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Alexander Graham Bell's Photophone - Ahead of its Time

From Mary Bellis,
Your Guide to Inventors.
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The photophone used light to transmit messages, The telephone used electrcity.

On June 3, 1880, Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first wireless telephone message on his newly invented "photophone." Bell believed the photophone was his most important invention. The device allowed for the transmission of sound on a beam of light. Of the eighteen patents granted in Bell's name alone, and the twelve he shared with his collaborators, four were for the photophone.

Bell's photophone worked by projecting voice through an instrument toward a mirror. Vibrations in the voice caused similar vibrations in the mirror. Bell directed sunlight into the mirror, which captured and projected the mirror's vibrations. The vibrations were transformed back into sound at the receiving end of the projection. The photophone functioned similarly to the telephone, except the photophone used light as a means of projecting the information, while the telephone relied on electricity.

Although the photophone was an extremely important invention, it was many years before the significance of Bell's work was fully recognized. Bell's original photophone failed to protect transmissions from outside interferences, such as clouds, that easily disrupted transport. Until the development of modern fiber optics, technology for the secure transport of light inhibited use of Bell's invention. Bell's photophone is recognized as the progenitor of the modern fiber optics that today transport over eight percent of the world's telecommunications.

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