to The History of the Telephone
sketch of the phone.
In 1876, at the age of 29, Alexander
Graham Bell invented his telephone. In 1877,
he formed the Bell Telephone Company, and in the same year married Mabel
Hubbard and embarked on a yearlong honeymoon in Europe.
Alexander Graham Bell might easily
have been content with the success of his telephone 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. He would continue to test out
new ideas through a long and productive life. He would explore the realm
of communications as well as engage in a great variety of scientific activities
involving kites, airplanes, tetrahedral structures, sheep-breeding, artificial
respiration, desalinization and water distillation, and hydrofoils.
the enormous technical and later financial success of his telephone invention,
Alexander Graham Bell's future was secure, and he was able to arrange his
life so that he could devote himself to his scientific interests. Toward
this end, in 1881, he used the $10,000 award for winning France's Volta
Prize to set up the Volta Laboratory in Washington, D.C. A believer in
scientific teamwork, Bell worked with two associates, his cousin Chichester
Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter, at the Volta Laboratory. Their experiments
soon produced such major improvements in Thomas Edison's phonograph that
it became commercially viable. After 1885, when he first visited Nova Scotia,
Bell set up another laboratory there at his estate, Beinn Bhreagh (pronounced
Ben Vreeah), near Baddeck, where he would assemble other teams of bright
young engineers to pursue new and exciting ideas.
Among one of his first innovations
after the telephone was the "photophone,"
a device that enabled sound to be transmitted on a beam of light. Bell
and his assistant, Charles Sumner Tainter, developed the photophone using
a sensitive selenium crystal and a mirror that would vibrate in response
to a sound. In 1881, they successfully sent a photophone message over 200
yards from one building to another. Bell regarded the photophone as "the
greatest invention I have ever made; greater than the telephone." Alexander
Graham Bell's invention reveals the principle upon which today's laser
and fiber optic communication systems are
founded, though it would take the development of several modern technologies
to realize it fully.
of a vacuum jacket in use.
Over the years, Alexander Graham
Bell's curiosity would lead him to speculate on the nature of heredity,
first among the deaf and later with sheep born with genetic irregularities.
His sheep-breeding experiments at Beinn Bhreagh sought to increase the
numbers of twin and triplet births. Bell was also willing to attempt inventing
under the pressure of daily events, and in 1881 he hastily constructed
an electromagnetic device called an induction balance to try and locate
a bullet lodged in President Garfield after an assassin had shot him. He
later improved this and produced a device called a telephone probe, which
would make a telephone receiver click when it touched metal. That same
year, Bell's newborn son, Edward, died from respiratory problems, and Bell
responded to that tragedy by designing a metal vacuum jacket that would
facilitate breathing. This apparatus was a forerunner of the iron lung
used in the 1950s to aid polio victims. In addition to inventing the audiometer
to detect minor hearing problems and conducting experiments with what today
are called energy recycling and alternative fuels, Bell also worked on
methods of removing salt from seawater.
interests may be considered minor activities compared to the time and effort
he put into the challenge of flight. By the 1890s, Bell had begun experimenting
with propellers and kites. His work led him to apply the concept of the
tetrahedron (a solid figure with four triangular faces) to kite design
as well as to create a new form of architecture. In 1907, four years after
the Wright Brothers first flew at
Kitty Hawk, Bell formed the Aerial Experiment Association with Glenn Curtiss,
William "Casey" Baldwin, Thomas Selfridge, and J.A.D. McCurdy, four young
engineers whose common goal was to create airborne vehicles. By 1909, the
group had produced four powered aircraft, the best of which, the Silver
Dart, made the first successful powered flight in Canada on February
23, 1909. Bell spent the last decade of his life improving hydrofoil designs,
and in 1919 he and Casey Baldwin built a hydrofoil that set a world water-speed
record that was not broken until 1963. Months before he died, Bell told
a reporter, "There cannot be mental atrophy in any person who continues
to observe, to remember what he observes, and to seek answers for his unceasing
hows and whys about things.
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