Alexander Graham Bell, was the inventor of the telephone. Bell was born in Edinburgh on 3 March 1847. He was the son of Melville, a speech and elocution teacher who developed the first International Phonetic Alphabet and Eliza, who was deaf from the age of five. Bell was the only child to survive into adulthood, with his younger and elder brothers, Ted and Melly, dying of tuberculosis. These biographical facts foretell the strong values, personality and determination of the man destined to radically change the preferred mode of long distance communications to voice, and thus transform virtually all aspects of modern life. Bell developed a passion for communication from a young age. He was to become an extraordinary man with a visionary understanding of its power and potential. Educated at the universities of Edinburgh and London, Bell immigrated to the US in 1870. In his twenties, he set about developing a multiple telegraph that could send several Morse code messages.
In 1872, Bell started attending MIT’s public lectures on experimental mechanics, including one in October by Professor Charles R. Cross that began a long, fruitful collaboration. At the talk, Cross demonstrated a device invented by his colleague Edward C. Pickering, who then chaired MIT’s physics department. At the time of Cross’s lecture, MIT (which had been incorporated in 1861 on the Boston side of the Charles River) had recently opened the Rogers Laboratory of Physics in a new building on Boylston Street. The facility was the first of its kind in the United States, a well-outfitted working laboratory that allowed students to conduct experiments illustrating the physical laws they learned about in class. Of particular interest to Bell, the new laboratory had an impressive set of equipment identical to that used in the path breaking work of Hermann von Helmholtz, one of the world’s leading acoustical researchers. In 1873, Bell accepted a position as a professor of vocal physiology and elocution at the fledgling Boston University (which had been chartered in 1869). The post drew him into even closer contact with Boston’s scientific community, affording him the chance to get better acquainted with Professor Cross, who would eventually succeed Pickering as chair of MIT’s physics department. In April 1874, after Bell addressed MIT students and faculty about his acoustical studies and his eff orts to teach the deaf to speak,
Cross—apparently impressed—granted him unfettered access to the Institute’s facilities for his further research. Bell seized the opportunity. Of course, Bell won his patent claim as the sole inventor of the telephone, and public knowledge about the contributions of others mostly faded into oblivion. The many surviving primary documents from the period, however, leave little doubt of the important supporting role that Cross and the Rogers Laboratory played in helping Bell gain vital, detailed, and often hands-on knowledge about the cutting-edge work of others in the field, including Pickering, Helmholtz, Reis, and Elisha Gray, the inventor whose path breaking design for a liquid transmitter Bell seems to have appropriated to make his world-famous call to Watson. Many years later, with Bell’s legal claim to the telephone long since secured, he publicly acknowledged Cross’s contribution. Bell told the crowd of 1,500 assembled at Symphony Hall for MIT’s 50th-anniversary gala—and more than 5,000 alumni and guests who were listening in by phone at Alumni Association gatherings across the country—that Cross had not only made “many advances in the telephone itself ” but inspired many students to “go forth from the Institute to perfect the work.”
On 7 March 1876, Bell patented the telephone (Patent 174,465) at the tender age of 29. On March 10, 1876, Bell supposedly knocked over the battery acid he and Watson were using as transmitting liquid for early telephone tests, and shouted, “Mr. Watson, come here; I want you.” Watson, working in the...
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