Facts About Alexander Graham Bell and the Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 3, 1847.

His father was Alexander Melville Bell and his mother was Eliza Grace Symonds Bell.

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The young ‘Aleck’ as he was known, was the couple’s second child and was given the name of his father and grandfather as was the tradition of the time.

Sadly, both of his two brothers died from the disease of tuberculosis which was a common cause of infant mortality (or child death) in those days.

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, was then widely known as ‘The Athens of the North’ because it was such a vibrant center of culture, education and learning. The truth is, it still is. Growing up in the city, the young Aleck was greatly influenced by the atmosphere of exploration and discovery in science and the arts.

He was also very much influenced by his grandfather after whom he had been named. His grandfather was a well-respected and admired teacher, a professor of elocution (the study of formal speaking and grammar).

Aleck’s mother was deaf and yet, despite this disability, had become an accomplished pianist. Alexander Graham Bell would later attribute his determination to overcome difficulties and adopt a problem-solving approach to the influence of his mother.

Alexander Graham Bell didn’t go to school. He was educated at home by his mother. Together, they explored anything and everything that interested them, leading to the healthy development of wide-ranging interests and an insatiable curiosity about the world and its works in the young boy.

He did, later, go to a private school for one year in order to ready him for two years of more formal education at The Royal High School.

It was while he was at the High School, at the age of only twelve, that he made his first successful invention. He and a friend had been observing the operations of a flour mill and Aleck had been frustrated to note how difficult and long-winded the process of removing the husks from the grain was. Puzzling over the problem, he eventually developed a set of revolving paddles with rows of nails set into them which worked automatically to de-husk the wheat. It was a great success.

When he reached the age of sixteen, Aleck started his early researches into ‘speech mechanics.’ Even at such a young age, he took up a post at the Weston House Academy, teaching both music and elocution.

He continued to promote the technique of Visible Speech, which was a method whereby the deaf could learn the physical position of the organs associated with speech, such as the lips, tongue, and palate, in order to generate the phonetic sounds by following a visual representation even if they could not themselves hear the result.

Eventually, in the year 1870, Aleck and his family emigrated across the ocean to start a new life in Canada.

It was the following year that he moved to the United States to teach, delighting in the rich intellectual atmosphere of the city of Boston.

It was there, in 1872 that Alexander Graham Bell founded a training school, using the techniques he had developed, for teachers of deaf people. The school was eventually amalgamated with Boston University. At that point a professorship was created and Aleck became the first Professor of Vocal Physiology in 1873. In 1882, he became a fully fledged citizen of the USA.

The idea of actually transmitting speech electronically over long distances had always been a concept that had fascinated Aleck. He had already given a lot of thought as to how it might be done, inspired by his investigations into the telegraph.

In 1875 he produced his first simple receiver which was capable of transforming electrical impulses into audible sound.

Aleck finally created a machine that could both transmit and receive sound and the patent for this remarkable and world-changing invention was registered by him in 1876.

Unlike many new inventions, the telephone was adopted quickly. After only a year the very first telephone exchange had been constructed in Connecticut, and the Bell Telephone Company was founded. In consequence of the rapid spread of telephonic communications, Alexander Graham Bell soon became a very wealthy man.

Bell was awarded a number of prestigious prizes and went on to further develop experiments in many fields. He continued to develop technologies to help deaf people.

He also founded The National Geographic Society and was one of the first presidents and editors of the magazine.

He passed away peacefully in spring of 1922.

Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone ignited a revolution in communications that would reshape the world.

Before it, the telegraph and Morse Code were the latest thing, the most up-to-date technology.

Inspired by his work teaching speech to the deaf coupled with his technical understanding of the ‘morse telegraph’, Bell developed his first ‘acoustic telegraph’ later refined and renamed ‘the telephone.’

The first transmitting telephone that Alexander Graham Bell made would hardly be recognized today for what it was.

It was made of a double electromagnet with a membrane stretched in front of it, rather like the skin of a drum. In the center of the membrane was positioned a strip of iron. There was a mouthpiece that was shaped like a funnel, similar to those used in old gramophones. When words were spoken into this horn, it would cause a series of vibrations in the membrane which would be transferred to the iron and generate oscillating electrical currents. These would then be passed down the wire.

The receiver at the other end of the wire was a metal disc at the end of a tube which attached to another electromagnet. The incoming electromagnetic impulses caused the disc to vibrate, making sound waves that corresponded to the speaker’s voice.

Bell worked quickly after this initial experiment, to refine the design and improve the functionality of his telephone, which he had called ‘the acoustic telegraph.’

The very first telephone call ever transmitted was made, not surprisingly, by Alexander Graham Bell himself.

Bell had an assistant, his electrical mechanic, whose name was Thomas Watson. To try out the new machine, he sent Watson out of the workshop to a nearby room where he had set up a receiver.

He called and when Watson answered he said simply, “Mr. Watson? Come here, I want to see you!”

It would be many years later and after much development of the instrument that he would make the first public demonstration of a long distance call between New York and Chicago.

This article gives you the basic facts about Alexander Graham Bell but as you can imagine, there is much more to his life and work that you can still discover.

I hope you enjoy finding out more about Alexander Graham Bell.

There is no doubt that the ability to communicate instantly across vast distances – even from distant space – has revolutionized our world and was one of the key inventions which ushered in all the wonders of the modern world.

Next time your ringtone sounds in your pocket, remember Alexander Graham Bell.

And just before you ring off, take a moment to answer the poll!

  • Encyclopedia Britannica
  • BBC History
  • Alexander Graham Bell Historical Site
  • Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell. Charlotte Gray. ISBN13: 9780002006767