Alexander Graham Bell


Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3, 1847. He would later become an eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator. Bell showed immense precocity as a youth. When he was eleven, he invented a machine that could clean wheat. He later said that if he had understood electricity at all, he would have been too discouraged to invent the telephone. Everyone else "knew" it was impossible to send voice signals over a wire. 
  
As a young man, Bell tended to work around the clock, allowing himself only three or four hours of sleep a night. After his marriage and his wife's pregnancy, however, the American inventor was persuaded to keep more regular hours. His wife, Mabel, forced him to get out of bed for breakfast each morning at 8:30 - "It is hard work and tears are spent over it sometimes," she noted in a letter - and convinced him to reserve a few work-free hours after they dined together at 7:00 P.M. (He was allowed to return to his study at 10:00.) Once he got adjusted to it, Bell found that his new family-friendly schedule agreed with him - but he couldn't keep it up indefinitely. When in the throes of a new idea, he pleaded with his wife to let him be free of family obligations; sometimes, in these states, he would work for up to twenty-two hours straight without sleep. According to Mabel's journal, Bell explained to her that "I have my periods of restlessness when my brain is crowded with ideas tingling to my fingertips when I am excited and cannot stop for anybody." Mabel eventually accepted his relentless focus on his work, but not without some resentment. She wrote to him in 1888, "I wonder do you think of me in the midst of that work of yours of which I am so proud and yet so jealous, for I know it has stolen from me part of my husband's heart, for where his thoughts and interests lie, there must his heart be."

He enrolled in the University of London to study anatomy and physiology, but his college time was cut short when his family moved to Canada in 1870.  His parents had lost two children to tuberculosis, and they insisted that the best way to save their last child was to leave England. 

He came to the U.S as a teacher of the deaf, and conceived the idea of "electronic speech" while visiting his hearing-impaired mother in Canada. This led him to invent the microphone and later the "electrical speech machine" -- his name for the first telephone. 
                            
While trying to perfect a method for carrying multiple messages on a single wire, he heard the sound of a plucked spring along 60 feet of wire in a Boston electrical shop. Thomas A. Watson, one of Bell's assistants, was trying to reactivate a telegraph transmitter. Hearing the sound, Bell believed that he could solve the problem of sending a human voice over a wire. He figured out how to transmit a simple current first, and received a patent for that invention on March 7, 1876.   Five days later, he transmitted actual speech.  Sitting in one room, he spoke into the phone to his assistant in another room, saying the now famous words: "Mr. Watson, come here.  I need you."  The telephone patent is one of the most valuable patents ever issued. 

Bell had other inventions as well -- his own home had a precursor to modern day air conditioning, he contributed to aviation technology, and his last patent, at the age of 75, was for the fastest hydrofoil yet invented. 

Bell was committed to the advancement of science and technology.  As such he took over the presidency of a small, almost unheard-of, scientific society in 1898: the National Geographic Society.  Bell and his son-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, took the society's dry journal and added beautiful photographs and interesting writing -- turning National Geographic into one of the world's best-known magazines. He also is one of the founders of Science magazine.

Bell's father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech, and both his mother and wife were deaf, profoundly influencing Bell's life's work. His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first US patent for the telephone in 1876. In retrospect, Bell considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.

Many other inventions marked Bell's later life, 
including groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils and aeronautics. In 1888, Bell became one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society. He has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history.

Bell died on August 2, 1922.  On the day of his burial, all telephone service in the US was stopped for one minute in his honor.





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