Alexander Graham Bell 1847-1922
the time Alexander Bell arrived in Boston in 1871 to accept a teaching position
at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes, businesses worldwide were growing at such
a rapid rate that the telegraph was no longer sufficient to handle the level of
communication necessary. In 1873, Bell was hired by Boston University as Professor
of Vocal Physiology and Elocution.
Around 1875, Bell and other inventors
were working on an improved version of the telegraph when he envisioned the telephone.
In the same shop where Edison had worked a few years before, at 109 Court Street
(see Edison, page 46), Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson began their work on
transmitting the human voice over wires.
As they came closer to making
their telephone work, Bell and Watson moved their lab to a boardinghouse on Exeter
Place near Downtown Crossing to keep their invention a secret. In 1876, the inventors
were experimenting with different levels of sulfuric acid to try to raise the
volume of the telephone and make the human voice intelligible. Watson had placed
one end of the electrical wire into a cup of sulfuric acid when Bell went into
another room to conduct the test. Suddenly, Watson heard "Mr. Watson, come here!
I want you!" over the wires. Bell had accidentally spilled acid on his clothes,
and in calling to Watson for help, had spoken the first audible sentence ever
sent over the telephone wires.
Bell faced complex obstacles as he struggled
to bring his telephone idea to fruition. First, his financial backers were interested
in an improved telegraph and withdrew their support when Bell persisted in pursuing
his vision of a telephone. To complicate matters, Bell was in love with his deaf
student, Mabel, who was the daughter of Gardiner Hubbard, one of his financial
backers. Bell also faced competition from other inventors and filed his patent
for the telephone a mere two hours before another Boston inventor, Elisha Gray,
submitted a similar sketch.
After trying, without success, to sell his
patent to Western Union, Bell formed the Bell Telephone Company with Thomas Sanders
and Gardiner Hubbard, now his father-in-law. Between 1883 and 1893, the Bell Telephone
Company defended itself in over 600 lawsuits. Fish, Richardson, and Storrow (now
Fish and Richardson), a patent law firm founded in Boston in 1878 and still thriving
today, represented Bell's company and won every lawsuit.
support and management of their assets, which amounted to about a million dollars
in 1890, Bell continued to teach the deaf and to invent. When his son was dying
of respiratory illness as a baby, Bell constructed a "vacuum jacket," the forerunner
of the iron lung, to ease his breathing difficulties.
Upon Bell's death
on August 2, 1922, the nation's phones were stilled for a silent minute in tribute
to the man whose yearning to communicate made them possible.
Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone
by Harry N. Abrams, 1997
The Telephone Patent Conspiracy of 1876: The Elisha Gray-Alexander Graham
Bell Controversy and Its Many Players
by Edward A. Evenson, 2000
Graham Bell: An Inventive Life by Elizabeth MacLeod,