Alexander Graham Bell – The Person behind the World Changing Invention “The Telephone”

 

In the 1850s, when Bell was born, talking to each-other verbally without physically being present together at one place was literally a dream. People weren’t even thinking about it because of the possibility of happening something like this was also out of the imagination. The person Alexander Graham Bell made this possible when he first spoke over the telephone for the first time in the year 1876.

Quick Facts

Name: Alexander Graham Bell

Born On: 3 March 1847

Died On: 2 August 1922

Birth Place: Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K.

Famous As: Inventor of Telephone

Other Inventions: The Photophone or Optical Telephone, The Metal Detector, Hydrofoils, Aeronautics etc.

Awards: Albert Medal (1902), John Fritz Medal (1907), Elliott Cresson Medal (1912), Hughes Medal (1913), IEEE Edison Medal (1914)

Early Life

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K. on 3rd of March 1847. He was grown up with his two brothers Melville James Bell (1845-70) and Edward Charles Bell (1848-67). His mother was Eliza Grace and father was Professor Alexander Melville Bell, an elocutionist. Bell was curious from the very beginning since his childhood and had a deep interest in discovering and experimenting with new things.

The First Invention

One day Bell was at a flour mill owned by his best friend, Ben Herdman. He asked Ben what is to be done here and found that the wheat had to be dehusked through a very laborious process. Bell showed his curiosity there and at the very small age of 12 only, he made a homemade machine that combined rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes. This device was able to dehusk the wheat grains properly. This device was appreciated by Ben’s father and used in the flour mill steadily for several years. In return of it, Ben’s father John Herdman gave both the boys a small workshop to run and invent in it.

Education

Bell got his early schooling at home from his father like his other brothers before being enrolled at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, which he left completing only four forms at the age of 15. His main interest was in science, especially in biology rather than all the other subjects in the school. Bell finally traveled to his grandfather, Alexander Bell, at London after leaving his school. There with his grandfather, Bell started taking interest in studies. His grandfather gave great efforts to teach him to speak clearly and with conviction. When Bell was of 16, he got a chance to become a “pupil-teacher” of elocution and music in Weston House Academy at Elgin, Moray, Scotland. Bell completed his matriculation exams and was accepted for admission to the University College London in the year 1868.

Interest towards Sound

Bell’s mother started losing her hearing power from the age of 12 and gone deaf. Bell’s father was engaged in teaching deaf people to communicate with a special technique which later on Bell also learned and taught deaf people to communicate for a long period of time. Bell used to talk to his mother using deaf language as well. All these activity and engagement of sound attracted Bell to research on it and develop a machine that could reproduce sound. From here only the journey of Alexander Graham Bell began.

The Invention of the Telephone

Though Bell was suffering from poor health and he had to move to Brantford, Ontario, Canada with his family, he continued his research on sound. Bell also opened a “School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech” in Boston in the year 1872 where he was teaching deaf people to communicate. He was also engaged in work of private tutor. He used to be occupied throughout the day but he never left his research on sound. He started working late night every day to continue his research.

Bell was not financially strong by that time. In the absence of having proper equipment, he was not sufficiently able to continue his research. But as we all know “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. Finally, Bell met two wealthy people Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders. When Bell told them about his idea and experiments, they started supporting him financially. Having proper financial support, Bell was finally able to buy proper equipment and to hire Thomas Watson, a skilled electrical engineer as his assistant which fulfilled Bell’s requirements to achieve his destination.

Bell was well known for the fact that sound travels like waves. And he was in believe that these sound waves could be converted into electrical signals to send it from one place to another. Just like the electrical telegraph lines initially built at the 1830s which allowed electrical dots (Morse code) to be instantly transmitted over a great distance, Bell wanted to transmit human speech instead. He was working hard continuously for the same and was getting closer to do it. Finally, on 2nd June 1875, Watson plucked one of the reeds and the Bell on the receiving end of the wire accidentally. He heard the overtones of the reed that would be necessary to transmit the speech. Bell got to know that only one reed is necessary instead of multiple reeds to transmit the sound. This gave birth to the sound powered telephone which would be able to transmit voice like sounds but not clear speech.

Patenting Battle for the Telephone

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was ready to patent his invention. He stated his lawyer to patent the Telephone in the U.K. first before the U.S. as Britain those days were issuing patents only for discoveries not patented elsewhere previously.

During those days only, Elisha Gray was also experimenting on a similar type of device which was using a water transmitter to transmit the speech. On 14th February 1876, Grey filed an application for patent to the U.S. patent officer for the Telephone design that uses a water transmitter to transmit speech. On the same morning, Bell’s lawyer filed Bell’s application for his own Telephone model. There was considerable debate on the first arrival among them and Grey later on also challenged the primacy of the Bell’s patent. Finally, Bell’s patent was issued on the 7th of March 1876 by the U.S. patent officer.

Money Making Journey

Bell and his investors finally decided to sell the patent outright of the Telephone to Western Union who were responsible to run America’s telegraph wires, for $100,000. But the president of the Western Union was in an opinion that the Telephone is nothing but a toy and would do no value addition to their company. This could be considered as the most unfortunate event for the Western Union as just after two years they realized that even if they would have gotten that patent rights for $25 million, it would have been cheaper. But by that time Bell’s Telephone Company had been launched and they were in no intention of selling their patent anymore. Bell’s investors became millionaires.

The Later Inventions

After being wealthy and famous in front of the whole world, Bell didn’t stop his journey. His restless mind decided not to take rest. He continued his journey to provide the world with his new inventions. After the success of the Telephone, Bell invented a lot. These inventions include:

  • The Photophone or Optical Telephone

  • The Metal Detector

  • Hydrofoils

  • Aeronautics

Legacy and Honors

During and after his life, Bell had been awarded and honored a number of times for the contributions he made for this world. His contributions created a change in this world toward a positive way and this is the reason that he awarded and honored with:

  • Bell Telephone Memorial erected in his honor in Alexander Graham Bell Gardens in Brantford, Ontario, in 1917

  • A collection of the huge number of Bell’s personal writings, notebooks, papers, and other documents reside in both Library of Congress Manuscript Division and at the Bell’s institute Cape Briton University, Nova Scotia (major portions are available online as well)

  • The Alexander Graham Bell Museum, a part of the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site which was completed in 1978 in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Apart from it, lots of awards and medals had been given in honor of Alexander Graham Bell. Such as:

  • Albert Medal (1902)

  • John Fritz Medal (1907)

  • Elliott Cresson Medal (1912)

  • Hughes Medal (1913)

  • IEEE Edison Medal (1914)

Death

Alexander Graham Bell was suffering from diabetes at his end days. He had also been afflicted with pernicious anemia. His wife, Mabel, and the two daughters, Elsie May and Marian were always there to support him at his end days. Finally, due to complications arising from diabetes, he died on 2nd August 1922 at his private estate in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, at the age of 75.

He was someone who gave the world a precious gift which connects the whole world with their families, friends, and with everyone living apart. The gift of direct communication at a distance was something which has become an integral part of everyone’s life today. The whole world was in sorrow and pain of Bell’s death and the whole North America silenced their every phone at that time in honor of the great man Alexander Graham Bell.

Unknown Facts about Bell

A few facts are there which most of the people don’t know about. A few of them are:

  • Bell’s mother and wife both were deaf which created a great impact on his work.

  • Bell didn’t have a middle name till the age of 11. His father then gave it to him by his request as a birthday present.

  • Bell had achieved excellence as a piano player at an early age.

  • When Bell was 23 years old, he and his parents moved to Canada.

  • The first words spoken by Bell on his first workings telephone to his assistant were “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”

  • After the invention of Telephone, more than 150,000 people owned the telephone by the end of 1886.

  • He faced over 600 lawsuits against his patent on the telephone.

  • He also designed the speedboat. One of his designed speedboats set a world record as well.

Quotes by Alexander Graham Bell

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”


“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”


“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.”


“Educate the masses, elevate their standard of intelligence, and you will certainly have a successful nation.”


“A man, as a general rule, owes very little to what he is born with – a man is what he makes of himself.”


“The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of steady accretion.”


“The nation that secures control of the air will ultimately control the world.”


“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”


“The day will come when the man at the telephone will be able to see the distant person to whom he is speaking.”


“The only difference between success and failure is the ability to take action.”


“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”


“You cannot force ideas. Successful ideas are the result of slow growth. Ideas do not reach perfection in a day, no matter how much study is put upon them.”

 

Written By: Avishekh Tiwari

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