On the telephone:
Alexander Graham Bell
Edinburgh, Scotland; March 1847
Alexander Graham Bell is most well known for inventing the telephone. 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.
Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3, 1847. 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.
When he was eleven, Bell 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.
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 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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