Alexander Bell
(1847-1922) Alexander Graham Bell is remembered today as the inventor
of the telephone, but he was also an outstanding teacher of the deaf and a
prolific inventor of other devices. Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to a
family of speech educators. His father, Melville Bell, had invented Visible

Speech, a code of symbols for all spoken sounds that was used in teaching deaf
people to speak. Aleck Bell studied at Edinburgh University in 1864 and assisted
his father at University College, London, from 1868-70. During these years he
became deeply interested in the study of sound and the mechanics of speech,
inspired in part by the acoustic experiments of German physicist Hermann Von

Helmholtz (1821-1894), which gave Bell the idea of telegraphing speech. When
young Bell's two brothers died of tuberculosis, Melville Bell took his remaining
family to the healthier climate of Canada in 1870. From there, Aleck Bell
journeyed to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1871 and joined the staff of the Boston

School for the Deaf. The following year, Bell opened his own school in Boston
for training teachers of the deaf; in 1873 he became a professor of vocal
physiology at Boston University, and he also tutored private pupils. Bell's
interest in speech and communication led him to investigate the transmission of
sound over wires. In particular, he experimented with development of the
harmonic telegraph --a device that could send multiple messages at the same time
over a single wire. Bell also worked with the possibility of transmitting the
human voice, experimenting with vibrating membranes and an actual human ear.

Gardiner Hubbard (1822-1897) and Thomas Sanders, fathers of two of his deaf
pupils backed Bell financially in his investigations. Early in 1874, Bell met

Thomas A. Watson (1854-1934), a young machinist at a Boston electrical shop.

Watson became Bell's indispensable assistant, bringing to Bell's experiments the
crucial ingredient that had been lacking--his technical expertise in electrical
engineering. Together the two men spent endless hours experimenting. Although

Bell formed the basic concept of the telephone--using a varying but unbroken
electric current to transmit the varying sound waves of human speech--in the
summer of 1874, Hubbard insisted that the young inventor focus his efforts on
the harmonic telegraph instead. Bell complied, but when he patented one of his
telegraph designs in February 1875, he found that Elisha Gray had patented a
multiple telegraph two days earlier. Greatly discouraged, Bell consulted in

Washington with the elderly Joseph Henry, who urged Bell to pursue his
"germ of a great invention" --speech transmission. Back in Boston,

Bell and Watson continued to work on the harmonic telegraph, but still with the
telephone in mind. By accident on a June day in 1875, an intermittent
transmitter produced a steady current and transmitted sound. Bell had proof of
his 1874 idea; he quickly sketched a design for an electric telephone, and

Watson built it. The partners experimented all summer, but failed actually to
transmit voice sounds. That fall, Bell began to write the patent specifications,
but delayed application; Hubbard finally filed for the patent on February 14,

1876, just hours before Gray appeared at the same patent office to file an
intent to patent his telephone design. Bell's patent was granted on March 7,

1876, and on March 10, the first message transmitted by telephone passed from

Bell to Watson in their workshop: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!"

After a year of refining the new device, Watson and Bell, along with Hubbard and

Sanders, formed the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. Bell immediately married

Mabel Hubbard, daughter of his new partner, and sailed to England to promote his
telephone. The phone company grew rapidly, and Bell became a wealthy man. He
turned to other interests on his return to the United States in 1879, while also
defending his patents (which were upheld in 1888) against numerous lawsuits.

With money from the Volta Prize, awarded to him in 1880 by the French
government, Bell established the Volta Laboratory. Among the new devices he
invented there were the graphophone for recording sound on wax cylinders or
disks; the photophone, for transmitting speech on a beam of light; an
audiometer; a telephone probe, used in surgery until the discovery of the X-ray;
and an induction balance for detecting metal within the human body. Bell founded
several organizations to support teaching of the deaf. He helped to establish

Science magazine and the National Geographic Society. He also worked on air
conditioning, an improved strain of sheep (to bear multiple lambs), an early
iron lung, solar distillation of water, and sonar detection of icebergs. The
possibility of flight fascinated Bell. He built tetrahedral