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Alexander Graham Bell

March 3, 1847 - August 2, 1922, Edinburgh, Scotland


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Alexander Graham Bell is most well known for inventing the telephone. He came to the U.S. as a teacher of the deaf, and conceived the idea of "electronic speech" while visiting his hearing-impaired mother in Canada. This led him to invent the microphone and later the "electrical speech machine" -- his name for the first telephone.

"Watson, come here! I need you!"

Alexander Graham Bell has worked on technology basically all of his life. From when he helped his father on creating sign language, to his invention of the telephone, he was always fascinated by technology. While a professor at Boston University, he was also working on an invention that would allow a few sound waves, over a single wire at the same time. After he had completed his work of simple sound waves over the wire, he was determined to have vocal messages go over a wire, to another destination. When he hired his assistant, Thomas Watson, they made this dream of vocal sound over a single wire, become a reality. When Bell and Watson had completed the telephone, they still were not satisfied. They were perfectionists. They then had to fix any minor or major defects of the telephone. When they both died, the changes were left for other inventors and discoverers.


Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3, 1847. He enrolled in the University of London to study anatomy and physiology, but his college time was cut short when his family moved to Canada in 1870. His parents had lost two children to tuberculosis, and they insisted that the best way to save their last child was to leave England.

When he was eleven, Bell invented a machine that could clean wheat. He later said that if he had understood electricity at all, he would have been too discouraged to invent the telephone. Everyone else "knew" it was impossible to send voice signals over a wire.

While trying to perfect a method for carrying multiple messages on a single wire, he heard the sound of a plucked spring along 60 feet of wire in a Boston electrical shop. Thomas A. Watson, one of Bell's assistants, was trying to reactivate a telegraph transmitter. Hearing the sound, Bell believed that he could solve the problem of sending a human voice over a wire. He figured out how to transmit a simple current first, and received a patent for that invention on March 7, 1876. Five days later, he transmitted actual speech. Sitting in one room, he spoke into the phone to his assistant in another room, saying the now famous words: "Mr. Watson, come here. I need you." The telephone patent is one of the most valuable patents ever issued.

Bell had other inventions as well -- his own home had a precursor to modern day air conditioning, he contributed to aviation technology, and his last patent, at the age of 75, was for the fastest hydrofoil yet invented.

Bell was committed to the advancement of science and technology. As such he took over the presidency of a small, almost unheard-of, scientific society in 1898: the National Geographic Society. Bell and his son-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, took the society's dry journal and added beautiful photographs and interesting writing -- turning National Geographic into one of the world's best-known magazines. He also is one of the founders of Science magazine.

Bell died on August 2, 1922. On the day of his burial, all telephone service in the US was stopped for one minute in his honor.

Alexander Melville Bell (1819-1905), who is Alexander Graham Bell's father, was the international known teacher of discernible speech. The Bell family moved from Scotland to Canada in the year of 1870. In both Scotland and Canada, Alexander Graham had lessons, from his father, in the course of visible speech. In 1871, a school in Boston invited him to visit to train some of the teachers the visible speech, which his father had invented. Bell, by 1871 had improved his fathers' speech system by working on it. Two years later in 1873, he became a professor at Boston University, he taught there until 1877. Little did anyone know that later on Alexander Graham Bell would make an invention that would change America, then the world.

The Telephone and other Inventions

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On invention:
"Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before. Follow it up, explore all around it, and before you know it, you will have something worth thinking about to occupy your mind. All really big discoveries are the results of thought."
-- Alexander Graham Bell

On the telephone:
"The day is coming when telegraph wires will be laid on to houses just like water or gas -- and friends will converse with each other without leaving home."
-- Alexander Graham Bell in a letter to his father in 1876.


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