Little Bits of History

One Ringy-Dingy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 7, 2013
Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell

March 7, 1876: Alexander Graham Bell receives patent #174,465 for an invention he called “telegraphy.” Bell was from Scotland. His family (grandfather, father, and brother) worked with elocution and speech issues. Bell himself is sometimes called “the father of the deaf” for his work in the field. Both his mother and wife were deaf. He is most famous for his work with the telephone, but in his later life he worked with hydrofoils and aeronautics as well.

Bell was born in Edinburgh in 1847. He had special training in his father’s techniques for removing speech impediments. In 1867, Bell went to London to continue his studies but left due to poor health. He and his father moved to Canada in 1870 and two years later they moved to the US. Bell introduced his father’s method of instruction for deaf-mutes and became a professor at Boston University, teaching vocal physiology.

While Bell obtained the patent for the telephone, he was not the only person working on the concept of voice transmission. Antonio Meucci (Italian, gave an early demonstration of voice transmission in New York City in 1854), Charles Bourseul (French, described the concept in print in 1854), Johann Phillipp Reis (German, transmitted sounds in 1860), Innocenzo Manzetti, Cromwell Varley, Poul la Cour, and Elisha Gray were all in hot pursuit of the same technology. Many of these other inventors have claims in writings of the time stating that Bell actually stole their ideas.

Bell championed technology to improve “quality of life” for the deaf. His most famous student was Helen Keller who credited Bell with breaking the “inhuman silence which separates and estranges.” Bell’s medical research continued looking for way to improve the teaching of speech to the deaf. He worked outside his main focus to invent other things as well. He had a primitive type of air conditioner in his home (fans blowing over blocks of ice). He was called in to help after President Garfield was shot and quickly scrapped together a metal detector. The bullet was not found due to the metal frame of the bed causing interference and static.

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

“A man, as a general rule, owes very little to what he is born with – a man is what he makes of himself.”

“America is a country of inventors, and the greatest of inventors are the newspaper men.”

“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.” – all from Alexander Graham Bell

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Alexander Graham Bell had his first inventive success at the age of twelve. His boyhood friend, Ben Herdman, was the son of a miller. Young Alexander asked what needed to be done in order to grind wheat into flour. He was told about the labor intensive process of dehusking and the child created a machine with rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes that worked to dehusk the wheat. The simple machine worked for many years and as a reward, the owner of the mill gave the boys their own workshop in which they could carry on with their inventive ways. At this same age, he was also interested in both art and poetry and encouraged by his mother in these pursuits. It was at this time that she began to lose her hearing.

Also on this day: Gilbert and Sullivan – In 1896, The Grand Duke opened at the Savoy Theatre. The last G&S work.
Shrigley Abduction – In 1827, Ellen Turner was kidnapped.
Phyllis Diller – In 1955, the star began an 87 week run at The Purple Onion.

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