Who is credited with inventing the telephone?

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Alexander Graham Bell. Photo: Biography

Alexander Graham Bell is most well known for inventing the telephone. He came to the U.S as a teacher of the deaf, and conceived the idea of "electronic speech" while visiting his hearing-impaired mother in Canada. This led him to invent the microphone and later the "electrical speech machine" -- his name for the first telephone.

Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3, 1847. He enrolled in the University of London to study anatomy and physiology, but his college time was cut short when his family moved to Canada in 1870. His parents had lost two children to tuberculosis, and they insisted that the best way to save their last child was to leave England.

When he was eleven, Bell invented a machine that could clean wheat. He later said that if he had understood electricity at all, he would have been too discouraged to invent the telephone. Everyone else "knew" it was impossible to send voice signals over a wire.

While trying to perfect a method for carrying multiple messages on a single wire, he heard the sound of a plucked spring along 60 feet of wire in a Boston electrical shop. Thomas A. Watson, one of Bell's assistants, was trying to reactivate a telegraph transmitter. Hearing the sound, Bell believed that he could solve the problem of sending a human voice over a wire. He figured out how to transmit a simple current first, and received a patent for that invention on March 7, 1876. Five days later, he transmitted actual speech. Sitting in one room, he spoke into the phone to his assistant in another room, saying the now famous words: "Mr. Watson, come here. I need you." The telephone patent is one of the most valuable patents ever issued.

Bell had other inventions as well -- his own home had a precursor to modern day air conditioning, he contributed to aviation technology, and his last patent, at the age of 75, was for the fastest hydrofoil yet invented.

Bell was committed to the advancement of science and technology. As such he took over the presidency of a small, almost unheard-of, scientific society in 1898: the National Geographic Society. Bell and his son-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, took the society's dry journal and added beautiful photographs and interesting writing -- turning National Geographic into one of the world's best-known magazines. He also is one of the founders of Science magazine.

Bell died on August 2, 1922. On the day of his burial, all telephone service in the US was stopped for one minute in his honor, according to Nationalitpa.

First Telephone Ever in History

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Photo: Youtube

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

By 1875, Bell, with the help of his partner Thomas Watson, had come up with a simple receiver that could turn electricity into sound.

Other scientists, including Antonio Meucci and Elisha Gray, were working on similar technologies, and there’s some debate over who should be credited with the invention of the telephone. It’s said that Bell raced to the patent office to be the first to secure the rights to the discovery.

On March 7, 1876, Bell was granted his telephone patent. A few days later, he made the first-ever telephone call to Watson, allegedly uttering the now-famous phrase, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”, as reported by History.com.

First Commercial Telephone Exchange

On January 28, 1878, the Boardman Building in New Haven became the site of the world’s first commercial telephone exchange, the District Telephone Company of New Haven. The exchange was the brainchild of Civil War veteran and telegraph office manager George Coy in partnership with Herrick Frost and Walter Lewis.

Prior to this time telephones, invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1875, were owned by private persons or businesses who leased telephones in pairs to connect, for example, one’s home with a business. They also needed to arrange for telegraph contractors to string the wires between the two locations. Coy created a rudimentary telephone switchboard that allowed a central office to connect multiple persons, thus allowing each subscriber the advantage of having to buy only one phone in order to connect to a potentially infinite number of other subscribers. He built the switchboard with carriage bolts, handles from teapot lids, wire, and other spare parts. The 21 original subscribers to the exchange each paid $1.50 per month. All calls were made through the central office, where a telephone operator connected the person initiating the call to the party that he or she wished to reach. Direct dialing and telephone numbers would not become common until the 1920s.

Another important world-wide first occurred soon after, when, on February 21, 1878, Coy’s company printed what is now known as the first-ever telephone directory. Listing 50 individuals and businesses in New Haven, the directory was printed as a one-page flyer. The directory in the University of Connecticut Libraries’ collection is one of two remaining copies known to exist. Included in the list of names are Coy, Frost, and Lewis among the residential subscribers. In 1882 the District Telephone Company of New Haven changed its name to the Southern New England Telephone Company.

Bell's Inventions and Accomplishments

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

The metal detector: Bell initially came up with this device to locate a bullet inside of assassinated President James A. Garfield.

Photophone: The photophone allowed transmission of speech on a beam of light.

Graphophone: This improved version of the phonograph could record and play back 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, D.C.

Bell invented numerous techniques to help teach speech to the deaf and even worked with well-known author and activist Helen Keller. He also helped launch Science magazine, and from 1896 to 1904 served as president of the National Geographic Society.

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