Alexander Graham Bell: Telephone & Inventions – HISTORY

Alexander Graham Bell, best known for his invention of the telephone, revolutionized communication as we know it. His interest in sound technology was deep and personal, as his wife and mother were deaf. Although there is some controversy over whether Bell was the true pioneer of the telephone, he secured exclusive rights to the technology and started the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. Ultimately, the talented scientist held more 18 patents for his inventions and work in communications.

WATCH: Alexander Graham Bell: Voice Of Invention on HISTORY Vault

Place of birth

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3, 1847. Bell’s father was a professor of elocution at the University of Edinburgh and his mother, although deaf, was an accomplished pianist.

Young Alexander was an intellectually curious child who studied the piano and started inventing things from an early age. His two brothers died of tuberculosis when Bell was in his early twenties.


Initially, Bell’s education consisted of home schooling. Bell did not excel academically, but he was a problem solver from an early age.

When he was just 12 years old, the young Alexander invented a device with rotating paddles and nail brushes that could quickly remove husks from the grain of wheat to help improve an agricultural process. At age 16, Bell began studying the mechanics of speech.

He then attended the Royal High School and the University of Edinburgh. In 1870 Bell and his family moved to Canada. The following year, he moved to the United States.

While in the United States, Bell implemented a system his father developed to teach deaf children called “visible speech” – a set of symbols that represented the sounds of speech.

In 1872, he opened the School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech in Boston, where the deaf learned to speak. At 26, the budding inventor became a professor of vocal physiology and elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory, even though he didn’t have a college degree.

While teaching, Bell met Mabel Hubbard, a deaf student. The couple married on July 11, 1877. They had four children, including two sons who died in infancy.

When was the telephone invented?

In 1871 Bell began work on the harmonic telegraph – a device that allowed multiple messages to be transmitted over one wire at the same time. While trying to perfect this technology, which was backed by a group of investors, Bell was concerned with finding a way to transmit the human voice over the wires.

In 1875, Bell, with the help of his partner Thomas Watson, had developed a simple receiver capable of transforming electricity into sound.

Other scientists, including Antonio Meucci and Elisha Gray, were working on similar technologies, and there is some debate over who should be credited with inventing the telephone. Bell is said to have rushed to the patent office to be the first to secure the rights to the discovery.

On March 7, 1876, Bell obtained his telephone patent. A few days later, he made the first-ever phone call to Watson, uttering the now famous line, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”

In 1877, the Bell Telephone Company, known today as AT&T, was formed. In 1915, Bell made the first transcontinental telephone call to Watson from New York to San Francisco.

Did you know? Alexander Graham Bell refused to have a telephone in his office, fearing it would distract him from his scientific work.

The inventor faced a nearly 20-year legal battle with other scientists, including Gray and Meucci, who claimed to have created phone prototypes before Bell’s patent.

In 1887, the US government decided to withdraw the patent issued to Bell, but after a series of decisions, the Bell company won in a Supreme Court decision. While the Bell Company faced more than 550 legal challenges, none were ultimately successful.

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Inventions and Achievements

In addition to the telephone, Bell worked on hundreds of projects throughout his career and was granted patents in various fields. Some of his other notable inventions were:

  • The Metal Detector: Bell originally invented this device to locate a bullet inside assassinated President James A. Garfield.
  • Photophone: The photophone allowed the transmission of speech on a light beam.
  • Graphophone: This improved version of the phonograph could record and reproduce sound.
  • Audiometer: This gadget was used to detect 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, DC.

Bell invented many techniques to help teach speech to the deaf and even worked with renowned author and activist Helen Keller. He also helped launch Science magazine, and from 1896 to 1904 was president of the National Geographic Society.

Bell Quotes

Although Bell is generally known for what he invented, he is also remembered for what he said and wrote. Some famous quotes attributed to Bell include:

• “When one door closes, another opens; but we so often look so long and with so much regret at the closed door, that we do not see those which open for us.

• “A man’s own judgment should be the final call in all that pertains to himself.”

• “Above all else, preparation is the key to success.”

• “Concentrate all your thoughts on the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until they are focused.

• “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”

• “The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of steady increase.”

• “The only difference between success and failure is the ability to act.”

• “You can’t force ideas. Successful ideas are the result of slow growth.

• “The inventor looks at the world and is not satisfied with things as they are. He wants to improve everything he sees, he wants to benefit the world; he is haunted by an idea. The spirit of invention possesses it, seeking to materialize.

Death and legacy

Bell died on August 2, 1922, at the age of 75 in Nova Scotia, Canada. The cause of his death was complications from diabetes. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

At Bell’s funeral, all telephones in North America were cut off to honor the inventor.

Today, the famous scientist is remembered for his groundbreaking work in sound technology and improving education for the deaf. His most famous invention, the telephone, forever changed the way humans communicate with each other.


Alexander Graham Bell. PBS.
Story: Alexander Graham Bell. BBC.
Alexander Graham Bell. Famous scientists.
Who takes credit for inventing the telephone? Library of Congress.

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