Innovation of the Telephone

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Technological innovations have consistently answered the greatest desires of mankind; innovations have helped realize longtime dreams of flight and travel beneath the waves of the ocean. But others have required significant push and the creation of their own market, yet have the capability to be enormously successful, and the organizations evolved around their creation have grown in step with their public acceptance. Specifically, nobody expressed a desire to ?call up someone? and speak over long distances using the human voice before the service became available. The nineteenth century innovation of the telephone revolutionized the entire world, and its fascinating story is one of contrasts. It is a story of innovation by both precise determination and by good fortune, and evolved from interests in telegraphy, acoustics and the physiology of human speech. Often described as ?the most valuable patent in history,? the initial patent supporting the telephone was not even filed as a telephone patent ? and the patenting process itself beheld feats of politics and trickery. Subsequent patents defined the functionality of what we really think of as ?the phone.? Many men made major contributions to the field, and the innovation, but ultimately the man whom the world knows as the inventor ostensibly was so. Like many evolutions, the path of the telephone?s innovation arose out of different initial intents on the part of its financial backers and technical inventors, but became one of the most widespread and profitable creations in history.

For the individual inventor, the second half of the nineteenth century could be called a golden age. Patent law, the power behind which was established in the U.S. Constitution, protected the original inventor against infringement from competitors, and the court system upheld the majority of cases related to such matters on behalf of the inventor. Incidentally, the telephone patent was repeatedly upheld under numerous challenges ? brought forth by either infringers seeking to enter what became a lucrative market, or by the Bell Company against the infringers. At the time of the invention of the telephone, 1876, telegraph was firmly established and operating at a very high capacity, and the Western Union Telegraph Company was one of America?s wealthiest corporations. That was soon to change as desires to improve telegraphy led to telephone, a revolution in human communication itself.

For the invention of an electric communications device, an individual with the background of Mr. Alexander Graham Bell could have been thought an unlikely candidate. His strongest skills were not in physics or electricity, but rather in music, the classical subjects, and anatomy ? and by real profession he was a teacher of music and later an instructor of vocal physiology. As such, he instructed students who were deaf, mute, and defective in speech, as well as taught other teachers in his methods. His background was one of language and speech, but also of rigorous academics and study, giving him the mind and methodology to practice science, if not the precise factual background. But his early years fell in an age when electrical science was given minimal academic treatment, at best. His journey to the cusp of invention took many steps.

Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Professor Alexander Melville Bell. A. M. Bell was a teacher of elocution, author of several textbooks on the art of speaking, and originator of a ?Visible Speech? system. This was a symbolic system that illustrated the anatomy of voice-production used to create word sounds ? vowels and consonants. Visible Speech was a significant innovation of its own right ? a subject could speak a sentence in any language, and once recorded in the Visible Speech format the sentence could be precisely repeated by another person familiar with the format, irrespective of the language of the original sentence. A. M. Bell was widely published and...
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