Alexander Graham Bell; renowned scientist and inventor and most widely known for his invention of the telephone. Both Bell’s mother and wife were deaf and profoundly influenced his life’s work. He did much research on hearing and speech which eventually led him to experiment with hearing devices and his greatest invention, the telephone.
The Young Bell
Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He had two brothers, Melville James, and Edward Charles, both of which died of tuberculosis. He was born with the name Alexander Bell, but pleaded with his father to be given a middle name like his brothers so for his eleventh birthday his father allowed him to adopt the middle name “Graham.” To family and close friends he was nicknamed Aleck and was called that for most of his life.
Alexander, or Aleck, displayed a curiosity for the world in which he lived. He loved experimenting with things even at an early age. His first invention was made at the age of twelve after getting into trouble with his best friend Ben Herdman. The boys were told that they should go do something useful. To that Aleck asked what needed to be done. The response was that the wheat at the mill needed to be dehusked, which normally was a laborious process. Bell built a homemade device that combined rotating paddles and sets of nail brushes to dehusk the wheat. The machine was put into operation and used for a number of years. In return for their help, Ben’s father gave them a small workshop where they could “invent” what they would.
Inventive Speech Work & Education
Aleck showed a very sensitive side and talent for the arts. He loved poetry, art and mastered the piano with no formal training. He was very affected by the gradual deafness of his mother and he learned to communicate with her through a manual finger language. He also developed a technique of speaking in modulated tones onto his mother’s forehead where she could hear him quite clearly. His interest in being able to communicate with his mother led him to the study of acoustics. He was taught by his father how to write visible speech and how to identify symbols and their accompanying sound.
Bell received his early education at home from his father but then was enrolled at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, Scotland. It would seem that a formal education was not his style and Bell dropped out at age fifteen with a record of marked absenteeism and pallid grades. His real interest was with the sciences. After he left school he moved to London to live with his grandfather. Bell’s grandfather took much time and effort in making sure that he was properly educated and versed well in speech. At sixteen, Aleck got his first job as a pupil-teacher in Weston House Academy in Scotland. The next year he attended the University of Edinburgh, but would graduate from the University of Toronto.
In 1874 Bell began working on the telegraph in his Boston Laboratory. He experimented with many different options of sound wave and vibrations but still had no working module to demonstrate his ideas. Telegraph message was quickly expanding. Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray were also working on ways to transmit sound waves and Alexander needed more money to continue his search. He presented his plan to Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders who decided to financially support Bell’s experiments. With the needed money to continue he was determined to be the first to find a way to transmit sounds. He hired Thomas Watson as an assistant and on June 2 1875 Watson accidentally plucked one of the reeds. Bell was at the receiving end and heard the overtones of the reed which were necessary in transmitting speech. This was the beginning of his quest. He would go on to be the first to patent his invention of what we know today as the telephone, with much resistance from Elisha Gray (as she believed she was the first to patent her inventions).
In 1882 Alexander Graham Bell became a United States citizen and was declared as a “native son” by Canada, Scotland, and the United States. Bell died on August 2 1922 at the age of 75 in Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia Canada.