Little Bits of History

So Long

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 2, 2015
Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell

August 2, 1922: Alexander Graham Bell dies. Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847. His mother lost her hearing while he was still a child and both his grandfather and father worked on different aspects of speech. He was the middle of three sons and his father was a professor. Both of his brothers died at young ages of tuberculosis. Aleck had a natural curiosity which led him to experimentation even as a child. He also had an aptitude in the arts and taught himself to play the piano. He also played something he called “voice tricks” which was similar to ventriloquism. He and his brother Melville worked on an automaton which could produce some minimal speech.

In 1870, the family migrated to North America, originally settling in Canada. By this time, Aleck was the only surviving son, but his brother’s widow also traveled with the family. In Canada, he was able to work with languages not available in Britain. He learned Mohawk and translated its unwritten vocabulary into Visible Speech symbols. He set up a workshop and continued to work with electricity and sound. Father and son hoped to be able to teach together. Bell, Sr. was invited to become the principal of the Boston School for Deaf Mutes and to introduce the Visible Speech System. He declined the position, but offered his son’s services instead. Aleck left Canada for Boston and was so successful, his services were also used in Hartford, Connecticut and Northampton, Massachusetts.

Bell became a professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at Boston University School of Oratory. He lived in the US during the school year and returned to Canada for breaks. He also continued to work on his other interesting inventions. His busy schedule left him in ill health. He gave up a private practice teaching deaf students to communicate, keeping only two students. He continued to work with sound and one of the student’s father, a wealthy businessman, offered him lodging and a workshop. His other student was ten years younger than he was and he became infatuated with her. In fact, he married her in 1877 and the couple had four children.

His most famous work was in telephony. He and Elisha Gray were both working on an invention for transmitting sound which they called acoustic telegraphy. Gray filed a caveat with the patent office on February 14, 1876 and Bell’s patent was issued on March 7. Luckily, he finally got his telephone to actually work on March 10. The men were in disagreement over who had primacy with the invention. The patent examiner later said he was an alcoholic in debt to Marcellus Bailey, Bell’s lawyer, and had shown both lawyer and client Gray’s caveat after being paid to do so. Bell denied these allegations. Bell went on to have 18 more patents granted in his name alone and 12 more with collaborators. He always thought of himself as a “teacher of the deaf” – his greatest accomplishment. He died on this date from complications of diabetes. He was 75.

In scientific researches, there are no unsuccessful experiments; every experiment contains a lesson. If we don’t get the results anticipated and stop right there, it is the man that is unsuccessful, not the experiment.

To ask the value of speech is like asking the value of life.

I have always considered myself as an Agnostic, but I have now discovered that I am a Unitarian Agnostic.

Self-education is a lifelong affair. There cannot be mental atrophy in any person who continues to observe, to remember what he observes, and to seek answers for his unceasing hows and whys about things. – all from Alexander Graham Bell

Also on this day: Counting – In 1790, the US conducted the first census.
Who’s Calling? – In 1835, Elisha Gray was born.
PT-109 – In 1943, John Kennedy’s boat sank.
It’s Hot at Summerland – In 1973, Summerland caught fire.
Uniting – In 1918, the first general strike in Canada took place.


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