In the 1870s,
two inventors Elisha Gray and Alexander
Graham Bell both independently designed devices that could transmit speech
electrically (the telephone). Both men rushed their respective designs
to the patent office within hours of each other, Alexander Graham Bell
his telephone first. Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell entered into
a famous legal battle over the invention of the telephone, which Bell won.
and telephone are both wire-based electrical systems, and Alexander Graham
Bell's success with the telephone came as a direct result of his attempts
to improve the telegraph.
When Bell began experimenting with
electrical signals, the telegraph had been an established means of communication
for some 30 years. Although a highly successful system, the telegraph,
with its dot-and-dash Morse code, was basically limited to receiving and
sending one message at a time. Bell's extensive knowledge of the nature
of sound and his understanding of music enabled him to conjecture the possibility
of transmitting multiple messages over the same wire at the same time.
Although the idea of a multiple telegraph had been in existence for some
time, Bell offered his own musical or harmonic approach as a possible practical
solution. His "harmonic telegraph" was based on the principle that several
notes could be sent simultaneously along the same wire if the notes or
signals differed in pitch.
By October 1874, Bell's research
had progressed to the extent that he could inform his future father-in-law,
Boston attorney Gardiner Greene Hubbard, about the possibility of a multiple
telegraph. Hubbard, who resented the absolute control then exerted by the
Western Union Telegraph Company, instantly saw the potential for breaking
such a monopoly and gave Bell the financial backing he needed. Bell proceeded
with his work on the multiple telegraph, but he did not tell Hubbard that
he and Thomas Watson, a young electrician whose services he had enlisted,
were also exploring an idea that had occurred to him that summer - that
of developing a device that would transmit speech electrically.
Alexander Graham Bell's Telephone
This model of Bell's first telephone
(right) is a duplicate of the instrument through which speech sounds were
first transmitted electrically (1875).
While Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas
Watson worked on the harmonic telegraph at the insistent urging of Hubbard
and other backers, Bell nonetheless met in March 1875 with Joseph
Henry, the respected director of the Smithsonian Institution, who
listened to Bell's ideas for a telephone and offered encouraging words.
Spurred on by Henry's positive opinion, Bell and Watson continued their
work. By June 1875 the goal of creating a device that would transmit speech
electrically was about to be realized. They had proven that different tones
would vary the strength of an electric current in a wire. To achieve success
they therefore needed only to build a working transmitter with a membrane
capable of varying electronic currents and a receiver that would reproduce
these variations in audible frequencies.
On June 2, 1875, Alexander Graham
Bell while experimenting with his technique called "harmonic telegraph"
discovered he could hear sound over a wire. The sound was that of a twanging
Bell's greatest success was achieved
on March 10, 1876, marked not only the birth of the telephone but the death
of the multiple telegraph as well. The communications potential contained
in his demonstration of being able to "talk with electricity" far outweighed
anything that simply increasing the capability of a dot-and-dash system
Alexander Graham Bell's notebook
entry of 10 March 1876 describes his successful experiment with the telephone.
Speaking through the instrument to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in
the next room, Bell utters these famous first words, "Mr. Watson -- come
here -- I want to see you."
Born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh,
Scotland, Alexander Graham Bell was the son and grandson of authorities
in elocution and the correction of speech. Educated to pursue a career
in the same specialty, his knowledge of the nature of sound led him not
only to teach the deaf, but also to invent the telephone.
Bell's unceasing scientific curiosity
led to invention of the photophone,
to significant commercial improvements in Thomas Edison's phonograph, and
to development of his own flying machine just six years after the Wright
Brothers launched their plane at Kitty Hawk. As President James Garfield
lay dying of an assassin's bullet in 1881, Bell hurriedly invented a metal
detector in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the fatal slug.
Graham Bell - Biography
In 1876, at the age of 29, Alexander
Graham Bell invented his telephone. Bell might easily have been content
with the success of his invention. His many laboratory notebooks demonstrate,
however, that he was driven by a genuine and rare intellectual curiosity
that kept him regularly searching, striving, and wanting always to learn
and to create.
Graham Bell - First Patent: #174,465
Read and see the original patent
for the Alexander Graham Bell telephone.
History and Understanding Telephone Technology
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Graham Bell - Biography