Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1847. His father and grandfather were well established in the field of elocution and speech therapy, particularly in the teaching of deaf people. Even as a boy, he showed an interest in the family business by making a working model of the human speech organs out of a bellows, rubber, and cotton cloth. He studied at the universities of Edinburgh and London and became interested in scientific theories and inventions that offered new possibilities in terms of sound transmission. Bell was particularly interested in the acoustic experiments that the German scientist Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz conducted, using resonance spheres and tuning forks. In 1870, the Bell family emigrated to Canada, where they stayed for two years before moving to Boston, Massachusetts.

In Boston, Bell continued to teach deaf people and to investigate the potential for sound transmission by wire. He attracted financial backing from Gardiner Greene Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, the wealthy fathers of two of his deaf pupils. Hubbard’s daughter, Mabel, later became Bell’s wife. With the assistance of Thomas Watson, a skilled mechanic, he began to make prototypes of what would become the first telephone. In February 1876, Bell filed a patent application only hours before that of a rival inventor, Elisha Gray. A month later, he succeeded in transmitting speech from a transmitter to a receiver in a separate room. Although Bell became a partner in the National Bell Telephone Company, he took little part in the running of the company and set up laboratories in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Washington, D.C., where he could work on other inventions.