On this day in history – 7th March 1876 – Scottish-born inventor Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone….

An early telephone transmitter invented by Alexander Graham Bell around 1876. An improvement over Bell’s ‘gallows’ type instrument of 1875, it was Bell’s first device that could transmit intelligible speech – Public domain

Bell had worked with his father in London, who had developed a system to teach deaf people to speak. He in turn was most likely influenced by his own father, who had studied elocution and speech impediments…. It was an area that affected the Bell family in many ways….Bell’s own mother was almost totally deaf….

The Bells moved to the United States – Boston, Massachusetts – during the 1870s…. At first Bell worked as a teacher at the Pemberton Avenue School for the Deaf….it was here he met his wife, Mabel Hubbard – she was one of his students….

Alexander Graham Bell and his family – Public domain

Bell began to explore the idea of transmitting speech over wires…. The downside of the telegraph system being the final message still had to be physically delivered after it had arrived at the receiving telegraph office…. With the help of electrician Thomas A. Watson, a prototype telephone was developed, which used electrical current and sound waves….

Unbeknown to Bell somebody else was working on a similar system….Elisha Gray had kept his work secret – Bell found out on the 11th February 1876, a Friday, that Gray intended to apply for a patent – and rushed to get the documentation completed for his own…. Both men applied for a patent on Monday the 14th of February….Bell’s solicitor obviously managed to file the paperwork first – records show his application was the 5th received at the Patent Office that day….whereas Gray’s was the 39th. Bell was granted US Patent No. 174,465 Improvement on Telegraphy on the 7th of March – Gray was left disappointed….

Three days later Bell made his first telephone call…. “Mr Watson….come here, I want you”…. Bell later wrote in his journal “To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I had said”….

Watson in his later years, holding Bell’s original telephone – Public domain

There has long been controversy as to whether Bell ‘stole’ the patent…. It is indeed unusual for a patent to be issued before a device is fully working…. Three others all claimed to have invented the telephone first – Elisha Gray, Thomas Edison and Antonio Meucci – and said they had working devices…. There were more than 600 patent lawsuits brought against Bell – but each time the courts ruled in his favour….

Bell was never particularly interested in the commercial side of things – he was a scientist and inventor…. Among his other inventions were metal detectors, the Hydrofoil and Tetrahedral Kite…. His work also consisted of designs for aircraft, including helicopters…. Ironically he considered the telephone an intrusion….and refused to have one in his office….

Public domain

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