Alexander Graham Bell was a lifelong advocate for the deaf and invented the telephone at age 29. He had an innate ability to create, a strong intellectual curiosity, and worked many problems through many laboratory notebooks as he searched for meaning and creative solutions. His experiments and patents on communicating with light are the precursors to laser and fiber optic communications. His life after the telephone was spent inventing and conducting scientific activities with tetrahedral structures, hydrofoils, kites, airplanes, artificial respiration, and water distillation.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in the year 1847, he was known as Aleck to his family. He was named after his Grandfather, but when a young man out of admiration for a family friend, he took on the full name of Alexander Graham Bell.
His father, Melville Bell, developed a set of written symbols demonstrating how the lips, tongue, and throat should be positioned to aid the deaf in speaking, called Visible Speech. His grandfather whom he shares the name Alexander Bell influenced George Bernard Shaw in writing the play Pygmalion. His Mother was a musician, a painter and deaf. As others would try to speak to Mrs. Bell through an ear tube, Alexander Graham would speak low and dept tones to her forehead to communicate with her.
He graduated high school at age 13 from the Royal High School of Edinburgh.
When age 14 he invented one of his first inventions that removed husks from wheat.
He lost two of his brothers to tuberculosis and was also affected by tuberculosis in his youth, which lead to his continued experiences of severe headaches.
At age 16 he started teaching music at a boy’s boarding school, the Weston House Academy, at Elgin, Moray, Scotland.
He spent one year at age 17 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
At age 19, in 1866, he taught a full year of instruction at the Somersetshire College at Bath, England.
In 1871 he moved to Boston and tried to start a school for teachers of the deaf, but became a professor at Boston University where he met his wife to be, Mabel Hubbord. Mabel was ten years younger than him and lost her hearing due to scarlet fever at the age of four.
In 1876, at the age of 29, Alexander Graham Bell invented his telephone by combining the bell, wire, and speech. His desire to create the device was based on an idea he had to create a type of speaker device to send musical notes and enable him to better communicate and articulate speech to both his wife and mother. The phone comes some 33 years after Samuel F.B. Morse in 1843 completed the first telegraph line.
With financing from Mabel Hubbord’s father he was able to apply for a patent of the telephone on Feb. 14, 1876.
Three weeks after filing the patent, on March 7, 1876, he was granted US patent # 174,465 for “transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically.”
On March 10, 1876, just three day after the patent being granted, Alexander Graham with a wooden stand, a funnel, a copper wire, and a cup of acid transmitted his voice to his coworker Mr. Watson with “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you!”
On June 25, 1876, on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which was written by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin
, Bell demonstrated his new invention by speaking Hamlet’s soliloquy at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
On July 11, 1877 after five years of dating Mabel Hubbord they married and at the ceremony Alexander Graham gave Mabel all but ten shares of the recently created Bell Telephone Company. They went on to spend a year in Europe for their honeymoon and later had four children.
In 1878 the first telephone exchange was created by bell in New Haven, Connecticut and the US president had a telephone installed in the white house. President Rutherford B. Hayes first words were “please speak more slowly.” Then on June 3, 1880 he transmitted the first wireless telephone message on a beam of light, called the photophone. The photophone used a selenium crystal and a vibrating mirror in response to sound, which Bell claimed as "the greatest invention I have ever made; greater than the telephone."
Four years later there were long distance connections between New York City and Boston.
In 1881 he invented the metal detector as he was asked to find the bullet in the body of US President James Garfield. It was put together quickly and seemed to malfunction, but it was due to the metal bed frame the president was lying upon.
In 1882 he became a United States citizen.
He became a millionaire in 1886 with over 150,000 telephone users in the United States. Nearly 30 years later most of the United States had telephone service.
He met Helen Keller in 1887 and she later dedicated her autobiography to Alexander Graham. She also wrote him a letter pertaining to their friendship of “I cherish ever the many tokens of your love.” And 1888 he was one of the founders of the National Geographic Society, which later shortened its name to National Geographic started a National Geographic Cable Channel in 2001 that is partly owned by Rupurt Murdoch
’s News Corp.
Alexander Graham had a passion for airfoils, along the lines that Howard Hughes
had for flying. He found many uses for kites with his experimentation of tetrahedrons, which preceded Buckminster Fuller
’s geodesic domes and followed Leonardo da Vinci
In 1914 he was awarded the AIEE's Thomas Edison
Medal for "For meritorious achievement in the invention of the telephone."
On January 25, 1915 the first transcontinental telephone line was opening with Bell in New York speaking the same first transmitted words to Watson San Francisco, “"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you."
Bell was granted a total of 30 patents for his inventions
and developed an early version of an iron lung, the precursor to the fax machine, air conditioning, tape drives, CD-ROMS, computer memory, and solar heating panels, and laser and fiber optic communication systems. He also worked on the phonograph, airplanes, hydroairplanes, sheep-breeding, desalinization and water distillation.
He spent the last ten years of his live working on and improving hydrofoil designs for hydroairplanes. In 1919 with Casey Baldwin, they built a set a water-speed record hydrofoil that was unable to be broken for 44 years. In 1921, he received a patent for his hydrofoil used in the fastest watercraft in the world, the HD-4.
August 2, 1922: Just three months prior he said in an interview, “There cannot be mental atrophy in any person who continues to observe, to remember what he observes, and to seek answers for his unceasing hows and whys about things.” However his last words were “so little done, so much to do” as he succumbed to the heart attack that took his life in Beinn Bhreagh, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada.
In tribute, on the day of his passing, the United States phone lines were stilled for a minute.
He is buried alongside his wife in a simple graveside on Beinn Bhreagh Mountain overlooking a lake.
In March 1939, a movie was made about Alexander Graham, called “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell.” It was previewed at the San Francisco World's Fair starring Don Amechi as Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Fonda
as Thomas Watson.
On June 2, 1975, Bell’s family donated to the Library of Congress Bell’s papers and collection totaling 130,000 items and documents.
Over the years Alexander Graham Bell’s patent had defeated and defending his invention in over 600 legal challenges, beating Elisha Grey to the patent office by hours, and attacks from Westorn union using Elisha Grey and Thomas Edison
. However, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill recognizing the true inventor
of the telephone to Antonio Meucci, a poor inventor who couldn’t afford the patent application fees, but invented the telephone in 1871, five years before Bell. However, the Parliament of Canada passed a bill in 2002, the same year as the US House or Representatives Bell’s recognition as the inventor of the telephone. Either way, Bell made it work, just like Edison who didn’t invent the light bulb.