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Daily History

March 7 1876 Alexander Graham Bell Patents Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell

On March 7th 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his revolutionary new invention, the telephone.

The Scottish-born Bell worked in London with his father, Melville Bell, who developed Visible Speech, a written system used to teach speaking to the deaf. In the 1870s, the Bells moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where the younger Bell found work as a teacher at the Pemberton Avenue School for the Deaf. He later married one of his students, Mabel Hubbard.

While in Boston, Bell became very interested in the possibility of transmitting speech over wires. Samuel F.B. Morse’s invention of the telegraph in 1843 had made nearly instantaneous communication possible between two distant points. The drawback of the telegraph, however, was that it still required hand-delivery of messages between telegraph stations and recipients, and only one message could be transmitted at a time.

Bell wanted to improve on this by creating a “harmonic telegraph,” a device that combined aspects of the telegraph and record player to allow individuals to speak to each other from a distance.

With the help of Thomas A. Watson, a Boston machine shop employee, Bell developed a prototype. In this first telephone, sound waves caused an electric current to vary in intensity and frequency, causing a thin, soft iron plate, called the diaphragm, to vibrate. These vibrations were transferred magnetically to another wire connected to a diaphragm in another, distant instrument. When that diaphragm vibrated, the original sound would be replicated in the ear of the receiving instrument. Three days after filing the patent, the telephone carried its first intelligible message, the famous “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you,” from Bell to his assistant.

Bell’s patent filing beat a similar claim by Elisha Gray by only two hours. Not wanting to be shut out of the communications market, Western Union Telegraph Company employed Gray and fellow inventor Thomas A. Edison to develop their own telephone technology. Bell sued, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Bell’s patent rights. In the years to come, the Bell Company withstood repeated legal challenges to emerge as the massive American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) and form the foundation of the modern telecommunications industry.

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.


8 thoughts on “March 7 1876 Alexander Graham Bell Patents Telephone

  1. There’s an epidemic of bullshit in our society. Whether it’s your sports-obsessed boss who tells you to ‘play hard ball’ or the techy colleague who keeps talking about ‘going viral,’ it’s amazing how much bullshit we throw at each other on a daily basis. This lazy, empty, cliché-filled lingo is gaining validity as a non-inane form of speech and must be stopped. The first step towards reform is education and you’ll need to become a master bullshit detector.

    Attributing the true inventor or inventors to a specific invention can be tricky business. Often credit goes to the inventor of the most practical or best working invention rather than to the original inventor(s). This happens to be the case of the invention of the telephone!

    There is a lot of controversy and intrigue surrounding the invention of the telephone. There have been court cases, books, and articles generated about the subject. Of course, Alexander Graham Bell is the father of the telephone. After all it was his design that was first patented, however, he was not the first inventor to come up with the idea of a telephone.

    Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant, began developing the design of a talking telegraph or telephone in 1849. In 1871, he filed a caveat (an announcement of an invention) for his design of a talking telegraph. Due to hardships, Meucci could not renew his caveat. His role in the invention of the telephone was overlooked until the United States House of Representatives passed a Resolution on June 11, 2002, honoring Meucci’s contributions and work (To read the report search Thomas Legislation, Bill summary and Status, 107th Congress, H Res 269 ).

    To make matters even more interesting Elisha Gray, a professor at Oberlin College, applied for a caveat of the telephone on the same day Bell applied for his patent of the telephone. In Historical First Patents: The First United States Patent for Many Everyday Things (Scarecrow Press, 1994), Travis Brown, reports that Bell got to the patent office first. The date was February 14, 1876 . He was the fifth entry of that day, while Gray was 39th. Therefore, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Bell with the first patent for a telephone, US Patent Number 174,465 rather than honor Gray’s caveat.

    So, if someone asks who is credited with inventing the telephone, you can explain the controversy that still surrounds this question. The answer is Bell, but be sure to mention Meucci and Gray, because they played important roles in its development.

    Posted by Dugutigui | March 7, 2012, 00:36
    • This is too true, and has been going on ever since then. I remember watching the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley” and wondering how Gates and Job got away with doing the things they did. It appears patents and copyright can provide a legal way of stealing ideas. Have you seen the case with the name iPad that’s happening in China at the moment?

      Posted by Craig Hill | March 7, 2012, 09:54
      • They are also part of the BS outbreak 🙂
        I don’t know about the iPad name, but I will check it…
        Thanks for answering…

        Posted by Dugutigui | March 7, 2012, 10:00
      • A Chinese company claim they own the iPad name, and a Chinese court agreed. Chinese courts are now apparently stopping the internal sale, import and export of iPads in China, The bankrupt Chinese company is demanding $2 billion dollars to withdraw it’s complaint 🙂

        Posted by Craig Hill | March 7, 2012, 10:29
  2. 1876 and I still can’t get signal half the time?!?!

    Good work Craig. And thanks for supporting me at doingemerson.com.


    Posted by Doing Emersons | March 7, 2012, 03:18
  3. Edison was a patent whore

    Posted by Rather | March 7, 2012, 16:23

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