Alexander Graham Bell
The man who invented the telephone
Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922) was a Scottish-born inventor, scientist, and engineer who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone. He also co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1885. Bell’s father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech and both his mother and wife were deaf; profoundly influencing Bell’s life’s work. His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone, on March 7, 1876. Bell considered his invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.
Alexander Graham Bell
The man who invented the telephone
I was always interested in sounds. My mother was deaf and my father taught deaf people. I was creative and enjoyed inventing things. I did a lot of experiments and one day, I invented the telephone.
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. When I was a child, I liked to learn new things. I liked art, poems and music, and I could play the piano very well.
I invented my first machine when I was 12 years old. I had a friend and his father had a mill. One day, we were playing together in the mill, when my friend’s father told us, ‘Why don’t you do something useful?’ ‘That’s a good idea,’ I thought, and I invented a new machine. My friend’s father was very surprised. The machine could separate the outside parts of wheat grains from the inside parts. The machine could do the job quickly and easily.
I left school when I was 15 years old because I wasn’t interested in school lessons. My father was worried about my decision because he thought education was very important. He was a professor at Edinburgh University and worked on ‘Visible Speech’, a system to teach deaf people.
I was interested in my father’s work, maybe because my mother was deaf. One day, I read a book that gave me an idea – that it was possible to use electricity to produce sound. I decided to work on that.
But hard times came. Between 1867 and 1870, two of my brothers became ill with tuberculosis and died. I also became ill and I was very weak. My father thought that our family needed a new start and one day, he made a decision. ‘We’re going to move to Canada,’ he said.
I was 23 years old when we sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. When we were there, my father bought a farmhouse in Ontario. Life on the farm was good for my health and it helped me feel stronger. In Ontario, I met the Indians from the Six Nations Reserve, learnt their language and used my father’s system to help the deaf people in their community. They were so happy that they named me honorary chief. To celebrate, I put on their clothes and danced. It was great fun!
In 1871, my father and I started teaching deaf people in Montreal. My father was such a good teacher that he received an invitation to work in Boston in the USA. We travelled there and opened a school to train teachers of the deaf. Suddenly, my life became very busy. I spent six months in Boston and the rest at home in Ontario. I started my research on sounds and electricity. I did most of my research on my own at night and I was so tired that I often had terrible headaches. In 1875, when Thomas Watson became my assistant, I finally got some help.
One day, I met a man who was very important in my life. His name was Antonio Meucci. He showed me his invention, a basic telephone with one line to carry signals. His invention gave me an idea. Soon I started doing experiments to invent a telephone with more than one line.
On 2nd June 1875, my telephone worked for the first time. I was at one end of the line in one room and Watson was at the other end of the line in another room. ‘Watson. Come here. I want to see you.’ And Watson came to see me! This was the start of a revolution that changed the world. I got a patent for my telephone. It was patent number 174,465.
After that, I decided to work hard on my new invention. I didn’t have much time to work as a teacher, so I only had two students and one of them was Mabel Hubbard. Mabel was deaf, but she could read your lips and speak, and she later became my wife. Her father was a friend of mine.
Mr Hubbard was interested in my work and gave me money for my experiments. With his help, I invented a new telephone that could send messages more than five miles. I offered it to the company Western Union, but their president said it was a toy. The American government said, ‘This telephone isn’t useful. And it will be dangerous in people’s homes.’
I decided to start my own company without help from businessmen or the government. In 1877, I started the Bell Telephone Company with Mr Hubbard. In 1881, I started the Volta Laboratory in Washington and invented many useful things. In 1885, I started a new company. I had a very busy life. I was a successful inventor and businessman!
The Life of Alexander Graham Bell:
1847 – Alexander Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.
1858 – His father gave him the middle name of ‘Graham’ on his 11th birthday.
c.1859 – He built a machine that could separate the outside parts of wheat grains from the inside parts. He became interested in ‘Visible Speech’, a system that his father used for helping deaf people.
1867 – His brother, Edward, died of tuberculosis. Alexander became ill.
1870 – His brother, Melville, also died of tuberculosis. The Bell family moved to Canada. He and his father later opened a school in Boston, USA.
1873 – Mabel Hubbard, his future wife, became his student. She was the daughter of Gardiner Greene Hubbard.
1875 – Thomas Watson became his assistant. Bell’s telephone worked for the first time.
1876 – He got a patent for a telephone that could send a message more than five miles.
1877 – He formed the Bell Telephone Company. He married Mabel Hubbard and they moved to the UK for 15 months. They later had two daughters and two sons.
1881 – He invented the metal detector – an instrument to find metal. He started the Volta Laboratory in Washington. He invented many useful things in this laboratory.
1882 – He became American.
1885 – He started the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.
1888 – The National Geographic Society was formed. He was one of the founding fathers.
1890 – He started the American Association to Promote Teaching Speech to the Deaf.
1909 – His plane, Silver Dart, was able to fly.
1915 – He made the first telephone call from one side of America to the other. Alexander was in New York and he talked on the telephone with his assistant, Watson, in San Francisco.
1919 – Alexander and Casey Baldwin invented the HD-4 hydroplane – a fast boat that travelled on the surface of the water. It was the fastest hydroplane at the time.
1922 – Alexander died in Nova Scotia, Canada. He was 75 years old.