Ring That Scottish Bell!

by Niamh Wood

Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell was an inventor and scientist, remembered for his invention of the telephone in 1876.

Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3rd, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland to his parents, Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Symonds. His mother was deaf, and his father taught speech to the deaf. His father's occupation influenced Alexander's later career choice as a teacher of the deaf. As a young child, he and his two brothers were home-schooled by their father. Alexander was said to have demonstrated a massive curiosity about the world and posed a natural talent for many different activities. Most impressive of all Alexander learnt visible speech and was able to identify any symbol and its accompanying sound. He became so skilled with this that he became part of his father's public demonstrations and would astonish audiences with his remarkable abilities.

When he was 11, he started attending the Royal High school in Edinburgh although Alexander left school aged 15 as he did not enjoy it. Upon leaving school he moved to London and started living with his grandfather who influenced him and made significant efforts to broaden his grandson’s knowledge. When he was 16, he secured a position of ‘pupil teacher’ of elocution and music in the Western House Academy at Elgin, Moray in Scotland. The following year he joined his older brother at The University of Edinburgh but moved to The University of London not long after. Unfortunately, he was unable to finish his studies there as he and his family immigrated to Canada in 1870 after his two brothers passed away from tuberculosis. The family settled in Ontario, however, Alexander moved to Boston just a year later where he followed in his father’s footsteps teaching at various schools for deaf-mutes. In 1872 he opened the school of vocal physiology and mechanics of speech in Boston, where deaf people were taught to speak. Alexander became a professor at age 26 despite not having a university degree. While teaching, he met Mabel Hubbard, one of his students, and they fell in love. The couple got married in 1877 and had four children together, two of which unfortunately died in infancy.

In 1871 bell started working on a harmonic telegraph. This device allowed many messages to be transferred over a singular wire simultaneously. While trying to perfect this he became distracted by finding a way to transmit the human voice over the waves. He continued working on this idea for many years with the help of his work partner Thomas Watson and by 1875 they had produced a simple receiver that could turn electricity into sound – a telephone!

On March 7th, 1876, Bell was granted his telephone patent. A few days later he made the first-ever telephone call to Watson declaring the now-famous phrase, ‘Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.’ In 1877 The Bell telephone company (now known as AT and T) was created. Bell made the first-ever phone call to his partner Watson from New York to San Francisco in 1915. However, it was not all easy sailing for Alexander Bell. He faced a 20-year battle with other scientists who claimed they had created telephone prototypes before Bell. The bell company faced over 550 court challenges, however, in the end, none of them were successful and the bell company won in a supreme court decision.

As well as the telephone, Bell worked on hundreds of other projects throughout his career. A few of his other notable inventions were the metal detector, photophone, graphophone, and audiometer. He also helped to launch the science magazine from 1896 to 1904 and served as president of the national geographic society. He also founded a facility devoted to scientific discovery.

He died on August 2nd, 1922, at the age of 75 in nova scotia Canada from diabetes complications. During his funeral, every phone in North America was silent to pay tribute to the inventor. Today the famous scientist is remembered for his groundbreaking work in sound technology and improving education for the deaf. Alexander Bell's invention of the telephone has forever changed not only how individuals communicate with one another but also the words and language we use today. It has impacted the world for the better.


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