Alexander Graham Bell was a noteworthy scientist, innovator and inventor. Along with his invention of the telephone, he has made a valuable contribution to the field of hydrofoils and aeronautics. This article gives an overview of his illustrious work and the inspiring journey of his life.
Born on March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Alexander showed a flair for art, poetry, and music since his childhood years. He was a student of the Royal High School, from which he dropped out. However, he continued pursuing his interest in science. At the age of ten, Alexander adopted ‘Graham’ as his middle name.
Since an early age, Alexander was experimental. At the age of twelve, he came up with a dehusking machine that used nailbrushes and rotating paddles. This was Bell’s first invention.
Elocution skills ran in Bell’s family. His father and grandfather were elocutionists. Alexander took keen interest in his father’s work related to the fields of elocution and visible speech. He soon became a part of his father’s demonstrations of deciphering symbols in different languages.
Alexander Bell received great encouragement from his father to continue with his experiments on speech. He deduced that if vowel sounds could be produced through electrical means, so could consonants and articulate speech.
In 1865, the Bell family moved to London after which Alexander focused on his experiments with electricity. He also helped his father with Visible Speech demonstrations. Alexander soon began to work at the Hull’s private school for the deaf, where he taught two students.
In 1870, the Bells moved to Ontario and started staying with Reverend Thomas Henderson, their family friend. They later purchased a property and began to stay in their own house. Alexander set up a small workshop near his new residence to continue with his experiments on human voice.
Alexander Bell was instrumental in translating the unwritten vocabulary of the Mohawk language into visible speech symbols. This work earned him the title of Honorary Chief. In 1871, he traveled to Boston to give a demonstration of visible speech to the instructors at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. He was later invited to conduct the same demonstration for the instructors at the American Asylum for Deaf-mutes in Hartford and the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton.
In 1872, Alexander Bell established a school for deaf pupils in Boston. He called it ‘Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech’. He also worked as a private tutor, thus helping many deaf and dumb students to cope with their disabilities. Helen Keller was one of his most famous students.
Alexander Graham Bell and one of his financial supporters, Anthony Pollok, sought guidance from Joseph Henry, a famous scientist, on the electrical multi reed apparatus that Bell wanted to use as a transmitter of human voice. In Bell’s idea of using electrical multi reeds for voice transmission, Henry saw the potential of it turning into a great invention.
Bell pursued his experiments with the electrical multi reeds with his newly hired assistant, Thomas Watson. On June 2, 1875, Watson happened to pluck a reed from the apparatus and the overtones of the reed could be heard at the other end of the wire. This accidental plucking of a reed revealed the key to transmit voice over wire and the invention of the telephone was on its way! Bell soon devised the telephone and started concentrating on improving it.
Did You Know?
A small plaque on this building’s exterior notes Alexander Graham Bell’s first wireless communication in 1880, an important event in the history of telecommunications. In the experiment, a voice message was transmitted using a beam of light with the help of a Photophone invented by Bell.
By 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was established and within a decade, more than 150,000 people in the United States owned telephones.
On January 25, 1915, Bell made his first transcontinental call from New York City to San Francisco. Thomas Watson received this call, marking it as the first telephonic conversation ever held.
Some of Bell’s later inventions include, the metal detector and the hydrofoil. He received the Volta Prize for his invention of the telephone. He was one of the founders of the National Geographic Society and became its second President. In 1914, he became the proud winner of the AIEE’s Edison Medal for the invention of the telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell was struck by pernicious anemia, which became the cause of his death on August 2, 1922 at the age of 75. Upon his death, all the telephones across the United States stilled their ringing as a tribute to this great inventor.