Alexander Graham Bell 1847-1922 Inventor of the Bell System

from "The Telecommunications Mosaic: An Introduction to the Information Age" by Robert N. E. Haughton



This brief sketch of Alexander Graham Bell and the events leading up to the invention of the telephone are based mainly on published accounts from Bell Canada historical sources in Montreal, Quebec.


Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3, 1847 and received his primary education from his parents and tutors, as was then the custom. He inherited his mother's musical ability and Bell said later his interest for music had a great deal to do with preparing him for the scientific study of sound. He became a student teacher at Weston House in Elgin, Scotland, where later, after a year at the University of Edinburgh, he became a regular member of the staff. Bell's father, Professor Melville Bell, was a highly successful teacher in the art of public speaking. Following the death of his father in 1865, Melville Bell inherited the London practice and placed his oldest son, Melville James, in charge of the practice in Edinburgh. Alexander Graham, who had also been helping to teach deaf-born children, was given responsibility for his father's professional affairs in 1868, while his brother, Melville, was on a lecture tour of North America. Alexander Graham was later taken into partnership with his father. While in charge of the practice during the years 1868-1870 he attended courses at University College, London, specializing in the anatomy of the vocal apparatus. In 1870 his oldest brother, Melville James, died from tuberculosis ?? the disease that had killed his younger brother three years earlier. Doctors gave warning that Alexander Graham was threatened with it and advised a change of climate. in response his father closed the practice and sailed with his family to Canada.


Within six days of the arrival in Canada of the Bell family on August 1, 1870, Melville Bell purchased a house in Brantford, Ontario, now known as the Bell Homestead at Tutelo Heights. Alexander Graham Bell's recovery was rapid. Just over a year after being in Canada he was able to accept an invitation to teach deaf children in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Summer vacations, Christmas holidays and at every other opportunity he returned to the Homestead at Brantford. It was there, in the summer of 1874, that Bell told his father how he proposed to build a telephone. He drew diagrams and made many notes and this material along with his father's diary, helped prove Bell's claim to the invention of the telephone when some 600 unsuccessful attempts were made to nullify his patent, taken out in the USA on March 7, 1876.

Bell returned to his teaching job in Boston and in June 1875 he produced his first telephone -the so-called "Gallows Frame" telephone. Then came a long vacation in Brantford where he wrote the patent specifications. Back to Boston again, a new transmitter (the liquid transmitter) and the first intelligible speech over a telephone connection occurred: "Mr. Watson, come here I want you!" spoken on March 10, 1876 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

It was at the great Philadelphia Centennial Exposition on June 25, 1876, that the telephone was brought to world attention. The judges included Sir William Thomson (afterwards Lord Kelvin) the world's foremost electrical authority -- who said "It is the most marvelous thing I have seen in America."'

The above-mentioned telephones are shown in Fig. I.l.


Bell returned to Boston in July 1876 to conduct further tests in an attempt to transmit speech over telegraph lines but did not consider them to be successful. He was not satisfied with his experiments until he conducted what Thomas B. Costain has called "the three great tests of the telephone"'.

In the first of these one-way tests using lines provided by the Dominion Telegraph Company, the transmitter was located in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, and the receiver a few miles away in the village of Mount Pleasant. "This test, made over a telegraph line in early August 1876, claims to be the first truly successful telephone communication between communities. In the second test on August 4, 1876 a connection was made between the Bell Homestead at Tutelo Heights and the office of the Dominion Telegraph Company in Brantford at a distance of some four miles. This was accomplished by stringing stovepipe wire between the Homestead and the telegraph line running between Brantford and Mount Pleasant. This time the one-way test was arranged so that guests at the Bell Homestead could clearly hear various messages transmitted from Brantford. Then, on August 10, 1876, the third of the three tests was held over the eight- mile telegraph line between Brantford and Paris, Ontario, with the battery in Toronto, 58 miles away. This successful test is claimed by Canada to be the world's first long distance call. A notice of these experiments appeared in the Scientific American magazine of September 9, 1876, in an article entitled: "The Human Voice Transmitted by Telegraph".


Outside of the British Commonwealth countries and the United States, few telephone authorities honour the memory of Bell and fewer still concede that he brought forth his invention in Canada in 1874. The United States generally lays claim to the position that the telephone was invented in Boston by Bell on March 10, 1876.

· China
A writer named Chin Hoo declared some years ago in the Peking Gazette that the telephone was invented in the year 968, by the distinguished philosopher Kung Foo Whing.
· England
It is also on record that an Englishman, Charles -- later Sir Charles -Wheatstone contrived an apparatus in 1819 that transmitted musical sounds which he called a "telephone" -- the first modern use of that term. However, Wheatstone never laid claim to having invented the electrical transmission of sound.
· France
A French solder-, Charles Bourseul, was on the right track, 20 years before Bell, when he published an article in L'Illustration on the "Electrical Transmission of Speech" which contained this passage:

"Suppose one were to speak near a movable metal plate, so flexible as: not to lose any of the vibrations produced by the voice, and that this plate should alternately establish and interrupt communications with a battery, you might 'have at a distance another plate, which would produce at the same time the same vibrations."
· Germany
A German, Philipp Reis, came very close to giving the world the telephone in 1860. His apparatus was first shown at a meeting of the Physical Society of Frankfurt. Reis believed that his instrument could transmit words, and he is reported to have said that he had shown the world the road to a great discovery, but left it to others to follow it up.
· Italy
Some Italians claim that credit for the invention of the telephone should have gone! to a countryman named Antonio Meucci: the courts did not agree. His was one of the approximately 600 unsuccessful attempts to nullify the Bell patent.
According to an article distributed by the Soviet News Agency Tass, it was a Russian Who invented the telephone, in 1832, 42 years before Bell got the idea in Canada. However, the telephone was not used in Russia until the International Bell Telephone Company made installations in Moscow and Leningrad (then St. Petersburg) in the early 1880s.
· United States
On February 14, 1876, an American professional inventor, Elisha Gray, presented to the US Patent Office his description of the transmission and reception of human speech by electrical means. The document arrived some hours after Bell's version of the "telephone" had been received.

Several other inventors later said that they had invented the telephone and Alexander Graham Bell had to go to a court of law to prove that he was indeed the inventor. He won his case.
· Canada
While many agree that Bell invented the telephone there is a divergence of opinion as to when and where. Was it Brantford, Canada on July 26, 1874 or Boston, USA, on March 10, 1876, or was it Brantford in the early days of August 1874- It is recognized that mere conception is not invention. The idea must have received practical expression in the sense that it was completed in fact, either physically or on paper, or was communicated to some other person. The telephone inventor, under oath, stated that the Gallows Frame telephone -- which is acknowledged to be the world's first telephone -- was invented in Brantford, Canada, although the instrument was fabricated in Boston. Bell produced notes and diagrams in court which he had used in explaining to his father his plan to transmit the human voice by electricity. His statement was further supported by his father's diary, which shows the date of that disclosure to have been July 26, 1874.

Also, in his deposition before the United States Supreme Court, in referring to the August 10, 1876 call between Brantford and Paris Ontario, previously mentioned, Bell said: "Articulate speech was for the first time transmitted and received between places that were separated by miles of wire..."
Other comments made by Bell and his father on the subject include:
"The instrument (Gallows Frame telephone) just as you see it here was invented in the summer of 1874, during a visit I paid to my father and mother in Brantford, Canada." (Alexander Graham Bell at the opening of the first transcontinental telephone line between New York and San Francisco ? January 25, 1915)

"Under yon roof of mine the telephone was born." (Alexander Melville Bell Brantford Board of Trade Banquet ? 1881)

"it certainly is the case that the telephone was invented in Canada ... Brantford has an indisputable claim to this distinction and is rightfully named 'The Telephone City'." (Alexander Graham Bell Canadian Club of Ottawa ? June 1909)

"Brantford is justified in calling herself 'The Telephone City' because the telephone originated there. It was invented in Brantford at Tutelo Heights in the summer of 1874." (Alexander Graham Bell ? letter to Brantford Expositor [newspaper] ? March 1916.)


The invention of the telephone has been one of the most significant events in the march of civilization and culture. Mankind's development and the growth of civilizations have depended, in the main, on progress in a few activities ?? the discovery of fire, domestication of animals, invention of the wheel but, above all, in the evolution of the means to transmit, receive, communicate and to record knowledge and information. The invention of the telephone has truly revolutionized the means of communicating information. What is more, the telephone is probably one invention which has not passed into obsolescence because of subsequent scientific achievements. Through innovation the telephone has served as the core for a very broad spectrum of sophisticated and versatile telecommunication services. What began as a concept in the mind of Alexander Graham Bell, envisaging the use of electricity as the medium of transmission for sound, set off an innovative chain reaction whose growing impact upon our personal, social and business lives is now being felt to a greater extent than ever before.

From the humble 'beginnings -- a pair of telephones attached to a wire -- the barriers to communication were pushed back until there are now no earthly limits to the communication of human speech. These marvels of communication, currently being witnessed, stem from the same fundamental principle that Bell outlined to his father in Brantford, Ontario, Canada on July 26, 1874.

Alexander Graham Bell died August 2, 1922, at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island, Canada.

A synopsis of telephone chronology prepared by Dr. Alexander Graham Bell in his own handwriting appears in Table I. This document is one of the many memorabilia residing in the Bell Homestead (Museum) at Tutelo Heights, Brantford, Ontario, Canada. A printed version is contained in Table I.II.


A Printed Version of Dr. Bell's Synopsis of Telephone Chronology

Events Where When

"The invention of the telephone at Tutelo Heights Brantford Summer of 1874
"The first telephone constructed and speech sound heard Boston June 1875
"The first draft of the telephone Patent specifications Brantford Sept 1875
"Complete sentences first clearly understood by telephone Boston Mar 10, 1876
"The telephone exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition Philadelphia June 25, 1876
"First attempts to transmit speech over telegraph lines Boston July 8,9 & 12, 1876
"First successful attempt to transmit speech over telegraph line Brantford Aug 1876
"First public demonstration of ability to speak over a telegraph line Brantford Aug 1876
"First transmission of a number of voices simultaneously Brantford Aug 1876
"First conversation by telephone over a telegraph line Boston Oct 9, 1876

"First long?distance conversation over a telegraph line (143 miles) Boston Feb 3, 1876
"First newspaper dispatch sent by telephone -------- " Salem Feb, 12, 1877
"First telephone line opened ----" Boston Apr. 4 1877

The above chronology also appears in the book "Alexander Graham Bell" by Catherine Mackenzie; Houghton, Mifflin Company, New York, 1928.

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