5 Things You Didn't Know About Alexander Graham Bell

On March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was granted a U.S. patent for his invention of the telephone. To celebrate that landmark development in telecommunications history, here are five things you probably didn't know about Alexander Graham Bell...


Bell Originally Used "Harmonic Telegraph" to Describe the Idea That Later Became the Telephone # Photo credit: By Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Bell wanted to combine the communicative abilities of the telegraph with the sound capabilities of the record players available in the day. As a result of the combination of technologies, he at first called the telephone the "harmonic telegraph," meaning that it was a telegraph-like instrument that could emit sound in the form of language instead of just clicks. He later applied the word "telephone," but that was not a new word — it had been around since about the 17th century as a description for the old cans-and-string toy used by children.

He Filed for a Patent Two Hours Before His Rival — and Faced Hundreds of Lawsuits Afterward # Photo credit: By 1906 Kungliga Telegrafverkets apparater (Royal Telegraph Administration apparatus) at Project Runeberg :1896_ '1896 /0004. :1896] Edited version Bell was lucky when he filed for a patent for his telephone; a major rival, Elisha Gray, got to the patent office just a couple of hours later to file a caveat, or a notice of an upcoming patent. Unfortunately, so many inventors were working on their versions of telephones that Bell found himself facing hundreds of lawsuits over the next several years. Of particular importance was a lawsuit that Gray filed, claiming that Bell's telephone used concepts that Gray had invented. Bell had to show that he had both the idea for the telephone and for the major concepts before Gray thought of them.


Bell Created a Wireless Phone No, really, Bell created a version of a wireless phone that used light instead of wires. It was called the photophone and was patented in 1880. He believed it could be used by sailors at sea to communicate with harbors on land, but there wasn't enough associated technology to put the photophone to widespread use. The photophone itself actually worked — that means a wireless phone existed long before any of the cell phones that seemed so advanced in the 20th century.

Some of the Events Surrounding the First Telephone Message May Have Been Exaggerated Stories about the first message, in which Bell tells Watson to come over to where he (Bell) is, range from the bland (Bell said something; Watson heard) to the lurid (acid spills). However, the duller stories may be the ones that are closer to the truth. Watson's great-granddaughter has said that Watson himself made up the acid story simply because the real story was not very interesting.

He Created a Prototype Iron Lung Bell's sons died in infancy, and one of them died of a respiratory condition. In response, Bell worked on something he called a metal vacuum jacket, which was supposed to help people breathe. This jacket was a prototype iron lung, though its plans showed it was not as big and was supposed to wrap around a person or animal's midsection and chest, instead of enclosing the whole body. Bell tested it on animals, but the invention itself went nowhere. The modern iron lung was invented in the 1920s.

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