... made a series
of exotic kites formed out of tetrahedonal elements. Buckminster Fuller
learned about Bell's tetrahedrons after he'd made his geodesic dome
the same way.
Here are old photos.
Helen Keller, a friend and house guest, helps him fly a huge kite. His
wife, Mabel, stands in an abstract tetrahedron kite frame. She leans
out to kiss Alexander. It is a gentle life with fine texture and form.
Later, Bell flew
people in his kites. He built a 70-foot tower from his tetrahedrons.
Then he went on to build airplanes.
Finally, his studies
of aerodynamics led him to invent the hydrofoil. That work culminated
in his HD-4. The HD-4 was a hydrofoil driven by two airplane propellers.
It went over 70 miles an hour. For years it was the fastest thing on
A wonderful mood
surrounds all this invention. Photos show Bell with children -- always
playing with children. They show Mabel, pulled halfway off her feet,
measuring the stress in a kite line. Raw affection wells up everywhere.
Bell writes to Mabel when she sits for her portrait:
... So what did
happen after the telephone? A warm, inventive man kept right on creating.
He left us a legacy of invention that reached far beyond the telephone.
That legacy flowed from a great mind. But it flowed from a very large
heart, as well.
I'm John Lienhard,
at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive
The Alexander Graham
Bell Family Papers: Time Line of Alexander Graham Bell, 1847-1869
3 Alexander Bell is born to Alexander Melville and Eliza Symonds
Bell in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the second of three sons; his siblings
are Melville (b. 1845) and Edward (b. 1848).
Bell with his wife, Eliza Grace Symonds and their children, Melville
James, Alexander Graham and Edward Charles].
[ca. 1852?] Reproduction
Number LC-G9-Z1031. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs
Division, Library of Congress.
1858 Bell adopts
the name Graham out of admiration for Alexander Graham, a family friend,
and becomes known as Alexander Graham Bell.
1862 October Bell
arrives in London to spend a year with his grandfather, Alexander Bell.
Letter to Bell from his father
1863 August Bell
begins teaching music and elocution at Weston House Academy in Elgin,
Scotland, and receives instruction in Latin and Greek for a year.
1864 April Alexander
Melville Bell develops Visible Speech, a kind of universal alphabet
that reduces all sounds made by the human voice into a series of symbols.
Visible Speech chartFall Bell attends the University of Edinburgh.
Box 196, "Subject File: The Deaf--Visible Speech--Nature &
Uses." Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers, Manuscript Division
, Library of Congress.
to Elgin to teach and experiments with vowel pitches and tuning forks.
Letter from Bell to his father
at Somersetshire College in Bath.1867May 17Younger brother Edward Bell
dies of tuberculosis at the age of 19.SummerAlexander Melville Bell
publishes his definitive work on Visible Speech, Visible Speech: The
Science of Universal Alphabetics.
1868May 21Bell begins
teaching speech to the deaf at Susanna Hull's school for deaf children
Bell attends University
College in London.The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers: Time Line
of Alexander Graham Bell, 1870-1879
brother Melville Bell dies of tuberculosis at the age of 25.
Bell, his parents,
and his sister-in-law, Carrie Bell, emigrate to Canada and settle in
to Boston, Bell begins teaching at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes.
teaches at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Boston and at the American
Asylum for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut.
April 8Bell meets
Boston attorney Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who will become one of his
financial backers and his father-in-law.FallBell opens his School of
Vocal Physiology in Boston and starts experimenting with the multiple
telegraph. Brochure for Bell's School of Vocal Physiology
appoints Bell Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at its School
of Oratory. Mabel Hubbard, his future wife, becomes one of his private
acoustics experiments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He and Clarence Blake, a Boston ear specialist, begin experimenting
with the mechanics of the human ear and the phonautograph, a device
that could translate sound vibrations into visible tracings.SummerIn
Brantford, Ontario, Bell first conceives of the idea for the telephone.
Bell's original sketch of the telephone Bell meets Thomas Watson, a
young electrician who would become his assistant, at Charles Williams's
electrician shop in Boston.
begins working with Bell more regularly.FebruaryThomas Sanders, a wealthy
leather merchant whose deaf son studied with Bell, and Gardiner Greene
Hubbard enter into a formal partnership with Bell in which they provide
financial backing for his inventions.
March 1-2Bell visits
noted scientist Joseph Henry at the Smithsonian Institution and explains
to him his idea for the telephone. Henry recognizes the significance
of Bell's work and offers him encouragement.
Hubbard and Bell become engaged to be married.
telephone patent application is filed at the United States Patent Office;
Elisha Gray's attorney files a caveat for a telephone just a few hours
March 7United States
Patent No. 174,465 is officially issued for Bell's telephone.March 10Intelligible
human speech is heard over the telephone for the first time when Bell
calls to Watson, "Mr. Watson -- Come here -- I want to see you."
Page from Bell's notebook
June 25Bell demonstrates
the telephone for Sir William Thomson (Baron Kelvin) and Emperor Pedro
II of Brazil at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Letter from
Bell to Mabel Hubbard Bell1877July 9Bell, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Thomas
Sanders, and Thomas Watson form the Bell Telephone Company.
[Elsie May Bell
as a child, bust portrait, facing front]. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z1-155,855-A.
Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library
of Congress. July 11Mabel Hubbard and Bell are married.August 4Bell
and his wife leave for England and remain there for a year.1878January
14Bell demonstrates the telephone for Queen Victoria.May 8Elsie May
Bell, a daughter, is born.September 12Patent litigation involving the
Bell Telephone Company against Western Union Telegraph Company and Elisha
Gray begins.1879February-MarchThe Bell Telephone Company merges with
the New England Telephone Company to become the
"Daisy" Bell, three-quarter length portrait, at eight years
of age, standing, facing left, with dog]. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z3-155,755-AB-2.
Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library
(Daisy) Bell, a daughter, is born.Bell and his young associate, Charles
Sumner Tainter, invent the photophone, an apparatus that transmits sound
through light.FallThe French government awards the Volta Prize for scientific
achievement in electricity to Bell. He uses the prize money to set up
the Volta Laboratory as a permanent, self-supporting experimental laboratory
devoted to invention.
1881At the Volta
Laboratory, Bell, his cousin, Chichester Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter
invent a wax cylinder for Thomas Edison's phonograph.July-AugustWhen
President Garfield is shot, Bell attempts unsuccessfully to locate the
bullet inside his body by using an electromagnetic device called an
induction balance.August 15Death in infancy of Bell's son, Edward (b.
1881).1882NovemberBell is granted American citizenship.1883At Scott
Circle in Washington, D.C., Bell starts a day school for deaf children.
Bell is elected
to the National Academy of Sciences.
With Gardiner Greene
Hubbard, Bell funds the publication of Science, a journal that would
communicate new research to the American scientific community.
Annie Sullivan and Alexander Graham Bell, full-length portrait, seated
outdoors]. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z1 137 816-A. Gilbert H. Grosvenor
Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress. November 17Death
in infancy of Bell's son, Robert (b. 1883).1885March 3The American Telephone
& Telegraph Company is formed to manage the expanding long-distance
business of the American Bell Telephone Company.1886Bell establishes
the Volta Bureau as a center for studies on the deaf.SummerBell begins
buying land on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. There he eventually
builds his summer home, Beinn Bhreagh.1887FebruaryBell meets six-year-old
blind and deaf Helen Keller in Washington, D.C. He helps her family
find a private teacher by recommending that her father seek help from
Michael Anagnos, director of the Perkins Institution for the Blind.The
Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers: Time Line of Alexander Graham Bell,
Born Alexander Bell
in Edinburgh, Scotland, he later adopted the middle name Graham out
of admiration for Alexander Graham, a family friend.
His family was
associated with the teaching of elocution: his grandfather in London,
his uncle in Dublin, and his father, Alexander Melville Bell, in Edinburgh,
were all professed elocutionists. The latter has published a variety
of works on the subject, several of which are well known, especially
his treatise on Visible Speech, which appeared in Edinburgh in 1868.
In this he explains his method of instructing deaf mutes, by means of
their eyesight, how to articulate words, and also how to read what other
persons are saying by the motions of their lips.
Bell was educated at the Royal High School of Edinburgh, from which
he graduated at the age of 13. At the age of 16 he secured a position
as a pupil-teacher of elocution and music in Weston House Academy, at
Elgin in Morayshire. The next year he spent at the University of Edinburgh.
From 1866 to 1867, he was an instructor at Somersetshire College at
Bath, England. While still in Scotland he is said to have turned his
attention to the science of acoustics, with a view to ameliorate the
deafness of his mother.
In 1870, he moved
with his family to Canada where they settled at Brantford, Ontario.
Before he left Scotland, Bell had turned his attention to telephony,
and in Canada he continued an interest in communication machines. He
designed a piano which could transmit its music to a distance by means
of electricity. In 1873, he accompanied his father to Montreal, Quebec,
where he was employed in teaching the system of visible speech. The
elder Bell was invited to introduce the system into a large day-school
for mutes at Boston, but he declined the post in favor of his son, who
became Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at Boston University's
School of Oratory.
At Boston University
he continued his research in the same field, and endeavored to produce
a telephone which would not only send musical notes, but articulate
speech. With financing from his American father-in-law, on March 7,
1876, the U.S. Patent Office granted him Patent Number 174,465 covering
"the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other
sounds telegraphically ... by causing electrical undulations, similar
in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or
other sound", the telephone.
the patent for the telephone, Bell continued his many experiments in
communication, which culminated in the invention of the photophone-transmission
of sound on a beam of light — a precursor of today's optical fiber
systems. He also worked in medical research and invented techniques
for teaching speech to the deaf. The range of Bell's inventive genius
is represented only in part by the eighteen patents granted in his name
alone and the twelve he shared with his collaborators. These included
fourteen for the telephone and telegraph, four for the photophone, one
for the phonograph, five for aerial vehicles, four for hydroairplanes,
and two for a selenium cell.
In 1882, he became
a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1888, he was one of the
founding members of the National Geographic Society and became its second
president. He was the recipient of many honors. The French Government
conferred on him the decoration of the Légion d'honneur (Legion
of Honor), the Académie française bestowed on him the
Volta Prize of 50,000 francs, the Royal Society of Arts in London awarded
him the Albert medal in 1902, and the University of Würzburg, Bavaria,
granted him a Ph.D. He was awarded the AIEE's Edison Medal in 1914 for
"For meritorious achievement in the invention of the telephone."
Bell married Mabel
Hubbard, who was one of his pupils at Boston University, on July 11,
1877. He died at his estate at Beinn Bhreagh, near Baddeck, Nova Scotia,
in 1922 and is buried alongside his wife atop Beinn Bhreagh Mountain
overlooking Bras d'Or Lake. He was survived by two of their four children.
In a testament
to Bell's internationality, he was named one of the top ten Greatest
Canadians, Greatest Britons, and "American Greats".
Bell was a prolific
inventor, and had a keen interest in many fields.
The telephone and
Bell filed an application
to patent his speaking telephone in the United States on February 14,
1876, and by a strange coincidence, Mr. Elisha Gray applied on the same
day for patent caveat (a preliminary notice of a patent application)
of a similar kind only 2 hours after Bell had filed for his patent.
is supposed to have been suggested by the very old device known as the
"lovers' telephone," in which two diaphragms are joined by
a taut string and in speaking against one the voice is conveyed through
the string, solely by mechanical vibration, to the other. Gray employed
electricity, and varied the strength of the current in conformity with
the voice by causing the diaphragm in vibrating to dip a metal probe
attached to its centre more or less deep into a well of conducting liquid
in circuit with the line. As the current passed from the probe through
the liquid to the line a greater or less thickness of liquid intervened
as the probe vibrated up and down, and thus the strength of the current
was regulated by the resistance offered to the passage of the current.
His receiver was an electromagnet having an iron plate as an armature
capable of vibrating under the attractions of the varying current.
But Gray allowed
his idea to slumber, whereas Bell continued to perfect the apparatus
designed by Gray. An official at the patent office later admitted to
selling Gray's idea to Bell's lawyers for money. Gray never knew this.
However, when Bell achieved an unmistakable success, Gray brought a
suit against him, which resulted in a compromise, one public company
acquiring both patents.
Philipp Reis, a
German self-taught scientist and inventor, also worked on a version
of the telephone many years before Bell. Reis' telephone was fairly
crude and roused little interest in the scientific community, but his
work appears to have been used by Bell when designing the telephone.
Of the people who
have challenged Bell's patent and claimed to have invented the telephone,
the most interesting case was that of Antonio Meucci, an Italian emigrant,
who produced a mass of evidence to show that in 1849, while in Havana,
Cuba, he experimented with the view of transmitting speech by the electric
current. He continued his research in 1852-1853, and subsequently at
Staten Island, U.S.; and in 1860 deputed a friend visiting Europe to
interest people in his invention. In 1871, he filed a caveat in the
United States Patent Office and tried to get Mr Grant, President of
the New York District Telegraph Company, to give the apparatus a trial.
Ill health and poverty, from injuries of an explosion on board the Staten
Island ferry boat Westfield, retarded his experiments and prevented
him from completing his patent.
apparatus was exhibited at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1884 and attracted
much attention. But his evidence showed lack of electrical understanding
and incomplete models. In the caveat of 1871, he says "I employ
the well-known conducting effect of continuous metallic conductors as
a medium for sound, and increase the effect by electrically insulating
both the conductor and the parties who are communicating. It forms a
speaking telegraph without the necessity of any hollow tube" .
Meucci was eventually recognised as the original inventor of the telephone
by the Congress of the United States in Resolution 269, dated June 11,
Bel and decibel
The bel is a unit of measurement invented by Bell Labs and named after
Bell. The bel was too large for everyday use, so the decibel (dB), equal
to 0.1 B, became more commonly used. Now, dB is commonly used as a unit
for measuring the sound intensity.
Another of Bell's inventions was the photophone, a device enabling the
transmission of sound over a beam of light, which he developed together
with Charles Sumner Tainter. The device employed light-sensitive cells
of crystalline selenium, which has the property that its electrical
resistance varies inversely with the illumination (i.e., the resistance
is higher when the material is in the dark, and lower when it is lighted).
The basic principle was to modulate a beam of light directed at a receiver
made of crystalline selenium, to which a telephone was attached. The
modulation was done either by means of a vibrating mirror, or a rotating
disk periodically obscuring the light beam.
This idea was by
no means new. Selenium had been discovered by Jöns Jakob Berzelius
in 1817, and the peculiar properties of crystalline or granulate selenium
were discovered by Willoughby Smith in 1873. In 1878, one writer with
the initials J.F.W. from Kew described such an arrangement in Nature
in a column appearing on June 13, asking the readers whether any experiments
in that direction had already been done. In his paper on the photophone,
Bell credited one A. C. Browne of London with the independent discovery
in 1878—the same year Bell became aware of the idea. Bell and
Tainter, however, were apparently the first to perform a successful
experiment, by no means any easy task, as they even had to produce the
selenium cells with the desired resistance characteristics themselves.
In one experiment
in Washington, D.C. the sender and the receiver were placed on in different
buildings some 700 feet (213 metres) apart. The sender consisted of
a mirror directing sunlight onto the mouthpiece, where the light beam
was modulated by a vibrating mirror, focused by a lens and directed
at the receiver, which was simply a parabolic reflector with the selenium
cells in the focus and the telephone attached. With this setup, Bell
and Tainter succeeded to communicate clearly.
was patented on December 18, 1880, but the quality of communication
remained poor and the research was not pursued by Bell.
Bell is also credited with the invention of the metal detector in 1881.
The device was hurriedly put together in an attempt to find the bullet
in the body of U.S. President James Garfield. The metal detector worked,
but didn't find the bullet because the metal bedframe the President
was lying on confused the instrument. Bell gave a full account of his
experiments in a paper read before the American Association for the
Advancement of Science in August 1882.
Bell was also interested in aircraft and was a supporter of aerospace
engineering research through the Aerial Experiment Association. The
Association was officially formed at Baddeck, Nova Scotia in October
1907 at the suggestion of Mrs. Mabel Bell and with her financial support.
It was headed by the inventor himself. The founding members were four
young men, American Glenn H. Curtiss, a motorcycle manufacturer who
would later be awarded the Scientific American Trophy for the first
official one-kilometre flight in the Western hemisphere and later be
world-renowned as an airplane manufacturer; Frederick W. "Casey"
Baldwin, the first Canadian and first British subject to pilot a public
flight in Hammondsport, New York; J.A.D. McCurdy; and Lieutenant Thomas
Selfridge, an official observer of the U.S. government. One of the project's
inventions, the aileron, is a standard component of aircraft today.
(Note that the aileron was also invented independently by Robert Esnault-Pelterie.)
In 1909, Bell's
Silver Dart made the first controlled powered flight in Canada. However,
a series of Canadian flights failed to interest the Canadian military
in developing the airplane.
The March 1906 Scientific American article by American hydrofoil pioneer
William E. Meacham explained the basic principle of hydrofoils. Bell
considered the invention of the hydroplane as a very significant achievement.
Based on information gained from that article he began to sketch concepts
of what is now called a hydrofoil boat.
Bell and Casey
Baldwin began hydrofoil experimentation in the summer of 1908 as a possible
aid to airplane takeoff from water. Baldwin studied the work of the
Italian inventor Enrico Forlanini and began testing models. This lead
him and Bell to the development of practical hydrofoil watercraft.
During his world
tour of 1910–1911 Bell and Baldwin met with Forlanini in Italy.
They had rides in the Forlanini hydrofoil boat over Lake Maggiore. Baldwin
described it was as smooth as flying. On returning to Baddeck a number
of designs were tried culminating in the HD-4. Using Renault engines
a top speed of 54 miles per hour was achieved accelerating rapidly,
taking wave without difficulty, steering well, showing good stability.
Bell's report to
the navy permitted him to obtain two 350 horsepower (260 kW) engines
in July 1919. On September 9, 1919 the HD-4 set a world's marine speed
record of 70.86 miles per hour. This record stood for ten years.
Along with many very prominent thinkers and scientists of the time,
Bell was connected with the eugenics movement in the United States.
From 1912 until 1918 he was the chairman of the board of scientific
advisors to the Eugenics Record Office associated with Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory in New York, and regularly attended meetings. In 1921 he
was the honorary president of the Second International Congress of Eugenics
held under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History in
New York. Organizations such as these advocated passing laws (with success
in some states) that established the compulsory sterilization of people
deemed to be, as Bell called them, a "defective variety of the
Much of his thoughts
about people he considered defective centered on the deaf because of
his long contact with them in relation to his work in deaf education.
In addition to advocating sterilization of the deaf, Bell wished to
prohibit deaf teachers from being allowed to teach in schools for the
deaf, he worked to outlaw the marriage of deaf individuals to one another,
and he was an ardent supporter of oralism over manualism. His avowed
goal was to eradicate the language and culture of the deaf so as to
force them to integrate into the hearing culture for their own long-term
benefit and for the benefit of society at large. Although this attitude
is widely seen as paternalistic and arrogant today, it was accepted
in that era.
Although he supported
what many would consider harsh policies today, he was not unkind to
deaf individuals. He was a personal and longtime friend of Helen Keller,
and his wife Mabel, a former student of his, was deaf. Together they
had children, none of whom were deaf. Bell was well known as a kindly
father and loving family man who took great pleasure playing with his