Alexander Graham Bell, best known for his invention of the telephone, transformed communication as we know it. His curiosity in sound technology was deep-rooted and personal, as both his wife and mother were deaf. While there’s some controversy over whether Bell was the true pioneer of the telephone, he acquired exclusive rights to the technology and launched the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. Ultimately, the talented scientist held more than 18 patents for his inventions and work in communications.
Birthplace and Education
Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847, to August 2, 1922) was born to Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds. His father was working as a professor of speech elocution at the University of Edinburgh, and his mother was a proficient pianist despite being deaf.
Young Alexander was an intellectually inquisitive child and began inventing things at an early age. Most of his education consisted of homeschooling. He didn’t excel academically, but he was a problem solver from an early age.
He went to Royal High School when he was 11 at the University of Edinburgh. Still, he did not enjoy the compulsory curriculum, and he left school at age 15 without graduating. He passed the entrance examinations for University College London in June 1868. He discontinued his studies, because in 1870 the Bell family moved again, this time immigrating to Canada after the deaths of Bell’s younger brother Edward in 1867 and older brother Melville in 1870, both of tuberculosis.
The family settled in Brantford, Ontario, but in April 1871 Alexander moved to Boston, where he taught at the Boston School for Deaf-Mutes. In 1872, he started the School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech in Boston. At age 26, he became Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory, despite not having a university degree.
In 1871, Bell began working on the harmonic telegraph — a device able to transmit multiple messages over a wire at the same time. While striving to perfect this technology, Bell became absorbed with devising a new way to send human voice over wires.
By 1875, Bell, with the help of his partner Thomas Watson, had come up with a simple receiver that could turn electricity into sound which attracted a group of investors led by Gardiner Hubbard who wanted to establish a federally chartered telegraph company to compete with Western Union.
Finally, Bell and Hubbard worked out an agreement that Bell would dedicate most of his time to the harmonic telegraph but would continue developing his telephone concept.
Other scientists, including Antonio Meucci and Elisha Gray, were pulling on similar technologies, and amid the dispute over the title of the invention of the telephone. Bell raced to the patent office to be the first to secure the rights to the discovery.
On March 7, 1876, the Patent Office awarded Bell what is said to be one of the most valuable patents in history. By 1877, the Bell Telephone Company, which today is known as AT&T, was founded. In 1915, Bell made the first transcontinental phone call to Watson from New York to San Francisco.
Inventions and Accomplishments
Bell worked on hundreds of projects throughout his profession and received patents in diverse fields. Some of his other distinguished inventions were:
- The metal detector: Bell originally came up with this device to locate a bullet inside of assassinated President James A. Garfield.
- Photophone: The photophone enabled transmission of speech on a beam of light.
- Graphophone: This upgraded version of the phonograph could record and playback sound.
- Audiometer: This gadget detects hearing problems.
In 1880, Bell was awarded the French Volta Prize, and with the money, he founded a facility devoted to scientific discovery, the Volta Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
Bell invented numerous techniques to help teach speech to the deaf and even worked with well-known author and activist Helen Keller. He also helped launch Science magazine, and from 1896 to 1904 served as president of the National Geographic Society.
Death and Legacy
The cause of his death was complications from diabetes. He died on August 2, 1922, at the age of 75 in Nova Scotia, Canada. Today, the renowned scientist is cherished for his groundbreaking work in sound technology and reforming education for the deaf. His best-known invention, the telephone, forever revolutionized the way humans communicate with each other.