harmonic telegraph." In other words, if it were possible to send different musical notes over a telegraph wire, why not send the whole range of sounds that create a human voice?
To help in his work, Bell hired an assistant, Thomas A. Watson (1854–1934), whose job was to make the actual equipment suggested by Bell. The telephone was not the result of years and years of experimentation. Bell and Watson first managed to transmit a single musical note on June 2, 1875. Only eight months later, a lawyer for Bell filed a patent application in Washington, on February 14, 1876. (A patent is granted by the government to the first person to come up with a new invention; for a specific period of time, a patent gives the inventor the right to insist on payment from anyone else who uses the patented device or process.) On the same day that Bell applied for his patent, another inventor, Elisha Gray (1835–1901), filed a document indicating that he intended to apply for a similar patent. But Bell was there first. On March 7, 1876, the patent office granted Bell a patent for an "electric speaking telephone," thought to be the most valuable single patent ever granted. Bell had turned twenty-nine years old just four days earlier.
The story of Bell's first demonstration of the telephone is famous. Experimenting with the device, Bell spilled acid on himself and, perhaps unthinking, said into the instrument: "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you." The message was recorded as the first message transmitted by telephone, on March 10, 1876. A little over a year later, in April 1877, Bell succeeded in conducting a conversation between Boston and New York City. In July 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was established to promote use of the invention on a wide scale.
Bell's patent for the telephone was challenged by many other inventors who claimed to have already developed the same technology. Bell's claim to have been the first to invent the telephone was upheld in about six hundred cases, victories that enabled Bell to claim the exclusive, or sole, right to use his technology in building a communications network.
Bell was able to pursue both his invention and its business success. In 1884, a company formed by Bell built a telephone line linking Boston and New York. The next year, Bell and his colleagues organized the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), which was destined to dominate the U.S. telephone business for a century.
The Impact of Bell's Invention
The telephone became one of the most significant and widespread inventions of the modern era. In the period since Bell obtained a patent on the instrument, telephones have spread everywhere and made a major impact on the way people relate to one another and do business.
Within three years of its invention, there were about five thousand telephones in use, all on private lines.
Although the telephone became a dominant means of communication, success was not immediate. Bell demonstrated his invention throughout the United States and in Europe. In Europe, messengers were used to send notes back and forth
for quick communication, and the relative high cost of telephones and the low wages of messengers kept this system in use far longer than in the United States, where the telephone caught on more quickly. Initially, the cost of connecting telephones between two offices was about a year's wages for a messenger. Moreover, investors in the telegraph system were not eager to see a competing system succeed. Nevertheless, the ability to talk to someone over a great distance was so attractive that the telephone soon outpaced telegraphy as the preferred means of instant communication.
Bell won about ten thousand dollars from the government of France as a reward for his invention, and he used the money to start the Volta Laboratory in Washington, D.C. The laboratory worked on numerous inventions in the 1880s, including production of the first successful phonograph record. (The phonograph record is a vinyl cylinder used before the invention of the compact disc to record and play back sounds, especially music.) With profits from that invention, Bell established the Volta Bureau to study deafness, which had been Bell's first interest.
A lifetime of inventions
There is no doubt that Bell's invention of the telephone would have ensured him a place in history even if he had retired immediately after his first conversation. In fact, however, Bell was an inventive genius who was involved in many other fields. Bell was instrumental in founding Science magazine, which became the official publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1880. He contributed many articles to it. He also was president of the National Geographic Society, an organization devoted to exploring the earth, from 1896 to 1904.
Bell and the Deaf
Alexander Graham Bell always had a special relationship with the deaf. His mother, Elisa, was deaf, and even as a child, Bell tried to communicate with her by transmitting the vibrations of his voice through her skin. Most people shouted into a funnel-like device that Mrs. Bell held in her ear.
After moving to Boston, Bell began teaching deaf students, one of whom, Mabel Hubbard, he married in 1877. Another of his students was Helen Keller (1880–1968), who was blind and deaf from age two. Keller achieved worldwide fame with an inspiring victory over her disabilities, graduating from Radcliffe College, a part of Harvard University. Bell and Keller remained lifelong friends.
Bell's work with the deaf began with a technique called "visible speech," a technique developed by Bell's father that used illustrations to show the deaf how to place their tongue and lips to form words. It is a technique still used in the twenty-first century.
After 1895, Bell focused his genius on aviation. He worked on a kite capable of carrying a person and being steered. He designed a successful hydroplane, a high-speed boat that skims over the water. He also designed the aileron, the device at the rear of an airplane wing that alters the wing's shape and enables the plane to turn in different directions while flying.
Recognition and honors
Bell was widely recognized as one of the leading inventors of the late nineteenth century. He became wealthy as a result of his patent on the telephone and was a major contributor to a series of institutions that supported scientific research.
Universities including Harvard (in the United States), Oxford (in England), Heidelberg (in Germany), and Edinburgh (in Scotland) awarded him honorary degrees. In 1917, the governor general of Canada opened a memorial in his honor near the house where he lived after leaving Scotland for Canada on his way to the United States. (Bell became a U.S. citizen in 1882.)
Bell owned a large estate in Nova Scotia. He died there during a summer vacation, on August 2, 1922.
—James L. Outman
For More Information
Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Boston: Little Brown, 1973. Reprint, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.
Costain, Thomas B. The Chord of Steel: The Story of the Invention of the Telephone. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960.
Mackay, James A. Alexander Graham Bell: A Life. New York: J. Wiley, 1997.
Waite, Helen Elmira. Make a Joyful Sound: The Romance of Mabel Hubbard and Alexander Graham Bell. Philadelphia: Macrae Smith, 1961.
Bruce, Robert V., and Ira Block. "Alexander Graham Bell." National Geographic (September 1988): p. 358.
Gordon, John Steele. "The Death of a Monopoly: AT&T Protected Its Interests with the Fiercest Vigilance—and Thereby Helped Bring Itself Down." American Heritage (April 1997): p. 16.
John, Richard R. "The Politics of Innovation." Daedalus (Fall 1998): p. 187.
Keller, John J. "Bell's Baby: Alexander Graham Bell's Proudest Invention Wasn't the Telephone." The Wall Street Journal (May 18, 1992): p. R16.
Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada.http://fortress.uccb.ns.ca/parks/agbpla_e.html (accessed on March 9, 2004).
Casson, Herbert N. The History of the Telephone.http://casson.thefreelibrary.com/History-of-the-Telephone (accessed on March 9, 2004).
Farley, Tom. Tom Farley's Telephone History Series.http://www.privateline.com/TelephoneHistory/History1.htm (accessed on March 9, 2004).
Bell, Alexander Graham
Alexander Graham Bell, Scottish-born American inventor and teacher of the deaf, is best known for perfecting the telephone to transmit, or send, vocal messages using electricity. The telephone began a new age in communications technology.
The young man
Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, was an expert on the mechanics of the voice and on elocution (the art of public speaking). His grandfather, Alexander Bell, was an elocution professor. Bell's mother, Eliza, was hard of hearing but became an accomplished pianist (as well as a painter), and Bell took an interest in music. Eliza taught Alexander, who was the middle of three brothers, until he was ten years old. When he was a youth he took a challenge from a mill operator and created a machine that removed the husks from grain. He would later call it his first invention.
After studying at the University of Edinburgh and University College, London, England, Bell became his father's assistant. He taught the deaf to talk by adopting his father's system of visible speech (illustrations of speaking positions of the lips and tongue). In London he studied Hermann Ludwig von Helmholtz's (1821–1894) experiments with tuning forks and magnets to produce complex sounds. In 1865 Bell made scientific studies of the resonance (vibration) of the mouth while speaking.
Both of Bell's brothers had died of tuberculosis (a fatal disease that attacks the lungs). In 1870 his parents, in search of a healthier climate, convinced him to move with them to Brantford, Ontario, Canada. In 1871 he went to Boston, Massachusetts, to teach at Sarah Fuller's School for the Deaf, the first such school in the world. He also tutored private students, including Helen Keller (1880–1968). As professor of voice and speech at Boston University in 1873, he initiated conventions for teachers of the deaf. Throughout his life he continued to educate the deaf, and he founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf.
Inventing the telephone
From 1873 to 1876 Bell experimented with many inventions, including an electric speaking telegraph (the telephone). The funds came from the fathers of two of his students. One of these men, Gardiner Hubbard, had a deaf daughter, Mabel, who later became Bell's wife.
To help deaf children, Bell experimented in the summer of 1874 with a human ear and attached bones, magnets, smoked glass, and other things. He conceived the theory of the telephone: that an electric current can be made to change its force just as the pressure of air varies during sound production. That same year he invented a telegraph that could send several messages at once over one wire, as well as a telephonic-telegraphic receiver.
Bell supplied the ideas; Thomas Watson created the equipment. Working with tuned reeds and magnets to make a receiving instrument and sender work together, they transmitted a musical note on June 2, 1875. Bell's telephone receiver and transmitter were identical: a thin disk in front of an electromagnet (a magnet created by an electric current).
On February 14, 1876, Bell's attorney filed for a patent, or a document guaranteeing a person the right to make and sell an invention for a set number of years. The exact hour was not recorded, but on that same day Elisha Gray (1835–1901) filed his caveat (intention to invent) for a telephone. The U.S. Patent Office granted Bell the patent for the "electric speaking telephone" on March 7. It was the most valuable single patent ever issued. It opened a new age in communications technology.
Bell continued his experiments to improve the telephone's quality. By accident, Bell sent the first sentence, "Watson, come here; I want you," on March 10, 1876. The first public demonstration occurred at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences convention in Boston two months later. Bell's display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition a month later gained more publicity. Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil (1825–1891) ordered one hundred telephones for his country. The telephone, which had been given only eighteen words in the official catalog of the exposition, suddenly became the "star" attraction.
Establishing an industry
Repeated demonstrations overcame public doubts. The first two-way outdoor conversation was between Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Bell and Watson on October 9, 1876. In 1877 the first telephone was installed in a private home; a conversation took place between Boston and New York using telegraph lines; in May the first switchboard (a central machine used to connect different telephone lines), devised by E. T. Holmes in Boston, was a burglar alarm connecting five banks; and in July the first organization to make the telephone a commercial venture, the Bell Telephone Company, was formed. That year, while on his honeymoon, Bell introduced the telephone to England and France.
The first commercial switchboard was set up in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1878, the same year Bell's New England Telephone Company was organized. Charles Scribner improved switchboards, with more than five hundred inventions. Thomas Cornish, a Philadelphia electrician, had a switchboard for eight customers and published a one-page telephone directory in 1878.
Questioning Bell's patent
Other inventors had been at work between 1867 and 1873. Professor Elisha Gray (of Oberlin College in Ohio) invented an "automatic self-adjusting telegraph relay," installed it in hotels, and made telegraph printers. He also tried to perfect a speaking telephone from his multiple-current telegraph. The Gray and Batton Manufacturing Company of Chicago developed into the Western Electric Company.
Another competitor was Professor Amos E. Dolbear, who insisted that Bell's telephone was only an improvement on an 1860 invention by Johann Reis, a German who had experimented with pigs' ears and may have made a telephone. Dolbear's own instrument could transmit tones but not voice quality.
In 1879 Western Union, with its American Speaking Telephone Company, ignored Bell's patents and hired Thomas Edison (1847–1931), along with Dolbear and Gray, as inventors and improvers. Later that year Bell and Western Union formed a joint company, with the latter getting 20 percent for providing wires, equipment, and the like. Theodore Vail, organizer of Bell Telephone Company, combined six companies in 1881. The modern transmitter was born mainly in the work of Emile Berliner and Edison in 1877 and Francis Blake in 1878. Blake's transmitter was later sold to Bell.
The claims of other inventors were contested. Daniel Drawbaugh, who was from rural Pennsylvania and had little formal schooling, almost won a legal battle with Bell in 1884 but was defeated by a four-to-three vote in the Supreme Court (the highest court in the United States). This claim made for the most exciting lawsuit over telephone patents. Altogether the Bell Company was involved in 587 lawsuits, of which five went to the Supreme Court. Bell won every case. The defending argument for Bell was that no competitor had claimed to be original until seventeen months after Bell's patent. Also, at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition, major electrical scientists, especially Lord Kelvin (1824–1907), the world's leading authority, had declared Bell's invention to be "new." Professors, scientists, and researchers defended Bell, pointing to his lifelong study of the ear and his books and lectures on speech mechanics.
The Bell Company
The Bell Company built the first long-distance line in 1884, connecting Boston and New York. Bell and others organized The American Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1885 to operate other long-distance lines. By 1889 there were 11,000 miles of underground wires in New York City.
The Volta Laboratory was started by Bell in Washington, D.C., with France awarding the Volta Prize money (about $10,000) for his invention. At the laboratory Bell and his associates worked on various projects during the 1880s, including the photophone, induction balance, audiometer, and phonograph improvements. The photophone transmitted speech by light. The induction balance (electric probe) located metal in the body. The audiometer, used to test a person's hearing, indicated Bell's continued interest in deafness. The first successful phonograph record was produced. The Columbia Gramophone Company made profitable Bell's phonograph records. With the profits Bell established an organization in Washington to study deafness.
Bell's later interests
Bell was also involved in other activities that took much of his time. The magazine Science (later the official publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) was founded in 1880 because of Bell's efforts. He made many addresses and published many papers. As National Geographic Society president from 1896 to 1904, he contributed to the success of the society and its publications. In 1898 he became a member of a governing board of the Smithsonian Institution. He was also involved in sheep breeding, hydrodynamics (the study of the forces of fluids, such as water), and projects related to aviation, or the development and design of airplanes.
Aviation was Bell's primary interest after 1895. He aided physicist and astronomer Samuel Langley (1834–1906), who experimented with heavier-than-air flying machines; invented a special kite (1903); and founded the Aerial Experiment Association (1907), bringing together aviator and inventor Glenn Curtiss (1878–1930), Francis Baldwin, and others. Curtiss provided the motor for Bell's man-carrying kite in 1907.
Bell died in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada, on August 2, 1922. His contribution to the modern world and its technologies was enormous.
For More Information
Grosvenor, Edwin S., and Morgan Wesson. Alexander Graham Bell. New York: Harry Abrams, 1997.
Mackay, James A. Alexander Graham Bell: A Life. New York: J. Wiley, 1998.
Weaver, Robyn M. Alexander Graham Bell. San Diego: Lucent, 2000.
Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell
Scottish-born American inventor and teacher of the deaf, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) is best known for perfecting the telephone to transmit vocal messages by electricity. The telephone inaugurated a new age in communication technology.
Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, was an expert in vocal physiology and elocution; his grandfather, Alexander Bell, was an elocution professor.
After studying at the University of Edinburgh and University College, London, Bell became his father's assistant. He taught the deaf to talk by adopting his father's system of visible speech (illustrations of speaking positions of the lips and tongue). In London he studied Hermann Ludwig von Helmholtz's experiments with tuning forks and magnets to produce complex sounds. In 1865 Bell made scientific studies of the resonance of the mouth while speaking.
In 1870 the Bells moved to Brantford, Ontario, Canada, to preserve Alexander's health. He went to Boston in 1871 to teach at Sarah Fuller's School for the Deaf, the first such school in the world. He also tutored private students, including Helen Keller. As professor of vocal physiology and speech at Boston University in 1873, he initiated conventions for teachers of the deaf. Throughout his life he continued to educate the deaf, and he founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf.
From 1873 to 1876 Bell experimented with a phonautograph, a multiple telegraph, and an electric speaking telegraph (the telephone). Funds came from the fathers of two of his pupils; one of these men, Gardiner Hubbard, had a deaf daughter, Mabel, who later became Bell's wife.
Inventing the Telephone
To help deaf children, Bell experimented in the summer of 1874 with a human ear and attached bones, a tympanum, magnets, and smoked glass. He conceived the theory of the telephone: an electric current can be made to change intensity precisely as air density varies during sound production. Unlike the telegraph's use of intermittent current, the telephone requires continuous current with varying intensity. That same year he invented a harmonic telegraph, to transmit several messages simultaneously over one wire, and a telephonic-telegraphic receiver. Trying to reproduce the human voice electrically, he became expert with electric wave transmission.
Bell supplied the ideas; Thomas Watson made and assembled the equipment. Working with tuned reeds and magnets to synchronize a receiving instrument with a sender, they transmitted a musical note on June 2, 1875. Bell's telephone receiver and transmitter were identical: a thin disk in front of an electromagnet.
On Feb. 14, 1876, Bell's attorney filed for a patent. The exact hour was not recorded, but on that same day Elisha Gray filed his caveat (intention to invent) for a telephone. The U.S. Patent Office granted Bell the patent for the "electric speaking telephone" on March 7. It was the most valuable single patent ever issued, and it opened a new age in communication technology.
Bell continued his experiments to improve the telephone's quality. By accident, Bell sent the first sentence, "Watson, come here; I want you, " on March 10, 1876. The first demonstration occurred at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences convention in Boston 2 months later. Bell's display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition a month later gained more publicity, and Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil ordered 100 telephones for his country. The telephone, accorded only 18 words in the official catalog of the exposition, suddenly became the "star" attraction.
Establishing an Industry
Repeated demonstrations overcame public skepticism. The first reciprocal outdoor conversation was between Boston and Cambridge, Mass., by Bell and Watson on Oct. 9, 1876. In 1877 the first telephone was installed in a private home; a conversation was conducted between Boston and New York, using telegraph lines; in May, the first switchboard, devised by E. T. Holmes in Boston, was a burglar alarm connecting five banks; and in July the first organization to commercialize the invention, the Bell Telephone Company, was formed. That year, while on his honeymoon, Bell introduced the telephone to England and France.
The first commercial switchboard was set up in New Haven, Conn., in 1878, and Bell's first subsidiary, the New England Telephone Company, was organized that year. Switchboards were improved by Charles Scribner, with more than 500 inventions. Thomas Cornish, a Philadelphia electrician, had a switchboard for eight customers and published a one-page directory in 1878.
Contesting Bell's Patent
Other inventors had been at work. Between 1867 and 1873 Professor Elisha Gray (of Oberlin College) invented an "automatic self-adjusting telegraph relay, " installed it in hotels, and made telegraph printers and repeaters. He tried to perfect a speaking telephone from his harmonic (multiple-current) telegraph. The Gray and Batton Manufacturing Company of Chicago developed into the Western Electric Company.
Another competitor was Professor Amos E. Dolbear, who insisted that Bell's telephone was only an improvement on an 1860 invention by Johann Reis, a German, who had experimented with pigs' ear membranes and may have made a telephone. Dolbear's own instrument, operating by "make and break" current, could transmit pitch but not voice quality.
In 1879 Western Union, with its American Speaking Telephone Company, ignored Bell's patents and hired Thomas Edison, along with Dolbear and Gray, as inventors and improvers. Later that year Bell and Western Union formed a joint company, with the latter getting 20 percent for providing wires, circuits, and equipment. Theodore Vail, organizer of Bell Telephone Company, consolidated six companies in 1881. The modern transmitter evolved mainly from the work of Emile Berliner and Edison in 1877 and Francis Blake in 1878. Blake's transmitter was later sold to Bell for stock.
The claims of other inventors were contested. Daniel Drawbaugh, from rural Pennsylvania, with little formal schooling, almost won a legal battle with Bell in 1884 but was defeated by a 4 to 3 vote in the Supreme Court. The claim by this "Edison of the Cumberland Valley" was the most exciting (and futile) litigation over telephone patents. Altogether, the Bell Company was involved in 587 lawsuits, of which 5 went to the Supreme Court; Bell won every case. A convincing argument was that no competitor claimed originality until 17 months after Bell's patent. Also, at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition, eminent electrical scientists, especially Lord Kelvin, the world's foremost authority, had declared it to be "new." Professors, scientists, and researchers defended Bell, pointing to his lifelong study of the ear and his books and lectures on speech mechanics.
The Bell Company
The Bell Company built the first long-distance line in 1884, connecting Boston and New York. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company was organized by Bell and others in 1885 to operate other long-distance lines. By 1889, when insulation was perfected, there were 11, 000 miles of underground wires in New York City.
The Volta Laboratory was started by Bell in Washington, D.C., with the Volta Prize money (50, 000 francs, about $10, 000) awarded by France for his invention. At the laboratory he and associates worked on various projects during the 1880s, including the photophone, induction balance, audiometer, and phonograph improvements. The photophone transmitted speech by light, using a primitive photoelectric cell. The induction balance (electric probe) located metal in the body. The audiometer indicated Bell's continued interest in deafness. The first successful phonograph record, a shellac cylinder, as well as wax disks and cylinders, was produced. The Columbia Gramophone Company exploited Bell's phonograph records. With the profits Bell established the Volta Bureau in Washington to study deafness.
Bell's Later Interests
Other activities took much time. The magazine Science (later the official organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) was founded in 1880 because of Bell's efforts. He made numerous addresses and published many monographs. As National Geographic Society president from 1896 to 1904, he fostered the success of the society and its publications. In 1898 he became a regent of the Smithsonian Institution. He was also involved in sheep breeding, hydrodynamics, and aviation projects.
Aviation was Bell's primary interest after 1895. He aided Samuel Langley, invented the tetrahedral kite (1903), and founded the Aerial Experiment Association (1907), bringing together Glenn Curtiss, Francis Baldwin, and others. They devised the aileron control principle (which replaced "wing warping"), developed the hydroplane, and solved balance problems in flying machines. Curtiss furnished the motor for Bell's man-carrying kite in 1907.
Bell died at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, on Aug. 2, 1922.
Catherine D. MacKenzie, Alexander Graham Bell (1928), is interesting and contains much personal information. Thomas Bertram Costain, Chord of Steel (1960), a recent history of the telephone, discusses Bell at length. Herbert Casson, The History of the Telephone (1910), is still useful for the early story. See also Arthur Pound, The Telephone Idea: Fifty Years After (1926), and Frederick Leland Rhodes, Beginnings of Telephony (1929). For the story of Bell's persistent rival see Warren J. Harder, Daniel Drawbaugh (1960). □
Bell, Alexander Graham
BELL, ALEXANDER GRAHAM
In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922), at age twenty-nine, invented the telephone. A year later he founded the Bell Telephone Company, which later became the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). Throughout the remainder of his long and productive life, Bell continued his work as an inventor, eventually securing eighteen patents in his name. In addition he maintained a lifelong commitment to the education of the deaf.
Bell was born in 1847 Edinburgh, Scotland, to a family of eminent speech educators and musicians. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, taught speech to the deaf and the mute and wrote textbooks on correct speech. Bell's mother was a portrait painter and an accomplished musician. Bell received his early education at home and graduated at age fourteen from the Royal High School, Edinburgh. He then enrolled as a student teacher at Weston House, a nearby boys' school, where he taught music and speech and in turn received instruction in other subjects. Bell also studied briefly at Edinburgh University. In his late teens, Bell worked as an assistant to his father, promoting "visible" speech, a system developed by his father that shows the articulation of sound on the lips, tongue, and throat. Bell became deeply interested in the study of sound, especially as it affects hearing and speech, and he followed this interest throughout his life.
When young Bell's two brothers died of tuberculosis, their father took the family to the healthier climate of Ontario, Canada, in 1870. Bell soon moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1872 opened his own school for training teachers of the deaf. In 1873 he became a professor of vocal physiology at Boston University.
Bell's interest in speech and communication led him to investigate the transmission of sound over wires. Backed financially in his investigations by Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, grateful fathers of two of his deaf pupils, he experimented with developing the harmonic telegraph, a device that could send multiple messages at the same time over a single wire. Using vibrating membranes and an actual human ear in his tests, Bell also investigated the possibility of transmitting the human voice by wire.
Early in 1874 Bell met Thomas A. Watson (1854–1934), a young machinist and technician with expertise in electrical engineering. Watson became Bell's indispensable assistant and the two spent endless hours together experimenting with transmitting sound. In the summer of 1874 Bell developed the basic concept of the telephone using a varying but unbroken electric current to transmit the sound waves of human speech. However, at the urging of his financial backers, who were more interested in the potential of the harmonic telegraph, Bell did not pursue the idea for several months. He resumed work on the telephone in 1875 and by September began to write the required patent specifications.
Bell's patent, U.S. Patent No. 174,465, was granted on March 7, 1876, and on March 10, the first message transmitted by telephone passed from Bell to Watson in their workshop: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!" After a year of refining the new device Watson and Bell, along with their two backers Hubbard and Sanders, formed the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. Soon afterwards Bell married Mabel Hubbard, his former speech student and daughter of his new partner, and sailed to England for a yearlong honeymoon.
Bell's claim to have invented the telephone was challenged in more than 600 lawsuits. The courts eventually upheld Bell's patent, and the Bell Company's principal competitor, Western Union Telegraph, agreed to stay out of the telephone business. The Bell Company, in turn, stayed away from the telegraph. In 1878, with the sale of the Bell Company to a group of investors, Bell's financial future was secure and he could devote the rest of his life to his work as an inventor. Bell won France's Volta Prize for his telephone invention and received 50,000 francs in prize money. With this reward he established the Volta Laboratory in Washington, D.C., primarily for research on deafness. Among the new devices he and his fellow scientists at the laboratory invented were the graphophone, a device for recording sound on wax cylinders or disks (an advance that made Thomas Edison's (1847–1931) phonograph commercially viable); the photophone, used for transmitting speech on a beam of light; a telephone probe, used in surgery until the discovery of the X-ray; an audiometer; and an induction balance for detecting metal within the human body.
Working with collaborators at the Volta Laboratory and at another scientific facility he established near Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Bell invented a prototype air conditioning system, an improved strain of sheep, an early iron lung, solar distillation of water, and the sonar detection of icebergs. The possibility of flight fascinated Bell. He built tetrahedral kites capable of carrying a human being and supported pioneering experiments in aviation. He also designed a hydrofoil boat that set the world water speed record in 1918.
Bell retained his dual interests in education of the deaf and invention throughout his later life. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1882 and established several organizations to support teaching of the deaf, including the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1890, later known as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf. He was also influential in the founding of Science magazine and the National Geographic Society. Bell died in 1922.
See also: American Telephone and Telegraph
Mackay, James A. Alexander Graham Bell: A Life. New York: J. Wiley, 1997.
Grosvenor, Edwin S. Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man who Invented the Telephone. New York: Harry Abrams, 1997.
Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.
Costain, Thomas B. The Chord of Steel: The Story of the Invention of the Telephone. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960.
"The Papers of Alexander Graham Bell: An Introduction," [cited March 3, 1999] available from the World Wide Web @ memory.loc.gov/ammem/atthtml/bell_ms.html
mr. watson, come here, i want you!
alexander graham bell, first words spoken on the telephone, march 10, 1876
Bell, Alexander Graham
Bell, Alexander Graham
Alexander Graham Bell, best known as the inventor of the telephone, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 3, 1847. When he died in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada, on August 2, 1922, he was considered one of the most successful inventors of his time.
Bell's interest in communication was stimulated by unique family circumstances. Both his grandfather and father were accomplished speech experts. Many believe Bell's father was the inspiration for Professor Henry Higgins in the 1964 movie My Fair Lady. Having a hearing-impaired mother also made Bell conscious of the challenges of being deaf. In 1868 he began using his father's models of visible speech to teach deaf students phonetics, a career he resumed after emigrating with his family from Scotland to Brantford, Ontario, Canada, in 1870.
The following year he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and taught at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes (later called the Horace Mann School). Teaching private students supplemented his income. One of these hearing-impaired students, Mabel Hubbard, later became his wife. Bell's passion for helping the disabled, particularly the sight- and hearing-impaired, remained with him throughout his life.
Although Bell experimented throughout his childhood, it was not until he moved to Boston that his interests in inventing became serious. There he decided to work on developing the multiple telegraph, which would allow several telegraphs to be sent over the same line simultaneously instead of one at a time. He received that patent in 1875. He also became fascinated with the concept of sending varying pitches, mimicking the human voice, over a wire via undulating electrical impulses, then reconstructing the pitches at the other end of the wire. After years of experimenting, he and his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, met with success. Bell's patent application for the telephone was submitted only hours before a rival, Elisha Gray, submitted his version.}
In July 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was founded. The shares were divided between Bell, Watson, and two other men. As a wedding gift, Bell gave his wife, Mabel, 5,015 shares of Bell Telephone Company, keeping only ten shares for himself. Bell Telephone rapidly expanded throughout the world. While these shares provided Bell with financial security, they made his wife quite wealthy. During Bell's lifetime, Mabel repeatedly provided grants to fund his research.
The photophone, which Bell invented in 1880, worked like a telephone but used light beams instead of wire. Bell considered it one of his greatest inventions. Although the photophone's success was limited because of the lack of technology at that time, Bell's invention used the same principles as modern fiber optic telecommunications.
While living in Mabel's hometown of Washington, D.C. in 1882, Bell became an American citizen. Later he built a second home in Baddeck and called it Beinn Bhreagh. Much of his inventing was completed there.
After winning the Volta prize of France for the telephone, Bell invested the award money in the creation of the Volta Labs at Beinn Bhreagh. This lab produced the flat-disk record and a floating stylus to improve upon Thomas Edison's phonograph. With earnings from those patents, Bell established the Volta Bureau in 1908, which was dedicated to advancing knowledge of the deaf. He also established the American Association for the Promotion of the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf and continued being instrumental in assisting many deaf children, including Helen Keller, to overcome their disabilities.
Bell also became interested in screening children for hearing impairment. After developing the audiometer, he was honored for his accomplishments in that field with the term used for measuring the level of audible sound: the decibel.
Bell's interests were not confined to matters of speech. His father-in-law, Gardiner Hubbard, was a founding member and the first president of the National Geographic Society. When Hubbard died in 1897, Bell accepted the presidency of the society. He then underwrote the hiring of his future son-in-law to edit the association's monthly publication. Bell influenced many trademark features of the society, including the formation of grants for research expeditions. He also encouraged the inclusion of dynamic multiple-color photographs in National Geographic Magazine.
Bell also nurtured a fascination with flight. At Beinn Bhreagh, he experimented with kites and eventually developed and patented the tetrahedron, a four-sided triangle used in his aerial experiments. With Mabel's sponsorship, he formed the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA) with four other men. From 1908 to 1909, after the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane, Bell and his associates built four airplanes. With those machines, the AEA gained patents for improving airplane designs. The AEA then sought to build a craft that could take off and land on water. In 1918 this led to the patent for the fastest watercraft of its time, the hydrofoil HD4, which reached speeds of 114 kilometers (71 miles) per hour.
In tribute to Bell's life and accomplishments, telephones across the United States were silenced for one minute during his funeral in Baddeck in 1922.
see also Bell Labs; Internet; Telecommunications.
Mary McIver Puthawala
Matthews, Tom L. Always Inventing. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1999.
Pasachoff, Naomi. Alexander Graham Bell: Making Connections. Oxford: Oxford Press, 1996.
Bell, Alexander Graham
Alexander Graham Bell is remembered as the inventor of the telephone. He was also an outstanding teacher of the deaf, an inventor of many other devices, and a leading figure in the scientific community. Bell invented the graphophone, the first sound recorder, as well as the photo-phone, which transmitted speech by light rays. Among his other innovations were the audiometer, a device used to measure hearing; the induction balance, used to locate metallic objects in the human body; and disc and cylindrical wax recorders for phonographs.
Bell was born in 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to a family of eminent speech educators and musicians. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, taught speech to the hearing and speech impaired and wrote textbooks on correct speech. Bell's mother was a portrait painter and an accomplished musician.
Bell received his early education at home. He graduated at age fourteen from the Royal High School in Edinburgh. Bell then enrolled as a student teacher at Weston House, a nearby boys’ school, where he taught music and speech and, in return, received instruction in other subjects.
Experiments with harmonic telegraph
Bell's father had invented “visible” speech, a code of symbols for all spoken sounds that was used to teach deaf people to speak. Bell studied at Edinburgh University in 1864 and assisted his father at University College, London, from 1868 to 1870. During these years, he became deeply interested in the study of sound, especially as it affects hearing and speech. Bell followed this interest throughout his life, inspired in part by the acoustic experiments of German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894), which gave Bell the idea of telegraphing speech.
Bell's interest in speech and communication led him to investigate the transmission of sound over wires. With financial assistance from Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, grateful fathers of two of his deaf pupils, Bell experimented with developing the harmonic telegraph, a device that could send multiple messages at the same time over a single wire. Using vibrating membranes and an actual human ear in his tests, Bell also investigated the possibility of transmitting the human voice by wire.
Invention of the telephone
Early in 1874, after having emigrated to the United States a few years earlier, Bell met Thomas A. Watson (1854–1934), a young machinist and technician with expertise in electrical engineering. Watson became Bell's indispensable assistant and the two spent substantial time together experimenting with transmitting sound.
In the summer of 1874, Bell developed the basic concept of the telephone using a varying but unbroken electric current to transmit the sound waves of human speech over a wire. At the urging of his financial backers, however, who were more interested in the potential of the harmonic telegraph, Bell did not pursue the telephone idea for several months. He resumed work on it in 1875 and, by September, began to write the required patent specifications.
Bell received his patent on March 7, 1876, and on March 10, the first official message transmitted by telephone passed from Bell to Watson in their workshop: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!”
Founds Bell Telephone
After a year of refining the new device, Watson and Bell, along with Hubbard and Sanders, formed the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. The Bell Company built the first long-distance line in 1884, connecting Boston and New York. Bell and others organized the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1885 to operate other long-distance lines. By 1889, when insulation was perfected, 11,000 miles of underground wires travelled through New York City.
Bell's claim to the invention of the telephone was challenged in more than six hundred lawsuits. The courts eventually approved Bell's patent, and the Bell Company's principal competitor, Western Union Telegraph, agreed to stay out of the telephone business. The Bell Company, in turn, ceased work on the telegraph. In 1899, with the sale of the Bell Company to a group of investors, Bell's financial future was secure and he could devote the rest of his life to working as an inventor.
Bell's later interests
The magazine Science (later the official organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) was founded in 1880 because of Bell's efforts. As National Geographic Society president from 1896 to 1904, Bell fostered the success of the society and its publications. In 1898, he became a regent of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He was also involved in sheep breeding, hydrodynamics (the dynamics of fluids in motion), and aviation projects.
Bell died in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1922.
Bell, Alexander Graham
Bell, Alexander Graham
(b. Edinburgh, Scotland, 3 March 1847; d, Baddeck, Nova Scotia, 2 August 1922)
Both Bell’s grandfather, Alexander, and his father, Alexander Melville, were teachers of elocution; his father was well known as the inventor of Visible Speech (a written code indicating the position and action of throat, tongue, and lips in forming sounds). Bell had a lifelong interest in teaching the deaf to speak, an interest intensified because his mother and his wife were deaf. In 1870, after the second of Bell’s two brothers died of tuberculosis, the family moved to Canada. Bell did his early telephone work in Boston and subsequently moved to Washington. He became a citizen of the United States in 1882.
Bell achieved fame as inventor of the telephone and fortune under a broad interpretation given to the patent granted him 10 March 1876. His early experimental work was spurred on by a persistent belief in its ultimate commercial value, and enthusiasm unshared by his predecessor Philip Reis and his contemporary Elisha Gray. Although the telephone is not properly called a scientific invention (Bell’s knowledge of electricity at the time was extremely limited), a fair proportion of the wealth he received from it was used by Bell to pursue scientific researches of his own and to support those of others.
His interest in the deaf led Bell to publish several articles on hereditary deafness. This in turn led to studies on longevity and a long-term series of experiments in which he attempted to develop a breed of sheep with more than the usual two nipples. In 1909, after twenty years of selection, he had a flock consisting solely of six-nippled sheep. He found, as he had suspected, that twin production increased with the number of nipples. Bell made a number of suggestions on the medical use of electricity but performed few experiments himself. His approach to these areas was as an amateur, although one with an active, inquiring mind.
Bell’s financial support of science took several forms. In 1880 he used the 50,000 francs of the Volta Prize to establish the Volta Laboratory Association (later the Volta Bureau), largely devoted to work for the deaf, in Washington. In 1882 he conceived the idea of the journal Science, which began publication in 1883. In the first eight years of its existence, Bell and his father-in-law, G.G. Hubbard, subsidized this journal to the amount of about $100,000. To allay S.P. Langley’s concern that his post as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution would be merely administrative, Bell and J.H. Kidder each gave $5,000 for Langley’s personal research; this money was used in the establishment of the Smithsonian’s astrophysical observatory. In 1891 Bell gave $5,000 to support Langley’s flight experiments. He himself experimented with kites, and in 1907 he organized the Aerial Experimental Association, which lasted for a year and a half and was financed by his wife. Bell also helped to organize and finance the National Geographic Society, serving as its president from 1898 to 1903.
I. Original Works. A complete list of Bell’s publications is given in Osborne’s article (see below). His notebooks, letters, and other documentary material are nicely housed by the Bell family at the National Geographic Society; some of these have been reproduced on microfilm and are available at the Library of Congress and the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, Montreal. Bell’s court testimony dealing with the telephone appears in The Bell Telephone (Boston, 1908). Most of the surviving pieces of apparatus are preserved at the Smithsonian Institution.
II. Secondary Literature. No satisfactory biography of Bell exists. Basic details can be found in W.C. Langdon’s article on Bell, in Dictionary of American Biography, II, 148–152; C.D. Mackenzie, Alexander Graham Bell, the Man Who Contracted Space (New York, 1928); and H.S. Osborne. “Alexander Graham Bell,” in National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, 23 (1945), 1–30. Part of the experimental telephone work is analyzed in B.S. Finn, “Alexander Graham Bell’s Experiments With the Variable-Resistance Transmitter,” in Smithsonian Journal of History, 1 , no. 4 (1966), 1–16.
Bernard S. Finn