Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)


Alexander Graham Bell was an inventor, engineer, and scientist from Edinburgh, Scotland. He is most famous for patenting the first telephone and founding the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). His deaf mother greatly influenced his work and sparked his passion into researching his life’s work. As a child, Bell experimented with plants and bugs displaying a natural curiosity about the world. At 12, he built a device that would dehusk plants more quickly and effectively for a neighbor’s farmer father. The farmer, John Herdman, gave Bell a workshop to invent more useful gadgets.

He also displayed a passion for the arts and music. With no training, he taught himself to play the piano masterfully and even got into ventriloquism, entertaining guests with his many quirky talents. Bell also learned a language for his mother who started to lose her hearing as he approached his teenage years. His fascination with his mother’s condition led him to also study acoustics. Bell’s grandfather and father were both elocutionists. Elocutionists were formal speech givers and Bell became so proficient that his father often brought him along while he lectured on the topic and Bell gave demonstrations. Bell could decipher Visible Speech in virtually every language.

By 1874, Bell had lived in several places around the world and was very established in the field of elocution. Telegraph message traffic was quickly growing and Bell sought ways to improve the technology. Eventually gaining financial support from Thomas Sanders and Gardiner Hubbard, Bell partnered with Thomas A. Watson, an electrical mechanic, and designer. The pair experimented with acoustic telegraphy. By accident, Watson plucked a reed and Bell was able to hear a sound being transmitted. The sounds emitted were the voice like but were not clear speech.

The patent for the first practical telephone was granted on March 7, 1876. There was controversy surrounding the issue of the patent and Elisha Gray filed a caveat suggesting the idea was stolen and patented by Bell first. Although he was (and still is) accused of stealing Gray’s design. Gray used a liquid transmitter to emmit the sound to the receiving end. After March 1876, Bell never used the transmitter again in public demonstrations to prove that his electromagnetic design of the telephone could work without it. In 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was established. Bell made contributions to many notable inventions such as the photophone, metal detector, aeronautics, and hydrofoils.

Bell was married days after opening his business in Cambridge, Massachusetts and fathered four children. He died from complications arising from diabetes in 1922 in Nova Scotia. His death was acknowledged by many with his wife receiving personal correspondence from the Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King. After his funeral, every phone in the United States was silenced in his honor.