Alexander Graham Bell

The Bell Homestead in Brantford, Ontario

Here at his parent’s home in Brantford, Ontario, in July 1874, Alexander Graham Bell conceived the fundamental idea of the telephone.   The experiment of August 10, 1876, made from Brantford to Paris, Ontario, was the first clear, intelligible transmission of speech that had ever been made over a line. It happened right here, but ask the kids what important person was born in Brantford and the answer will be  Wayne Gretzky!

The Wikipedia article begins:

Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) was an eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone. 

Bell’s father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech, and both his mother and wife were deaf, profoundly influencing Bell’s life’s work.  His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first US patent for the telephone in 1876.  In retrospect, Bell considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study. 

Many other inventions marked Bell’s later life, including groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils and aeronautics. In 1888, Bell became one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society.  He has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history. 

There is plenty of excitement and controversy around the story.  Other scientists were working on similar projects at the same time, and there was a significant race to the patent office! The best online summary of Bell’s story that I could find online is here.

The most interesting version is Charlotte Gray’s biography,  Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention.  We read it last year for Book Group, and I highly recommend it! Both Bell’s personal life and his scientific work are detailed in a story that is both romantic and informative. Charlotte Gray is one of Canada’s most important writers, and is not to be confused with the subject of a recent spy movie about a woman with the same name. (Her other books on Canadian history are well worth looking for. Flint and Feather, The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson is the biography of a poet and performance artist, daughter of a Mohawk chief and an English gentlewoman, who became Canada’s first coast-to-coast celebrity.  She also lived in Brantford and knew the Bells!)

The Bell Monument in Brantford, Ontario

I find it very interesting that this invention that changed all aspects of life, all over the world, was discovered accidentally in the process of looking for something entirely different.

What does that tell us about creativity and the scientific method? Food for thought!

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