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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 3, 1847. The family home was at 16 South Charlotte Street.

He was born Alexander Bell (1847-1922) in Edinburgh, Scotland and later adopted the middle name Graham out of admiration for Alexander Graham, a family friend. To close relatives and friends he remained "Aleck" which his father continued to call him into later life.

Bell's father was a specialist in deaf children's education who invented "visible speech", a method of phonetic notation for deaf mutes.

His mother, Eliza Grace (née Symonds), began to lose her hearing when he was 12 and Alexander learned a manual finger language so he could sit at her side and tap out silently the conversations swirling around the family parlour.

Bell's 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.

As a boy Alexander had attacks of what his mother called “musical fever”. Listening to music affected him so deeply, he couldn't sleep leaving him with a headache in the morning.

At the age of 11 Bell invented a device for separating wheat from its husk and when still in his teens, the precocious youngster made a talking doll that said "mama"; so convincing was it that his neighbours began hunting for an abandoned baby.

Throughout late 1867, Bell's health faltered mainly through exhaustion. His father had also suffered a debilitating illness earlier in life and had been restored to health by a convalescence in Newfoundland, so his family moved from London to the fresh air of Canada from London for the sake of their one remaining son's health.

Bell often suffered from a splitting headache in the morning. Because of this he normally lied in until after 9.00, or if he had an early morning appointment, the Scot stayed up all night. Bell had suffered from these headaches from an early age and when he was younger his mother suggested putting cold water on his eyes, a little beer and refraining from pickles as various cures.

In 1872 he opened a private school in Boston, USA to train teachers of the deaf and the methods of visible speech that he'd learnt from his father.

Before Bell invented the telephone he designed a piano which could transmit its music to a distance by means of electricity.

Bell invented an audiometer artificial ear, which was capable of registering sounds on a sheet of glass covered in lampblack. Another invention was a sorting machine for punch coded census cards.

Before the telephone Bell developed a harmonic telegraph which meant for the first time many messages could be sent down the wire at once.

The inspiration for the telephone came when Bell was working to improve the telegram in Boston, Massachusetts. Not adept with his hands, the Scot was aided by a young repair mechanic and model maker, Thomas Watson. On June 2, 1875 Watson made a mistake, the incorrect contact of a clamping screw which was too tight changed what should have been an intermittent transmission into a continuous current. Bell at the other end of the wire heard the sound of the contacter dropping.

Bell spent the next winter making calculations and filing an application for a patent knowing a rival, Elisha Gray was working on a similar project. On February 14, 1876 a representative of Bell filed his patent for a "telephone" which is Greek for sound, at New York Patent Office at 12.00PM. The now forgotten Gray got there two hours later.

Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the patent for the electric telephone by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on March 7, 1876

Alexander Graham Bell's telephone patent[79] drawing, 

The first telephone call was made on March 10, 1876 when the clumsy Bell spilled battery acid on his trousers. He summoned his Watson over the phone. So the first intelligible words transmitted over the new electric speech machine was not "Hello its Bell ringing" but "Come here Watson, I want to see you". As Bell could have shouted this and Watson would have heard it anyway it was an inauspicious start to selling the benefits of an audio communication device.

Bell's March 10, 1876 laboratory notebook entry describing his first successful experiment with the telephone.

The telephone became the great hit of the June 1876 celebration of the Declaration of Independence when Bell recited "to be or not to be" down the phone to an excited Emperor of Brazil who was standing 150 yards away.

Alexander Graham Bell installs the world's first commercial telephone service in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on June 20, 1877.

An actor portraying Alexander Graham Bell speaking into an early model telephone.


Bell also invented the device that makes a telephone ring. A good thing he did as previously anyone making a call had to shout down the line to alert the people at the other end to pick up the receiver.

Alexander Graham Bell refused to have a phone in his study because the ringing drove him nuts.

His company, Bell Telephone Company, became one of the largest in the USA by making the art of communication more expensive than ever before in history.

The first telephone directory only had 50 names in it.

Bell at the opening of the long-distance line from New York to Chicago in 1892.

Alexander Graham Bell inaugurated the U.S. transcontinental telephone service on January 25, 1915. Calling from the AT&T head office at 15 Dey Street in New York City, he was heard by Thomas Watson at 333 Grant Avenue in San Francisco. Bell repeated his first ever words on the phone back in 1876, "Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you" as a joke.

After his successful invention of the telephone, Bell devoted the rest of his life to the education of deaf and dumb children. One of his pupils was a young woman called Helen Keller.

Another of his pupils, the deaf and mute Mabel Hubbard, was a bright, attractive girl who was ten years his junior. She became the object of Bell's affection and they married on July 11, 1877 in the Cambridge home of her parents, when she was 19 and lived together happily for 45 years.

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard with her husband Alexander Graham Bell and their daughters Elsie (left) and Marian (1885).

Two days before Alexander Graham Bell married Mabel Hubbard in 1877, he gave her 99 percent of his company shares as a wedding gift. He kept a mere ten shares for himself.

Bell created a metal detecting tool to help find the assassins' bullet in President Garfield in 1881. The device failed to work as no one had thought of removing the steel bed springs on which the president was lying. The metal sent the machine haywire, couldn't locate the bullet and Garfield died from his wounds.

The Scottish inventor has the odd habit of drinking his soup through a glass straw.

Bell helped found Science magazine in 1880 in partnership with his father in law Gardiner Hubbard.

In 1896 he succeeded his father in law as President of the National Geographic Society. Bell transformed what had began as a modest pamphlet into the world famous National Geographic Magazine. He wrote articles for the magazine under the enigmatic pseudonym of H.A. Largelamb.

Bell was a Unitarian and an Universalist. In 1901 he came across a Unitarian pamphlet and found its theology appealingly undogmatic. Alexander wrote to Mabel: "I have always considered myself as an agnostic, but I have now discovered that I am a Unitarian Agnostic."

Alexander Graham bell

Bell was connected with the eugenics movement in the United States. The Scottish inventor's hobby of livestock breeding led to his appointment to biologist David Starr Jordan's Committee on Eugenics, under the auspices of the American Breeders Association. His own investigations of race improving theories led to him developing a more prolific breed of sheep.

Fascinated by aeronautics, Bell begun experiments in 1891 to develop motor-powered heavier-than-air aircraft. His wife founded the Aerial Experimental Association, the first research organisation established by a woman, as she shared her husband's vision to fly. She advised Alexander to seek "young" help as he was at the graceful age of 60.

In 1907 Bell developed large human carrying tetrahedral celled kites and he made several other contributions in the early days of flying.

Bell's hydrofoil boat set the world water speed record in 1919 when he was 72 by reaching speeds in excess of 70 miles an hour. For many years it was the fastest boat in the world.

The term "decibel" used to denote noise volume is named after Bell.

Bell died at his Cape Breton Island estate on August 2, 1922 after a long illness. Mabel whispered to him "don't leave me". Unable to speak, Bell traced with his fingers the sign "no". It was his last word.

During his funeral service, every telephone of the Bell system was kept silent for one minute.

Bell is buried alongside his wife atop Beinn Bhreagh Mountain overlooking Bras d'Or Lake.

The 1939 film The Story of Alexander Graham Bell starred Don Ameche as the Scottish-American inventor. For a while after this film, the telephone was known by the American public as the "Ameche".

Bell’s grandson answered the very first commercial mobile phone call in 1983.

No recordings existed of Alexander Graham Bell's voice until a wax on cardboard disc was discovered in 2013. In it we hear Bell say in a Scottish-tinged accent "Hear my voice. . . . Alexander. . Graham. . Bell."







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