Sunday, 2 January 2011

Alexander Graham Bell

NAME Alexander Graham Bell, he was born Alexander Bell in Edinburgh, Scotland and later adopted the middle name Graham out of admiration for Alexander Graham, a family friend. To close relatives and friends he remained "Aleck" which his father continued to call him into later life.

WHAT FAMOUS FOR Inventor of the telephone

BIRTH b1847 at 16 South Charlotte Street, Edinburgh

FAMILY BACKGROUND Aleck's family were associated with the teaching of elocution: his grandfather in London, his uncle in Dublin, and his father, Professor Alexander Melville Bell(1819-1905), in Edinburgh, were all professed elocutionists. His dad was a specialist in deaf children's education who invented "visible speech", a method of phonetic notation for deaf mutes. His treatise on Visible Speech, which appeared in Edinburgh in 1868 is well known to those who are interested in such matters.
Aleck's mum Eliza Grace (née Symonds) began to lose her hearing when he was 12 and the sensitive son learned a manual finger language so he could sit at her side and tap out silently the conversations swirling around the family parlour.
He had two brothers, Melville James Bell (1845–1870) and Edward Charles Bell (1848–1867) who both died of tuberculosis.

CHILDHOOD As a child, the smart Aleck displayed a natural curiosity about his world, experimenting at an early age. At the age of 11 he invented a device for separating wheat from its husk and when still in his teens, the precocious youngster made a talking doll that said "mama"; so convincing was it that his neighbours began hunting for an abandoned baby.

EDUCATION As a young child Aleck received his early schooling at home from his father along with his brothers. Later he was educated at the Royal High School of Edinburgh, from which he graduated at the age of 15. His school record was undistinguished, marked by absenteeism and lacklustre grades. His main interest remained in the sciences, especially biology, while he treated other school subjects with indifference, to the dismay of his demanding father.
At the age of 16 he secured a position as a pupil-teacher of elocution and music in Weston House Academy, at Elgin in Morayshire. The following year, he attended the University of Edinburgh; joining his older brother Melville who had enrolled there the previous year.

CAREER RECORD 1863 Bell secured a position as a "pupil-teacher" of elocution and music, in Weston House Academy, at Elgin, Moray, Scotland. Although he was enrolled as a student in Latin and Greek, he instructed classes himself in return for board and £10 per session. It is now a Comet store). Also assisted his father in teaching deaf & dumb children in London.
1865 When the Bell family moved to London, Bell returned to Weston House Academy as an assistant master and, in his spare hours, made experiments with sound using a minimum of laboratory equipment.
1866-67 An instructor at Somerset College at Bath.
1867-70 Bell returned home in 1867. With aspirations to obtain a degree at the University College London, Bell considered his next years as preparation for the degree examinations, devoting his spare time at his family's residence to studying. Also helped his father in Visible Speech demonstrations and lectures.
1870 Bell emigrated to Canada with his parents where set up his own workshop in a converted carriage house. There, he continued his experiments with electricity and sound.
1872 Opened a private school in Boston, USA to train teachers of the deaf and the methods of visible speech that he'd learnt from Dad.
1873 Appointed a Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at Boston University
1874 Began work on telephone
1876 First sentence transmitted by phone
1877 Launched the Bell Telephone Company. Soon he was the bell of the ball
Devoted the rest of his life to the education of deaf and dumb children. One of his pupils was a young woman called Helen Keller.
1896 Succeeded his father in law as President of the National Geographic Society

APPEARANCE When older Bell was short, grey hair, bushy scruffy beard. He looked like someone had stuck his unwanted candy floss on his chin.

CHARACTER Agreeable, reclusive hard working.

SENSE OF HUMOUR When Bell and Thomas Watson were on opposite sides of America to launch the new long distance telephone lines. Bell repeated his first words on the phone "Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you" as a joke.

RELATIONSHIPS As professor at Boston University Bell had many deaf pupils. One of them the deaf and mute Mabel Hubbard was a bright, attractive girl who was ten years his junior but became the object of Bell's affection. They married on July 11, 1877 in the Cambridge home of her parents, when she was 19 and lived together happily for 45 years. He was devoted to his wife and two daughters Elsie (1878-1964) and Marian(180–1962). Marian was referred to as "Daisy", and as nearly named Photophone by Bell after her birth.
Mabel also bore two sons, Edward (1881) and Robert (1883), both of whom died shortly after birth leaving their parents bereft.

Maybe this is how the happy couple got together. Alex chatted up Mabel in sign language at the delicatessen section of a supermarket. "Can I have your number"? he asked. Mabel gave it to him so he got served before her.. nah maybe not.
Here's a spot of trivia: Bell’s grandson answered the very first commercial mobile phone call in 1983.

MONEY AND FAME At first many businesses refused to ring the changes with these new aids to communications as they did not think they would be any quicker than the messenger service they employed. But the telephone became the great hit of the June 1876 celebration of the Declaration of Independence when Bell recited "to be or not to be" down the phone to an excited Emperor of Brazil who was standing 150 yards away. His company, Bell Telephone Company, became one of the largest in the USA by making the art of communication more expensive than ever before in history.
In 1880 Bell received the French government's Volta prize for his invention of the telephone. (50,000 Francs). He used the money to establish the Volta laboratory and the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in Washington.
Being a Scot I'm surprised his first telephone wasn't a pay phone!

FOOD AND DRINK The Scottish inventor has the odd habit of drinking his soup through a glass straw.

MUSIC AND ARTS (1)From his early years, Bell showed a sensitive nature and a talent for art, poetry and music that was encouraged by his mother. With no formal training, he mastered the piano and became the family's pianist.
(2) As a boy Aleck had attacks of what his mother called “musical fever”. Listening to music affected him so deeply, he couldn't sleep leaving him with a headache in the morning.
(3) Before Bell invented the telephone he designed a piano which could transmit its music to a distance by means of electricity.
(4) When he invented the phone he thought its main use would be to play music to 5 elected subscribers.

LITERATURE (1) Bell inspired a book which is found in most homes throughout the western world- the Telephone Directory. Incidentally the first telephone directory only had 50 names in it.
(2) Bell helped found Science magazine in 1880 in partnership with his father in law Gardiner Hubbard.
(3) As president of the National Geographic Society, Bell transformed what had began as a modest pamphlet into the world famous National Geographic Magazine. He wrote articles for the magazine under the enigmatic pseudonym of H.A. Largelamb.

NATURE Going back to Aleck's talking doll (see childhood), after the success of the automaton, the teenage Scot continued to experiment with a live subject, the family's Skye Terrier, "Trouve". After Aleck taught it to growl continuously, he would reach into its mouth and manipulate the dog's lips and vocal cords to produce a crude-sounding "Ow ah oo ga ma ma." With little convincing, visitors believed his dog could articulate "How are you grandma?" More indicative of his playful nature, his experiments convinced onlookers that they saw a "talking dog."

Bell was connected with the eugenics movement in the United States. The Scottish inventor's hobby of livestock breeding led to his appointment to biologist David Starr Jordan's Committee on Eugenics, under the auspices of the American Breeders Association. His own investigations of race improving theories led to him developing a more prolific breed of sheep.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Bell's hydrofoil boat set the world water speed record in 1919 when he was 72 by reaching speeds in excess of 70 miles an hour. For many years it was the fastest boat in the world.

SCIENCE AND MATHS (1) Bell researched sound recording Aerodynamics and Electro Optical Communication and in 1880 he invented the photophone which transmits speech by light rays. In 1886 he invented the first wax recording cylinder.
(2) Bell invented an audiometer artificial ear, which was capable of registering sounds on a sheet of glass covered in lampblack.
(3) Bell invented a sorting machine for punch coded census cards
(4) Bell toiled for the deaf for many years. His main scientific vision had been to help the deaf. In the USA he publicised the visible speech system developed by his father which shows how the lips, tongue and throat are used in the articulation of sound.
(5) Before the telephone Bell developed a harmonic telegraph which meant for the first time many messages could be sent down the wire at once.

(6) And now the one you've been waiting for... The telephone. Bell wasn't one day struck by an idea. In fact the inspiration came when he was working to improve the telegram in Boston, Massachusetts. Not adept with his hands, the Scot was aided by a young repair mechanic and model maker, Thomas Watson. On 2nd June 1875 Watson made a mistake, the incorrect contact of a clamping screw which was too tight changed what should have been an intermittent transmission into a continuous current. Bell at the other end of the wire heard the sound of the contacter dropping making Watson the most famous Bell ringer since Quasimodo.
Bell spent the next winter making calculations and filing an application for a patent knowing a rival, Elisha Gray was working on a similar project.
On February 14, 1876 a representative of Bell filed his patent for a "telephone" which is Greek for sound, at New York Patent Office at 12.00PM. The now forgotten Gray got there 2 hours later.
Bell returned to Boston the same day and the next day resumed work, drawing in his notebook a diagram similar to that in Gray's patent caveat. On March 10, 1876, three days after his patent was issued, Bell succeeded in getting his telephone to work, using a liquid transmitter similar to Gray's design. The first telephone call occurred when the clumsy Bell spilt battery acid on his trousers. He summoned his Watson over the phone. So the first intelligible words transmitted over the new electric speech machine was not "Hello its Bell ringing" but "Come here Watson, I want you". As Bell could have shouted this and Watson would have heard it anyway it was an inauspicious start to selling the benefits of an audio communication device. Presumably Bell then had to invent a second phone to check the first worked and a 3rd one to confirm the engagement tone was OK.
Bell also invented the device that makes a telephone ring. A good thing he did as previously anyone making a call had to shout down the line to alert the people at the other end to pick up the receiver.
The range of Bell's inventive genius is represented only in part by the 18 patents that were granted in his name alone and the 12 he shared with his collaborators. These included 14 for the telephone and telegraph, 4 for the photophone, 1 for the phonograph, 5 for aerial vehicles, 4 for hydroairplanes, and 2 for a selenium cell.

THEOLOGY Bell was a Unitarian and an Universalist. In 1901 he came across a Unitarian pamphlet and found its theology appealingly undogmatic. Alexander wrote to Mabel: "I have always considered myself as an agnostic, but I have now discovered that I am a Unitarian Agnostic."

SCANDAL (1) Not only was Elisha Gray pretty close in patenting the telephone first, many other people believed they thought it first. There were about 600 lawsuits over his invention.
(2) In 1876 the President of the telegram company, Western Union proved he was a prophet without honor when he said "the telephone has too many shortcomings to be considered as a means of communication. This device is of no value to us."
(3) Bell created a metal detecting tool to help find the assassins' bullet in President Garfield in 1881. The device failed to work as no one had thought of removing the steel bed springs on which the president was lying. The metal sent the machine haywire, couldn't locate the bullet and Garfield died from his wounds.
(4) Bell's telephone has interrupted over 1 billion baths since its invention (I made this statistic up but its probably right)

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS Throughout late 1867, Bell's health faltered mainly through exhaustion. His father had also suffered a debilitating illness earlier in life and had been restored to health by a convalescence in Newfoundland, so his family moved from London to the fresh air of Canada from London for the sake of their one remaining son's health. (As I mentioned earlier, Aleck's two brothers both died of tuberculosis).

Bell often suffered from a splitting headache in the morning. Because of this he normally lied in until after 9.00, or if he had an early morning appointment, the Scot stayed up all night. Bell had suffered from these headaches from an early age and when he was younger his mother suggested putting cold water on his eyes, a little beer and refraining from pickles as various cures.

HOMES Bell's family moved to Bradford, Ontario, Canada in 1870. The following year he moved to Cambridge near Boston, Massachusetts and was working to improve the telegram in an upper room in Court Street, Boston, Massachusetts when he invented the phone. The Bell family home was located in Cambridge until 1880 when his father-in-law bought a house in Washington, D.C., and later in 1882 the in the same city for Bell's family, so that they could be with him while he attended to the numerous court cases involving patent disputes.
On one occasion, searching for a cool place to work in the heat of Washington, Bell had his desk placed at the deep end of his swimming pool. (It had been drained first.)
In 1886, Bell started building a substantial summer home on a point across from Baddeck, on Cape Breton island on Nova Scotia, Canada. By 1889, a large house, christened The Lodge was completed and two years later, a larger complex of buildings, including a new laboratory, were begun that the Bells would name Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic: beautiful mountain) after Alec's ancestral Scottish highlands. Today a museum containing many of Bell's original inventions located there is a legacy to his remarkable career.

TRAVEL Fascinated by aeronautics, Bell begun experiments in 1891 to develop motor-powered heavier-than-air aircraft. His wife founded the Aerial Experimental Association, the first research organisation established by a woman, as she shared her husband's vision to fly. She advised Alexander to seek "young" help as he was at the graceful age of 60.
In 1907 Bell developed large human carrying tetrahedral celled kites and he made several other contributions in the early days of flying.

Bell was one of the co founders of the National Geographic Society and its president 1896-1904. He sought to bring understanding of travel to the masses by vivid pictures. As it's President, Bell sought to promote an understanding of life in distant lands in an era when only the privileged could travel.

Bell's final full-sized “hydrodrome” hydrofoil boat, developed in 1917, reached speeds in excess of 113-km/hr-(70 m.p.h.) and for many years was the fastest boat in the world.

DEATH Bell became a dead ringer for a dead person in 1922. He died at his Cape Breton Island estate after a long illness. Mabel whispered to him "don't leave me". Unable to speak, Bell traced with his fingers the sign "no". After this, his last word, the Scots-American departed for the great telephone exchange in the sky. During the funeral service, every telephone of the Bell system was kept silent.
Bell is buried alongside his wife atop Beinn Bhreagh Mountain overlooking Bras d'Or Lake.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA (1) Sweet had a #33 UK hit in 1971 with a tribute song Alexander Graham Bell: "Many years ago, he started something with his first hello". It entered the charts at # 71 just as the band signed a US contact…with Bell Records.
(2) The 1939 film The Story of Alexander Graham Bell with Don Ameche as the inventor of the blower. For a while after this film, the telephone was known by the American public as the "Ameche". Loretta Young played his belle, Mabel.

ACHIEVEMENTS (1) The term "decibel" used to denote noise volume is named after Alexander Graham.
(2) Founder of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf.
(3) His telephone invention has become a worldwide phenomenon without which we now would find it difficult. For instance if all the telephone lines under New York City were straightened out they would reach from here to Venus. Today there are over 500 million telephones in the world.
(4) Despite its failure to save the president's life, Bell's metal detecting machine was an early prototype of the one that is now found in airports worldwide.

(1) Book of Inventions & Discoveries by Jean-Louis Besson
(2) Wikipedia

1 comment:

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