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Alexander Graham Bell

1847 -- 1922

Francis Scott Key: Francis Scott Key. ... View the Star Spangled Banner Manuscript signed, Francis Scott Key Stan Klos Biography

BELL, Alexander Graham, physicist, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, 3 March 1847. He is a son of Alexander Melville Bell, mentioned below, and was educated at the Edinburgh high school and Edinburgh University, receiving special training in his father's system for removing impediments in speech. He removed to London in 1867, and entered the University there, but left on account of his health, and went to Canada with his father in 1870. In 1872 he took up his residence in the United States, introducing with success his father's system of deaf-mute instruction, and became professor of vocal physiology in Boston University. He had been interested for many years in the transmission of sound by electricity, and had devised many forms of apparatus for the purpose, but the first public exhibition of his invention was at Philadelphia in 1876. Its complete success has made him wealthy. His invention of the "photophone," in which a vibratory beam of light is substituted for a wire in conveying speech, has also attracted much attention, but has never been practically used. It was first described by him before the American association for the advancement of science in Boston, 27 August 1880.

After the shooting of President Garfield, Professor Bell, together with Sumner Tainter, experimented with an improved form of Hughes's induction balance, and endeavored to find the exact location of the ball, but failed. Professor Bell has put forth the theory that the present system of educating deaf-mutes is wrong, as it tends to restrict them to one another's society, so that marriages between the deaf are common, and therefore the number of deaf-mute children born is on the increase. His latest experiments relate to the recording of speech by means of photographing the vibrations of a jet of water. He is a member of various learned societies, and has published many scientific papers. He has lived for some time in Washington, District of Columbia.

Edited Appleton's Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 Virtualology TM

Library of Congress on Bell

The online version of the Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress will comprise a selection of approximately 4700 items (totaling about 38,000 images). This second release contains about 4650 items consisting of correspondence, scientific notebooks, journals, blueprints, articles, and photographs documenting Bell's invention of the telephone and his involvement in the first telephone company, his family life, his interest in the education of the deaf, and his aeronautical and other scientific research. Dates span from 1862 to 1939, but the bulk of the materials are from 1865 to 1920. Included among Bell's papers are pages from his experimental notebook from March 10, 1876, describing the first successful experiment with the telephone, during which he spoke through the instrument to his assistant the famous words, "Mr. Watson--Come here--I want to see you." Bell's various roles in life as teacher, inventor, celebrity, and family man are covered extensively in his papers. The digitization of this selection of the Bell Family Papers is made possible through the generous support of the AT&T Foundation.


The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. The goal of the Library's National Digital Library Program is to offer broad public access to a wide range of historical and cultural documents as a contribution to education and lifelong learning.

The Library of Congress presents these documents as part of the record of the past. These primary historical documents reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The Library of Congress does not endorse the views expressed in these collections, which may contain materials offensive to some readers.


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Research Links

  1.  
     
  2. Alexander Graham Bell's Path to the Telephone -- Home Page

    Oct 31, 1995 ... Details of the work involved, historical references illuminating likely mental models, diagrams of work.
     
     
  3. Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers: Home

    Online collection of his papers from Library of Congress.
     
  4. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell Biography

    Fascinating facts about Alexander Graham Bell inventor of the telephone in 1876.
  5.  

  6. For Fun: Who was Alexander Graham Bell?| AT&T Labs| AT&T

    Learn more about Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the the telephone.
     
  7. Parks Canada - Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada

    Dec 9, 2008 ... A unique exhibit complex where models, replicas, photo displays, artifacts, and films describe the fascinating life and work of Alexander ...
     
  8. BBC - History - Alexander Graham Bell (1847 - 1922)

    Bell's fascination with speech would eventually lead to the telephone and a life spent helping many deaf people to speak.
     
  9. Alexander Graham Bell

    A brief biography of the inventor of the telephone, the telegraph, and nearly 30 other inventions.
     
  10. Alexander Graham Bell

    Jul 29, 2007 ... biography of Alexander Graham Bell. ... Alexander Graham Bell is most well known for inventing the telephone.
     
     
  11. Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

    Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, is where Alexander Graham Bell, mostly famed as the inventor of the telephone chose to build his Canadian residence. Why? ...
     
  12. Alexander Graham Bell Biography - Biography.com

    Learn about the life of Alexander Graham Bell at Biography.com. Read Biographies, watch interviews and videos.
     
     
  13. Alexander Graham Bell

    Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 3rd March, 1847. His father was Alexander Melville Bell, a leading authority in elocution and ...
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Alexander Graham( not grahm ) Bell

 
Portrait of Alexander Graham Bell c. 1910
Born 3 March 1847
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Died 2 August 1922 (aged 75)
Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Cause of death Pernicious anemia
Education University of Edinburgh
University College London
 
Occupation Inventor, Scientist, Professor (Boston University)
Known for Inventor of the telephone
Spouse(s) Mabel Hubbard
(married 1877–1922)
Children (4) Two sons who died in infancy and two daughters
Parents Alexander Melville Bell
Eliza Grace Symonds Bell
Relatives Gardiner Greene Hubbard (father-in-law)
Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor (son-in-law)
Melville Bell Grosvenor (grandson)

 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alexander Graham Bell (3 March 1847 – 2 August 1922) was an eminent scientist, inventor and innovator who is widely credited with inventing the first practical telephone.

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.[1] 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 in 1876.[2] In retrospect, Bell considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.[3] Upon Bell's death, all telephones throughout the United States "stilled their ringing for a silent minute in tribute to the man whose yearning to communicate made them possible".[4]

Many other inventions marked Bell's later life, including groundbreaking work in hydrofoils and aeronautics. In 1888, Alexander Graham Bell became one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society.[5]

 

Early years

Alexander Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 3 March 1847.[6] Throughout his early life, Bell was a British subject. The family home was at 16 South Charlotte Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, and now has a commemorative marker at the doorstep, marking it as Alexander Graham Bell's birthplace. He had two brothers: Melville James Bell (1845–1870) and Edward Charles Bell (1848–1867). Both of his brothers died of tuberculosis.[7] His father was Professor Alexander Melville Bell, and his mother was Eliza Grace (née Symonds).[8] Although he was born "Alexander", at age ten, he made a plea to his father to have a middle name like his two brothers.[9] For his 11th birthday, his father acquiesced and allowed him to adopt the middle name "Graham", chosen out of admiration for Alexander Graham, a Canadian being treated by his father and boarder who had become a family friend.[10] To close relatives and friends he remained "Aleck" which his father continued to call him into later life.[11]

 

First invention

As a child, young Aleck Bell displayed a natural curiosity about his world, resulting in gathering botanical specimens as well as experimenting even at an early age. His best friend was Ben Herdman, a neighbour whose family operated a flour mill, the scene of many forays. When their typical child's play had caused a racket one day, John Herdman admonished the two boys, "Why don't you do something useful?" Young Aleck asked what needed to be done at the mill. He was told wheat had to be dehusked through a laborious process and at the age of 12, Bell built a homemade device that combined rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes, creating a simple dehusking machine that was put into operation and used steadily for a number of years.[12] In return, John Herdman gave both boys the run of a small workshop within which to "invent".[12]


From his early years, Bell showed a sensitive nature and a talent for art, poetry and music that was encouraged by his mother. With no formal training, he mastered the piano and became the family's pianist.[13] Despite being normally quiet and introspective, he revelled in mimicry and "voice tricks" akin to ventriloquism that constantly entertained family guests.[13] Bell was also deeply affected by his mother's gradual deafness, (she began to lose her hearing when he was 12) and learned a manual finger language so he could sit at her side and tap out silently the conversations swirling around the family parlour.[14] He also developed a technique of speaking in clear, modulated tones directly into his mother's forehead wherein she would hear him with reasonable clarity.[15] Bell's preoccupation with his mother's deafness led him to study acoustics.

His family was long associated with the teaching of elocution: his grandfather, Alexander Bell, in London, his uncle in Dublin, and his father, in Edinburgh, were all elocutionists. His father published a variety of works on the subject, several of which are still well known, especially his The Standard Elocutionist (1860)[13] Mackay 1997, , which appeared in Edinburgh in 1868. The Standard Elocutionist appeared in 168 British editions and sold over a quarter of a million copies in the United States alone. In this treatise, his father explains his methods of how to instruct deaf-mutes (as they were then known) to articulate words and read other people's lip movements to decipher meaning. Aleck's father taught him and his brothers not only to write Visible Speech but also to identify any symbol and its accompanying sound.[16] Aleck became so proficient that he became a part of his father's public demonstrations and astounded audiences with his abilities in deciphering Latin, Gaelic and even Sanskrit symbols.[16]

 

Education

As a young child, Bell, like his brothers, received his early schooling at home from his father. At an early age, however, he was enrolled at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, which he left at age 15, completing the first four forms only.[17] His school record was undistinguished, marked by absenteeism and lacklustre grades. His main interest remained in the sciences, especially biology, while he treated other school subjects with indifference, to the dismay of his demanding father.[18] Upon leaving school, Bell travelled to London to live with his grandfather, Alexander Bell. During the year he spent with his grandfather, a love of learning was born, with long hours spent in serious discussion and study. The elder Bell took great efforts to have his young pupil learn to speak clearly and with conviction, the attributes that his pupil would need to become a teacher himself.[19] At age 16, Bell secured a position as a "pupil-teacher" of elocution and music, in Weston House Academy, at Elgin, Moray, Scotland. Although he was enrolled as a student in Latin and Greek, he instructed classes himself in return for board and £10 per session.[20] The following year, he attended the University of Edinburgh; joining his older brother Melville who had enrolled there the previous year.

 

First experiments with sound

Bell's father encouraged Aleck's interest in speech and, in 1863, took his sons to see a unique automaton, developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone based on the earlier work of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen.[21] The rudimentary "mechanical man" simulated a human voice. Aleck was fascinated by the machine and after he obtained a copy of von Kempelen's book, published in German, and had laboriously translated it, he and his older brother Melville built their own automaton head. Their father, highly interested in their project, offered to pay for any supplies and spurred the boys on with the enticement of a "big prize" if they were successful.[21] While his brother constructed the throat and larynx, Aleck tackled the more difficult task of recreating a realistic skull. His efforts resulted in a remarkably lifelike head that could "speak", albeit only a few words.[21] The boys would carefully adjust the "lips" and when a bellows forced air through the windpipe, a very recognizable "Mama" ensued, to the delight of neighbors who came to see the Bell invention.[22]

Intrigued by the results of the automaton, Bell continued to experiment with a live subject, the family's Skye terrier, "Trouve".[23] After he taught it to growl continuously, Aleck would reach into its mouth and manipulate the dog's lips and vocal cords to produce a crude-sounding "Ow ah oo ga ma ma." With little convincing, visitors believed his dog could articulate "How are you grandma?" More indicative of his playful nature, his experiments convinced onlookers that they saw a "talking dog."[24] However, these initial forays into experimentation with sound led Bell to undertake his first serious work on the transmission of sound, using tuning forks to explore resonance. At the age of 19, he wrote a report on his work and sent it to Alexander Ellis, a colleague of his father.[24] Ellis immediately wrote back indicating that the experiments were similar to existing work in Germany. Dismayed to find that groundbreaking work had already been undertaken by Hermann von Helmholtz who had conveyed vowel sounds by means of a similar tuning fork "contraption", he pored over the German scientist's book, Sensations of Tone. From his translation of the original German edition, Aleck then made a deduction that would be the underpinning of all his future work on transmitting sound, "Without knowing much about the subject, it seemed to me that if vowel sounds could be produced by electrical means so could consonants, so could articulate speech."[25]

 

Family tragedy

In 1865, when the Bell family moved to London,[26] Bell returned to Weston House as an assistant master and, in his spare hours, continued experiments on sound using a minimum of laboratory equipment. Bell concentrated on experimenting with electricity to convey sound and later installed a telegraph wire from his room in Somerset College to that of a friend.[27] Throughout the fall and winter, his health faltered mainly through exhaustion. His younger brother, Edward "Ted," was similarly bed-ridden, suffering from tuberculosis. While Bell recovered (by then referring to himself in correspondence as "A.G. Bell") and served the next year as an instructor at Somerset College, Bath, Somerset, England, his brother's condition deteriorated. Edward would never recover. Upon his brother's passing, Bell returned home in 1867. His older brother, "Melly" had married and moved out. With aspirations to obtain a degree at the University College London, Bell considered his next years as preparation for the degree examinations, devoting his spare time at his family's residence to studying.

Helping his father in Visible Speech demonstrations and lectures brought Bell to Susanna E. Hull's private school for the deaf in South Kensington, London. His first two pupils were "deaf mute" girls who made remarkable progress under his tutelage. While his older brother seemed to achieve success on many fronts including opening his own elocution school, applying for a patent on an invention, and starting a family, Bell continued as a teacher. However, in May 1870, Melville died from complications due to tuberculosis, causing a family crisis. His father had also suffered a debilitating illness earlier in life and had been restored to health by a convalescence in Newfoundland. Bell's parents embarked upon a long-planned move when they realized that their remaining son was also sickly. Acting decisively, Alexander Melville Bell asked Bell to arrange for the sale of all the family property,[28] conclude all of his brother's affairs (Bell took over his last student, curing a pronounced lisp),[29] and join his father and mother in setting out for the "New World."[30] Reluctantly, Bell also had to conclude a relationship with Marie Eccleston, who, he had surmised, was not prepared to leave England with him.[30]

 

Canada

In 1870, at age 23, Bell, his brother's widow, Caroline (Margaret Ottaway),[31] and his parents travelled on the SS Nestorian to Canada.[32] After landing at Quebec City, the Bells boarded a train to Montreal and later to Paris, Ontario to stay with the Reverend Thomas Henderson, a family friend. After a brief stay with the Hendersons, the Bell family purchased a 10-and-a-half acre farm at Tutelo Heights (now called Tutela Heights), near Brantford, Ontario. The property consisted of an orchard, larger farm house, stable, pigsty, hen-house and a carriage house, which bordered the Grand River.[33]

At the homestead, Bell set up his own workshop in the converted carriage house[34] near to what he called his "dreaming place", a large hollow nestled in trees at the back of the property above the river.[35] Despite his frail condition upon arriving in Canada, Bell found the climate and environs to his liking, and rapidly improved.[36] He continued his interest in the study of the human voice and when he discovered the Six Nations Reserve across the river at Onondaga, he learned the Mohawk language and translated its unwritten vocabulary into Visible Speech symbols. For his work, Bell was awarded the title of Honorary Chief and participated in a ceremony where he donned a Mohawk headdress and danced traditional dances.[37]

After setting up his workshop, Bell continued experiments based on Helmholtz's work with electricity and sound.[34] He designed a piano, which, by means of electricity, could transmit its music at a distance. Once the family was settled in, both Bell and his father made plans to establish a teaching practice and in 1871, he accompanied his father to Montreal, where Melville was offered a position to teach his System of Visible Speech.

 

Work with the deaf

Subsequently, his father was invited by Sarah Fuller, principal of the Boston School for Deaf Mutes (which continues today as the public Horace Mann School for the Deaf),[38] in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, to introduce the Visible Speech System by providing training for Fuller's instructors, but he declined the post, in favor of his son. Traveling to Boston in April 1871, Bell provided a successful in servicing of the school's instructors.[39] He was subsequently asked to repeat the program at the American Asylum for Deaf-mutes in Hartford and the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton.

Returning home to Brantford after six months abroad, Bell continued his experiments with his "harmonic telegraph".[40] The basic concept behind his device was that messages could be sent through a single wire if each message was transmitted at a different pitch, but work on both the transmitter and receiver as needed.[41] Unsure of his future, he first contemplated returning to London to complete his studies, but decided to return to Boston as a teacher.[42] His father helped him set up his private practice by contacting Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the president of the Clarke School for the Deaf for a recommendation. Teaching his father's system, in October 1872 Alexander Bell opened a school in Boston named the "Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech" which attracted a large number of deaf pupils.[43] His first class numbered 30 students.[44] Working as a private tutor, one of his most famous pupils was Helen Keller, who came to him as a young child, unable to see, hear, or speak. She later was to say that Bell dedicated his life to the penetration of that "inhuman silence which separates and estranges."[45]

 

Continuing experimentation

In the following year, Bell became professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory. During this period, he alternated between Boston and Brantford, spending summers in his Canadian home. At Boston University, Bell was "swept up" by the excitement engendered by the many scientists and inventors residing in the city. He continued his research in sound and endeavored to find a way to transmit musical notes and articulate speech, but although absorbed by his experiments, he found it difficult to devote enough time to experimentation. While days and evenings were occupied by his teaching and private classes, Bell began to stay awake late into the night, running experiment after experiment in rented facilities at his boarding house. Keeping up "night owl" hours, he worried that his work would be discovered and took great pains to lock up his notebooks and laboratory equipment. Bell had a specially made table where he could place his notes and equipment inside a locking cover.[46] Worse still, his health deteriorated as he suffered severe headaches.[41] Returning to Boston in fall 1873, Bell made a fateful decision to concentrate on his experiments in sound.

Bell speaking into prototype model of the telephone

Deciding to give up his lucrative private Boston practice, Bell only retained two students, six-year old "Georgie" Sanders, deaf from birth and 15-year old Mabel Hubbard. Each pupil would serve to play an important role in the next developments. George's father, Thomas Sanders, a wealthy businessman, offered Bell a place to stay at nearby Salem with Georgie's grandmother, complete with a room to "experiment". Although the offer was made by George's mother and followed the year-long arrangement in 1872 where her son and his nurse had moved to quarters next to Bell's boarding house, it was clear that Mr. Sanders was backing the proposal. The arrangement was for teacher and student to continue their work together with free room and board thrown in.[47] Mabel was a bright, attractive girl who was ten years his junior but became the object of Bell's affection. Losing her hearing after a bout of scarlet fever at age five, she had learned to read lips but her father, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Bell's benefactor and personal friend, wanted her to work directly with her teacher.[48]

 

Telephone

By 1874, Bell's initial work on the harmonic telegraph had entered a formative stage with progress it made both at his new Boston "laboratory" (a rented facility) as well as at his family home in Canada a big success.[49] While working that summer in Brantford, Bell experimented with a "phonautograph," a pen-like machine that could draw shapes of sound waves on smoked glass by tracing their vibrations. Bell thought it might be possible to generate undulating electrical currents that corresponded to sound waves.[50] Bell also thought that multiple metal reeds tuned to different frequencies like a harp would be able to convert the undulatory currents back into sound. But he had no working model to demonstrate the feasibility of these ideas.[51]

In 1874, telegraph message traffic was rapidly expanding and in the words of Western Union President William Orton, had become "the nervous system of commerce". Orton had contracted with inventors Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray to find a way to send multiple telegraph messages on each telegraph line to avoid the great cost of constructing new lines.[52] When Bell mentioned to Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders that he was working on a method of sending multiple tones on a telegraph wire using a multi-reed device, the two wealthy patrons began to financially support Bell's experiments.[53] Patent matters would be handled by Hubbard's patent attorney, Anthony Pollok.[54]

In March 1875, Bell and Pollok visited the famous scientist Joseph Henry, who was then director of the Smithsonian Institution, and asked Henry's advice on the electrical multi-reed apparatus that Bell hoped would transmit the human voice by telegraph. Henry replied that Bell had "the germ of a great invention". When Bell said that he did not have the necessary knowledge, Henry replied, "Get it!" That declaration greatly encouraged Bell to keep trying, even though he did not have the equipment needed to continue his experiments, nor the ability to create a working model of his ideas. However, a chance meeting in 1874 between Bell and Thomas A. Watson, an experienced electrical designer and mechanic at the electrical machine shop of Charles Williams, changed all that.

With financial support from Sanders and Hubbard, Bell was able to hire Thomas Watson as his assistant and the two of them experimented with acoustic telegraphy. On 2 June 1875, Watson accidentally plucked one of the reeds and Bell, at the receiving end of the wire, heard the overtones of the reed; overtones that would be necessary for transmitting speech. That demonstrated to Bell that only one reed or armature was necessary, not multiple reeds. This led to the "gallows" sound-powered telephone, which was able to transmit indistinct, voice-like sounds, but not clear speech.

 

The race to the patent office

In 1875, Bell developed an acoustic telegraph and drew up a patent for it. Since he had agreed to share US profits with his investors, Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, he had an associate attempt to patent it in Britain, instructing his lawyers to only patent it in the US once they received word from Britain. (Britain would only issue patents for discoveries not previously patented elsewhere.)

Excerpts from Elisha Gray's patent caveat of February 14 and Alexander Graham Bell's lab notebook entry of March 8, demonstrating their surprising similarity.

Meanwhile, Elisha Gray was also experimenting with acoustic telegraphy and thought of a way to transmit speech using a water transmitter. On 14 February 1876, Gray filed a caveat with the U.S. Patent Office for a telephone design that used a water transmitter. That same morning, Bell's lawyer filed Bell's application with the patent office. There is considerable debate about who arrived first and Gray later challenged the primacy of Bell's patent.[55]

The patent examiner, Zenas Fisk Wilber, later stated in a sworn affidavit that he was an alcoholic who much in debt to Bell's lawyer, Marcellus Bailey, with whom he had fought in the Civil War. He claims he showed Gray's patent to Bailey. (Bell and Gardiner vehemently deny Wilber's testimony.) For whatever reason, Bell then left Boston for DC, where Wilber says he also showed Bell the patent Gray filed in return for $100. Bell claims they only discussed the patent in general terms, although in a letter to Gray, Bell admitted that he learned some of the technical details.

An addition about Bell's patent also covering "the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically… by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound"[56] appears handwritten in the margin of Bell's patent and does not appear in any of the other copies, leading some to claim Bell added it based on what he learned in DC.

After numerous irregularities, patent 174,465, including the claim on transmitting vocal sounds, was issued to Bell on 7 March 1876 by the U.S. Patent Office. Bell returned to Boston the same day and the next day resumed work, drawing a diagram suspiciously similar to that in Gray's patent in his notebook.

Three days after his patent was issued, Bell succeeded in getting his telephone to work. Vibration of the diaphragm caused a needle to vibrate in the water which varied the electrical resistance in the circuit. When Bell spoke the famous sentence "Mr Watson — Come here — I want to see you" into the liquid transmitter,[57] Watson, listening at the receiving end in an adjoining room, heard the words clearly.[5

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