Alexander Graham Bell Biography Essay On Life

Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 - August 2, 1922) was a teacher, scientist, and inventor. He was the founder of the Bell Telephone Company.

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. His family was known for teaching people how to speak English clearly (elocution). Both his grandfather, Alexander Bell, and his father, Alexander Melville Bell, taught elocution. His father wrote often about this and is most known for his invention and writings of Visible Speech.[1] In his writings he explained ways of teaching people who were deaf and unable to speak. It also showed how these people could learn to speak words by watching their lips and reading what other people were saying.

Alexander Graham Bell went to the Royal High School of Edinburgh. He graduated at the age of fifteen. At the age of sixteen, he got a job as a student and teacher of elocution and music in Weston House Academy, at Elgin in Morayshire. He spent the next year at the University of Edinburgh. While still in Scotland, he became more interested in the science of sound (acoustics). He hoped to help his deaf mother. From 1866 to 1867, he was a teacher at Somersetshire College in Bath, Somerset.

In 1870 when he was 23 years old, he moved with his family to Canada where they settled at Brantford, Ontario.[1] Bell began to study communicationmachines. He made a piano that could be heard far away by using electricity. In 1871 he went with his father to Montreal, Quebec in Canada, where he took a job teaching about "visible speech". His father was asked to teach about it at a large school for deaf mutes in Boston, Massachusetts, but instead he gave the job to his son. The younger Bell began teaching there in 1872.[1] Alexander Graham Bell soon became famous in the United States for this important work. He published many writings about it in Washington, D.C.. Because of this work, thousands of deaf mutes in America are now able to speak, even though they cannot hear.

In 1876, Bell was the first inventor to patent the telephone, and he helped start the Bell Telephone Company with others in July 1877.[1] In 1879, this company joined with the New England Telephone Company to form the National Bell Telephone Company. In 1880, they formed the American Bell Telephone Company, and in 1885, American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), still a large company today. Along with Thomas Edison, Bell formed the Oriental Telephone Company on January 25, 1881.

Bell married Mabel Hubbard on July 11, 1877. He died of diabetes at his home near Baddeck, Nova Scotia in 1922.

Inventions[change | change source]

Bell's genius is seen in part by the eighteen patents granted in his name alone and the twelve that he shared with others. These included fifteen for the telephone and telegraph, four for the photophone, one for the phonograph, five for aeronautics, four for hydrofoils, and two for a selenium cell.
In 1888, he was one of the original members of the National Geographic Society and became its second president.

He was given many honors.

Telephone[change | change source]

His past experience made him ready to work more with sound and electricity. He began his studies in 1874 with a musical telegraph, in which he used an electric circuit and a magnet to make an iron reed or tongue vibrate. One day, it was found that a reed failed to respond to the current. Mr. Bell desired his assistant, who was at the other end of the line, to pluck the reed, thinking it had stuck to the magnet. His assistant, Thomas Watson complied, and to his surprise, Bell heard the corresponding reed at his end of the line vibrate and sound the same - without any electric current to power it. A few experiments soon showed that his reed had been set in vibration by the changes in the magnetic field that the moving reed produced in the line. This discovery led him to stop using the electric battery current. His idea was that, since the circuit was never broken, all the complex vibrations of speech might be converted into currents, which in turn would reproduce the speech at a distance.

Bell, with his assistant, devised a receiver, consisting of a stretched film or drum with a bit of magnetised iron attached to its middle, and free to vibrate in front of the pole of an electromagnet in circuit with the line. This apparatus was completed on June 2, 1875. On July 7th, he instructed his assistant to make a second receiver which could be used with the first, and a few days later they were tried together, at each end of the line, which ran from a room in the inventor's house at Boston to the cellar underneath. Bell, in the room, held one instrument in his hands, while Watson in the cellar listened at the other. The inventor spoke into his instrument, "Do you understand what I say?" and Mr. Watson rushed back into the upstairs and answered "Yes." The first successful two-way telephone call was not made until March 10, 1876 when Bell spoke into his device, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you." and Watson answered back and came into the room to see Bell.[1] The first long distance telephone call was made on August 10, 1876 by Bell from the family home in Brantford, Ontario to his assistant in Paris, Ontario, some 16 km (10 mi.) away.

On March 7, 1876, the U.S. Patent Office gave him patent #174465 for the telephone.[1]

Metal detector[change | change source]

Bell is also credited with the invention of an improved metal detector in 1881 that made sounds when it was near metal. The device was quickly put together in an attempt to find the bullet in the body of U.S. PresidentJames Garfield. The metal detector worked, but did not find the bullet because of the metal bedframe the President was lying on. Bell gave a full description of his experiments in a paper read before the "American Association for the Advancement of Science" in August, 1882.

Opinions[change | change source]

Bell was an active supporter of the eugenics movement in the United States. He was the honorary president of the "Second International Congress of Eugenics" held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1921.

As a teacher of the deaf, Bell did not want deaf people to teach in schools for the deaf. He was also against the use of sign language. These things mean that he is not appreciated by some deaf people in the present day.

References[change | change source]

Other websites[change | change source]

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Remarkably, he only worked on his invention because he misunderstood a technical work he had read in German. His misunderstanding ultimately led to his discovery of how speech could be transmitted electrically.

Images are: A model of Bell’s very first telephone (top-left). Alexander Graham Bell in 1874, aged 26, when he became a professor at Boston University (bottom-left). Bell, aged 45, making the first call from New York to Chicago when the exchange opened in 1892 (right).

Alexander Graham Bell’s Early Life, Early Inventions, and Education

Alexander Graham Bell was born March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. His mother’s name was Eliza Grace Symonds.

His father, Alexander Melville Bell, was a professor of speech elocution at the University of Edinburgh. His father also wrote definitive books about speech and elocution, which sold very well in the UK and North America.

The young Alexander was home-schooled until he was 11, following which he attended Edinburgh’s Royal High School for four years: he enjoyed science, but did not do well academically.

Although his schoolwork was poor, his mind was very active. One day, he was playing at a flour mill owned by the family of a young friend. Bell learned that de-husking the wheat grains took a lot of effort and was also very boring. He saw that it would be possible for a machine to do the work, so he built one. He was only 12 at the time. The machine he built was used at the mill for several years.

Aged 15, he joined his grandfather who had moved to London, England. His grandfather home-schooled him, which seemed to bring out the best in Bell again. When he was 16, he enrolled at Weston House Academy in Elgin, Scotland, where he learned Greek and Latin and also earned some money teaching elocution.

While he was 16, he and his brother tried to build a talking robot. They built a windpipe and a realistic looking head. When they blew air through the windpipe, the mouth could make a small number of recognizable words.

For the next few years, Bell moved to a new school most years, either teaching elocution or improving his own education.

To Canada

While Bell moved around a lot, he continued to carry out his own research into sound and speech. He worked very hard indeed, and by the time he was 20 he was in very poor health and returned to his family home, which was now in London.

By mid-1870, when Bell was 23, both of his younger brothers had died of tuberculosis. Bell’s parents were terrified that Alexander, whose health was fragile, would suffer a similar fate. He was now their only surviving child.

Bell’s father had gone to Canada when he was younger and found that his poor health had improved dramatically. He now decided that what was left of his family should move to Canada, and by late 1870, they were living in Brentford, Ontario. Thankfully, Alexander Graham Bell’s health began to improve.

While living in Brentford, Bell learned the Mohawk language and put it in writing for the first time. The Mohawk people made him an Honorary Chief.

And the United States

When he was 25, Bell opened his School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech in Boston, MA, where he taught deaf people to speak. At age 26, although he did not have a university degree, he became Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory.

The Invention of the Telephone

While he was moving jobs and locations around the UK and North America, Bell had developed an overriding desire to invent a machine that could reproduce human speech.

Speech had become his life: his mother had gone deaf, and Bell’s father had developed a method of teaching deaf people to speak, which Bell taught. His research into mechanizing human speech had become a relentless obsession: in the UK it had driven him almost to collapse.

When Bell was only 19 years old, he had described his work in a letter to the linguistics expert Alexander Ellis. Ellis told Bell his work was similar to work carried out in Germany by Hermann von Helmholtz.

A Mistake Puts Bell on the Right Track

Bell eagerly read Helmholtz’s work, or tried to read it. It was in German, which he did not understand. Instead, he tried to follow the logic of the book’s diagrams. Bell misunderstood the diagrams, believing that Helmholtz had been able to convert all of the sounds of speech to electricity.

In fact, Helmholtz had not been able to do this – he had only succeeded with vowel sounds – but from then on, Bell believed it could be done!

Aged 23, Bell built a workshop in the new family home in Ontario and experimented there with converting music into an electrical signal.

In Boston, aged 25, Bell continued his experiments through the night while working in the day. In summer, he would return to his workshop in Ontario and continue his experiments.

Financial Backing for a Voice Telegraph

In 1874 Bell was 26. The first electrical telegraph lines had been built forty years earlier, in the 1830s. These allowed electrical clicks (Morse code) to be instantly transmitted over great distances. Bell wanted to transmit human speech instead of clicks, and he was getting close to doing it.

He had found that human speech came in wave like patterns. He now hoped to produce an electrical wave that would follow the same patterns as someone’s speech.

He won financial backing from Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, two wealthy investors. Hubbard also brought in Anthony Pollok, his patent attorney. The money enabled Bell to hire Thomas Watson, a skilled electrical engineer, whose knowledge would compliment Bell’s.

Patenting the Telephone

Aged 27, in 1875, Bell and his investors decided the time had come to protect his intellectual property using patents.

Alexander Graham Bell’s Telephone Patent. (Click to enlarge.)

Bell had a patent written for transmission of speech over an electrical wire. He applied for this patent in the UK, because in those days UK patents were granted only if they had not first been granted in another country. Bell told his attorney to apply in the USA only after the patent had been granted in the UK.

By 1876, things in the USA had become murkier. In February of that year, Elisha Gray applied for a US patent for a telephone which used a variable resistor based on a liquid: salt water.

In the transmitter, the liquid resistor transferred to an electric circuit the vibrations of a needle attached to a diaphragm which had been made to vibrate by sound. The electrical resistance of the circuit changed in tandem with the needle’s position in the liquid, and so sound was converted into an equivalent electrical signal. The receiver converted the electrical signal back into sound using a vibrating needle in liquid connected to a diaphragm which vibrated to recreate the sound that had been transmitted.

On the same day, Bell’s attorney filed his US patent application.

It was only in March 1876 that Bell actually got his invention to work, using a design similar to Gray’s. Hence Gray lay claim to have invented the telephone.

On the other hand, Bell had established the concept before Gray, and in all demonstrations of a working phone Bell gave or developed commercially he used his own setup rather than a water based variable resistor. In fact, in 1875, Bell had filed a patent for a liquid mercury based variable resistor, predating Gray’s liquid variable resistor patent.

Bell had to fend off around 600 lawsuits before he could finally rest in bed at night as the legally acknowledged inventor of the telephone.

“Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”
The first words spoken in a telephone call: Alexander Graham Bell

By summer 1876, Bell was transmitting telephone voice messages over a line several miles long in Ontario.

Making Money

Near the end of 1876, Bell and his investors offered to sell their patent to Western Union for $100,000. Western Union ran America’s telegraph wires, and its top people believed the telephone was just a fad. They thought it would not be profitable.

How spectacularly wrong they were!

By 1878, Western Union’s opinion had altered dramatically. They now thought that if they could offer $25 million to get the patent, they would have gotten it cheaply.

Unfortunately for Western Union, in 1877, the Bell Telephone Company had been launched. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Not Just the Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell had a restless mind. The telephone made him wealthy and famous, but he wanted new challenges, and he continued inventing and innovating.

The Photophone, or Optical Telephone

Today, it is standard practice to transmit huge amounts of data using photons of light through optical fiber.

In 1880, Bell and his assistant Charles Summer Tainter transmitted wireless voice messages a distance of over 200 meters in Washington D.C. The voice messages were carried by a light beam, and Bell patented the photophone. This was two decades before the first radio messages were sent without wires and a century before optic fiber communications became commercially viable.

The receiver of Bell’s photophone. In Bell’s opinion, the photophone was his best invention.

The Metal Detector

In 1881, after President James Garfield was shot, Bell invented the metal detector to locate the bullet precisely. The rudimentary metal detector worked in tests, but the bullet in the President’s body was too deep to be detected by the early detecting equipment.

National Geographic Society

In 1888 Bell was one of the founders of the National Geographic Society. In 1897, he became its second president.

The End

Alexander Graham Bell died aged 75 on August 2, 1922 in Nova Scotia, Canada. He had been ill for some months with complications from diabetes. He was survived by his wife, Mabel, and two daughters – Elsie and Marian.

Every phone in North America was silenced during his funeral in his honor.

The unit of sound intensity, the bel, more usually seen as the smaller unit, the decibel, was named after Bell: it was conceived of in the Bell Laboratories.

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