Alexander Bell And His Innovation
Alexander Graham Bell is most well-known for his scientific breakthrough in changing how the world communicates. The invention that changed the course of history is the telephone, which allowed people to speak directly to each other through a device interconnected in a system of wires. The invention marked the beginning of the ‘information age,’ and made possible the invention of the radio, television, communication satellites, and the Internet. His dedication to teaching speech to deaf students was also a positive impact Bell enacted in his life, with his mother being deaf, he found a passion for helping the deaf at a young age. Alexander Graham Bell will forever be known as one of the greatest minds for his dedication to the scientific community and passion for giving society positive methods for improving everyday life.
Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3rd, 1847 to a mother who was deaf, a father who taught speech and elocution, and who was both an early inspiration for his passion to teach speech to deaf students. While later in life he became a college professor, Bell never graduated from a university, having briefly attended the University of Edinburgh and the University of London. After his stint at these universities, his family moved to Canada after both of his brothers succumbed to tuberculosis. Bell did not stay long in Canada, as he shortly after moving to Boston to teach at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes. This is where Bell met his eventual wife, Mabel Hubbard, who was also deaf. As Bell’s life was consumed with people that were unable to hear, it is clear how his motivation to better the deaf community evolved.
When the technology for the telephone was introduced, there was controversy over who originally designed the concept for speech to be transmitted through “electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the vocal sounds.” These vocal sounds were imperative in starting the motion that moved the membrane in the telephone to vibrate and be understood as electrical waves. For the entirety of a decade (1867-76), Bell was solely devoted to this discovery by studying the articulate speech and sound, and to the apparatus for producing sound by electricity, without the factor of the distance between the two ends as a terminating variable. A Lawsuit was eventually filed against Bell and he was ultimately granted approval that his patent filed on March 7, 1876, was valid, on the premise that voices alone caused electrical undulations. This case pertains to societal changes because his invention was based on the previous discovery of the nature of articulate sounds by Helmholtz. While Alexander Graham Bell is widely known for the invention of the telephone, his work did not stop there. The refinement of the phonograph, a recording device, changed how music and voices could be heard around the country by creating the Graphophone, among other great achievements.
During the development of the technology of the telephone, Bell was in great competition with other scientists to perfect the design based on other technological developments. One of these scientists, Elisha Gray, filed a similar patent just hours after Bell submitted his idea. The government entity, the patent office, ultimately gave favor to Bell and awarded him “one of the most valuable patents in history.” This timeline of events has caused suspicion about who developed the original concept for the telephone because Bell and Gray had previously worked together on improving Thomas Edison’s invention of the Quadruplex, which made it possible to send four telegraph messages over a single wire. Since the patent office, the entity in charge of deciding who owned the rights to the concept, ultimately sided with Bell without any in-depth investigation, it’s possible they decided history. Without taking away from Bell’s outstanding accomplishment of developing this historic concept, it’s interesting to see how the government has such great oversight on deciding who is fully entitled to an invention that a conglomerate of scientists helped develop with certain technological advances over time. Despite this controversy, Bell was able to transmit the first speech to his laboratory assistant, Thomas Watson, on March 10th, 1876 with the famous words, “Mr. Watson comes here I want to see you.” The applied scientific approach Bell employed to achieve his goal of long-distance vocal communication heavily influence how future scientists were able to develop technology in the communication field. The telephone set up future scientists for success by seeing how certain technological advances can be improved on, as we can see through our modern mobile phones as that technology is consistently being improved upon.
Bell’s profound success at the time led to his founding, The Bell Telephone Company, to spread the technology throughout the United States and ultimately the world. Since Bell owned the rights to the telephone, no other company could compete by building the same machine to engage in business. This caused controversy among communication companies such as Western Union Telegraph Company, who were accused of using the same technology for their own business. This caused the government to become involved once again in a lawsuit that states that no business other than The Bell Telephone Company had the right to “engage in the business of transmitting messages by telephone….nor their licenses nor any of them could lawfully engage in said business unless authorized so to do by the National Bell Telephone Company.” While Bell won this case, it has been a matter of debate that he shortly after sold most of his stock holdings and eventually played a minimal role in the telephone industry because of the lawsuit, as well as his increasing interest in other technological endeavors.
The future technological endeavors that Bell helped create include the graphophone, which was able to record and reproduce sound; the first metal detector, which was primarily used for surgeries; and the photophone, which used light to transmit sound but was never commercially produced. These inventions alone helped improve society by improving how humans can communicate with one another anywhere in the world. This wide array of inventions also set up building blocks for future scientists that are still being improved upon today but were not what he wanted to be primarily known for in history. One of the main areas of society that Bell was dedicated to improving is the deaf community. His efforts to lobby for better care and schooling for the deaf is one of the many ways his immense character was displayed. When Bell set out on this mission to help the deaf, only 40 percent of deaf children were taught to speak, and at the time of his death in 1922, the numbers rose to an outstanding 80 percent of deaf children in the United States.
It is interesting to see how there is no direct correlation between Bell’s institutional academics and his overall success as an inventor and humanitarian. His life situations greatly contributed to developing a genuine passion for helping people. Bell dealt with the government, fellow scientists, and family to become the person he became because he learned how to be a hard-working person that does not quit when life gets hard. Those that are familiar with Bell’s lucrative work ethic are also familiar with the fact that his leadership qualities, like his inventions, resonate throughout America today. His philosophy remains one of the cornerstones of achieving the American dream through encouraging innovation and pursuing developments, no matter how radical they are at the time.
- Alexander Graham Bell, the Inventor of The Electric Speaking Telephone N.p., c.1881. ‘The Making of Modern Law: Trials, 1600-1926’. Gale 2019. Gale, Cengage Learning. Southern Methodist University. 25 March 2019
- Bailey, Ellen. “Alexander Graham Bell: Background and Early Life.” Alexander Graham Bell, Aug. 2017, p. 1
- Pagliari, Paul. ‘Alexander Graham Bell.’ Personnel Today, 21 Jan. 2003, p. 25. General OneFile
- Schils, René. How James Watt Invented the Copier: Forgotten Inventions of Our Great Scientists. Springer, 2012.
- The Western Union Telegraph Company, The American Speaking Telephone Company, The Gold and Stock Telegraph Company, and The Harmonic Telegraph Company v. … Boston, 1884. ‘The Making of Modern Law: Trials, 1600-1926’.
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