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Bell, Alexander Graham - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Alexander Graham Bell, Social and Economic Impact

telephone speech aleck deaf

(1847-1922)
Inventor

Overview

Alexander Graham Bell invented one of the most common instruments in use today, the telephone. With his supporters, he founded Bell Telephone, which has become one of the world’s most successful corporate conglomerates, American Telephone & Telegraph Co. (AT&T). He was also an outstanding teacher of the deaf and a prolific inventor of other devices.

Personal Life

Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, taught deaf-mutes to speak and wrote text books on correct speech. His mother, Elisa Grace Symonds, was a portrait painter and an accomplished musician. Known as Aleck in his early years, Bell received his primary education at home from his mother. Aleck also had natural musical talent and studied music. He could play by ear and improvise at the piano from childhood and continued to play throughout his life. His fine ear helped him in his later work with the human voice.

At the age of 14, Aleck showed his inventive spirit when he combined a nail brush with a paddle and made a rotary-brushing wheel that removed the husks from wheat for a flour mill. Encouraged by their father, Aleck and his older brother later designed and built a speaking machine with a mouth, throat, nose, maneuverable tongue, and a bellows lung. The boys worked long hours perfecting the machine and learned how the sounds of a voice are produced. The apparatus actually produced human-like sounds.

In 1860, Aleck spent a year with his grandfather in London. He gave Aleck lessons in elocution, Shakespeare, and the treatment of speech effects, and refined the boy’s country manners and dress. When Aleck enrolled soon after as a student-teacher at Weston House, a boy’s school near Edinburgh, his students had no idea that the London gentleman was only 15 years old. Aleck taught music and speech and, in turn, received instruction in other subjects.

Aleck’s father had invented “Visible Speech,” symbols for all spoken sounds used in teaching deaf people to speak. When Aleck was 15, he and his two brothers started helping their father demonstrate Visible Speech. While the boys waited outside, audience members suggested difficult sounds which were written in symbols on a blackboard. When the boys returned to the room, they could always reproduce the sounds from the symbols on the board, even Russian words, for example, or the sound of a yawn. Aleck studied at Edinburgh University in 1864 and later at University College, London. When Grandfather Bell died in 1865, Aleck’s family moved to London. From 1868-70, Aleck assisted his father at University College teaching the deaf Visible Speech.

After Aleck’s two brothers died of tuberculosis, Melville Bell decided to take his remaining family to Canada’s healthier climate. In 1870, the Bells settled in Brantford, Ontario. In 1871, Alexander Graham Bell began his professional career as an educator, inventor, and scientist in Boston, Massachusetts.

On July 11, 1877, 30 year-old Alexander Graham Bell married his student, 19 year-old Mabel Hubbard, the deaf daughter of his partner Gardiner Hubbard. For their wedding, Aleck gave Mabel 1,497 shares of Bell Telephone stock and kept only 10 shares for himself. The stock made the Bells wealthy. But because they sold a large portion early on Bell did not become as rich as other entrepreneurs like John Rockefeller. During their 45 year marriage, Bell’s wife helped him through difficult periods in his career. She managed the family finances and up to 40 employees to support his experiments and prevented Bell from withdrawing completely from society. Later in his career, Bell limited his social activities in order to do the necessary thinking work for his various inventions. His daily routine included sleeping until 10 or 11, walks with Mabel, meals, dictation, and work in the lab up until three or four in the morning. For more than 25 years, he spent weekends in total seclusion on his houseboat at his summer home on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

In 1882, Bell became a naturalized United States citizen. Always curious about the world, Bell and his wife traveled extensively even in their 70s. Alexander Graham Bell died on August 2, 1922. On the day of his funeral all AT&T telephone lines fell silent for one minute.

Career Details

While teaching Visible Speech in London, Bell became deeply interested in the study of sound and the mechanics of speech. As Edwin S. Grosvenor and Morgan Wesson wrote in Alexander Graham Bell, “Aleck sketched how the mouth produces sounds and used tuning forks to measure tones of different parts of speech. Impressed by the young man’s original research, leading phonetician Alexander Ellis referred him to the work Hermann von Helmholtz had done with electrical tuning forks. Mistakenly thinking that the German scientist had transmitted vowel sounds electronically, Aleck then began to study electricity.” He came to believe that it would be possible “to talk by telegraph some day.”

Bell joined the Boston School for the Deaf—the first such school in the world in 1871. Shortly afterwards, he became a professor of vocal physiology and speech at Boston University and also tutored private pupils. Boston, an important center for commerce and culture, proved a fertile location for Bell’s creative talents.

In 1873, Bell began experimenting with different technologies to investigate the transmission of sound over wires. In particular, he worked on the harmonic telegraph—a device that could send several messages simultaneously over a single wire. To transmit the human voice, Bell also experimented with vibrating membranes and an actual human ear. Financial backing for his work came from Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, the father of one of his deaf pupils.

Early in 1874, Bell met Thomas A. Watson, a young machinist and technician, at a Boston electrical shop. Watson brought the necessary electrical engineering expertise to Bell’s experiments and became the inventor’s indispensable assistant. The two men spent endless hours experimenting. In the summer of 1874, Bell formed the basic concept of the telephone. He used a varying but unbroken electric current to transmit the varying sound waves of human speech. But no one believed the telephone would be anything more than a toy, and Hubbard insisted that the inventor focus his efforts on the harmonic telegraph. Bell complied, but when he patented one of his telegraph designs in February 1875, he discovered Elisha Gray, a professional inventor, had patented a multiple telegraph just two days earlier.

Greatly discouraged, Bell consulted Joseph Henry, a physicist who invented the first electromagnetic telegraph. He urged Bell to pursue his idea of speech transmission. Consequently, Bell and Watson continued to work on the harmonic telegraph but with the telephone still in mind. Accidentally, in June 1875, an intermittent transmitter produced a steady current and transmitted sound. Bell had proof that his 1874 idea worked, and he quickly sketched a design for an electric telephone that Watson then built. The partners experimented all summer, but failed to transmit voice sounds. That fall, Bell began to write the patent specification. Hubbard finally filed for the patent on February 14, 1876—just hours before Gray appeared at the same patent office to file an intent to patent his own telephone design.

Bell’s patent, U.S. Patent No. 174,465, was granted on March 7, 1876, four days after his 29th birthday. On March 10, the first message transmitted by telephone passed from Bell to Watson in their workshop: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!” Three months later, Bell’s invention became a star attraction at the International Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the largest fair in American history. Despite this progress, Bell was still broke, desperate for money to apply for patents overseas and even begging lunch money from Watson.

After a year of refining his telephone, Bell and his financial backers, Hubbard and Sanders, founded the Bell Telephone Company on July 9, 1877. Later that year, the first telephone was installed in a private home. While on his honeymoon in summer 1877, Bell introduced the telephone to England and France and one year later, the first subsidiary, the New England Telephone Company, was organized. One decision important to the success of the Bell Telephone Company was to lease telephones instead of selling them. Leased telephones could be easily replaced as improved models were developed. This concept helped spread telephone technology and standardize equipment, an important factor for high quality service and the eventual financial success of Bell Telephone.

Chronology: Alexander Graham Bell

1847: Born.

1869: Began teaching deaf students in London.

1874: Elected president of National Association of Teachers of the Deaf.

1876: Received U.S. Patent for his telephone.

1881: Financed Science magazine.

1884: Opened school for hearing and hearing-impaired children.

1897: Elected president of National Geographic Society.

1907: Organized Arial Experiment Association.

1911: Designed 100 science experiments for children.

1914: Coined the term “greenhouse effect.”

1919: Developed world’s fastest ship with Casey Baldwin.

1922: Died.

Although the phone company grew rapidly, Bell left its day-to-day operations to others. He remained active in the company, however, as the principal defender of his telephone patents. Bell Telephone encountered early competition from the Western Union Telegraph Company. Bell had offered to sell his invention to Western Union for $100,000, but the company had refused. Later however, Western Union employed two prominent inventors, Thomas A. Edison and Elisha Gray, to work against Bell. Western Union’s actions nearly ruined Bell Telephone financially before a patent infringement suit was filed. The courts upheld Bell’s patent and in 1879 Western Union had to agree to stay out of the telephone business. Altogether, the Bell Telephone Company was involved in 587 lawsuits, five of which went to the Supreme Court; Bell won every case. A convincing argument was that no competitor claimed originality until 17 months after Bell’s patent.

After returning to the United States from England in 1879, Bell continued his work as an inventor. In 1880, he won the French government’s Volta Prize for his telephone. With the $10,000, he established the Volta Laboratory for research, invention, and work for the deaf. Among the new devices Bell invented were the graphophone for recording sound on wax cylinders or disks; the photophone for transmitting speech on a beam of light; the audiometer for measuring hearing ability; the telephone probe used in surgery before X-rays; and the induction balance for detecting metal within the human body. Bell also remained interested in education of the deaf. With the profits from the Columbia Gramophone Company’s commercialization of his phonograph records, Bell established the Volta Bureau in Washington to study deafness. In 1890, he founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, renamed the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.

In the 1880s Bell became involved with organizations and publications that introduced the results of scientific research to a broader public. In 1882 he and Hubbard acquired Science magazine. Despite significant losses in its first years, they were convinced it would be successful. In 1888, 33 prominent scientists, explorers, and authors responded to the partners’ invitation to start a group to be called the National Geographical Society. After Hubbard’s death, Bell took over its presidency in 1899 and helped establish the society and its magazine, National Geographic.

After 1895, Bell’s primary interest was the possibility of flight. He built gliders capable of carrying human beings, supported pioneering aviation experiments, and helped organize the Aerial Experiment Association in 1907.

In his 70s, Bell continued reading, studying, and working long hours on various projects. He designed a hydrofoil boat that moved across the water on a cushion of air, and worked on air conditioning, a sheep breeding project, an early iron lung, solar distillation of water, and sonar detection of icebergs. Many of his experiments involved energy conservation. He created devices that used the waste heat in chimneys and lamps as well as rooftop devices to collect heat from the sun.

Social and Economic Impact

Bell’s invention of the telephone changed the world significantly. His patent for the “electric speaking telephone” was the most valuable single patent ever issued. It opened a new age in communication between people and businesses, as well as in communication technology. The Bell Company built the first long-distance line in 1884, connecting Boston and New York. Today, millions of phone calls are made daily, connecting the most remote places all over the world. Bell’s vision of transmitting voice messages from one place to another made advanced communication devices—wireless and cellular phones, pagers, and personal communication systemspoasible.

Bell also contributed to the development of other key technologies. Decades before the radio, Bell’s “photophone” used light waves to transmit sound, the basic principle of today’s fiber optics technologies. So advanced was the photophone, that improvement was impossible until the invention of the laser in 1957 (this helped overcome transmission interference over longer distances). Bell’s support of scientists interested in aviation led to the development of the hydrofoil boat, which set the world water speed record in 1918, and a biplane, which recorded the first flight in Canadian history.

The organizations and publications Bell helped to establish are powerful forces today. By the 1980s AT&T, which emerged from Bell Telephone, controlled virtually all telephone traffic in the USA. Although Congress has since passed laws deregulating long-distance service and ending AT&T’s monopoly, the company still employed 128,000 people in 1998. Science magazine is still the official organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a group with over 143,000 members in 1998. The National Geographic Society, known for its award-winning nature broadcasts and high quality monthly magazine, has millions of members throughout the world. According to Grosvenor & Wesson, “One of Bell’s lesser known invention-the nonprofit society promoting membership nationally through a popular magazine-would serve as a model for publications such as Smithsonian, National History, Audubon, and National Wildlife.

Inspired by his two daughters and nine grandchildren, Bell remained interested in education throughout his life. He founded a kindergarden for deaf and hearing children. Later, Bell supported the ideas of educator Maria Montessori, which stressed schoolchildren’s interests rather than forcing them to memorize, and designed experiments that taught basic science principles. The Bells founded the Montessori Educational Association, funded its magazine, Freedom for the Child, and opened Canada’s first Montessori school.

Far ahead of his time on many things, Bell even fore-saw the environmental problems the world is grappling with today. By 1917, he worried about what would happen when coal and oil resources were used up and encouraged engineering students to develop new sources of energy. He also wondered about the effects of burning fossil fuels on the atmosphere. Bells answer is quoted by Grosvenor and Wesson: “While we would lose some of the sun’s heat, we would gain some of the earth’s heat which is normally radiated into space,” Bell wrote. “We would have a sort of a greenhouse effect The net result is that the greenhouse becomes a hot-house.”

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about 1 year ago

I like turtles

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over 3 years ago

this man is AMAZING!! He had such a great life when he was alive he made an important invention for the world to communicate better.

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about 2 years ago

stfu

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about 3 years ago

hi madison

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about 3 years ago

no lisa hes not he died in 1922

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over 3 years ago

i think that this man is just so great he is so smart at what he did

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about 3 years ago

Yes lisa alexander graham bell died in 1922 if you read the passages you would know that
no to be mean :)

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about 3 years ago

no

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about 2 years ago

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over 1 year ago

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about 3 years ago

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about 3 years ago

hey lisa your cute lol

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over 2 years ago

hi varsha
you are very cute

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about 3 years ago

hey lisa your cute lol

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about 1 year ago

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over 2 years ago

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over 2 years ago

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about 3 years ago

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about 3 years ago

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