5 Surprising Facts You Didn't Know About The Telephone

On March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his telephone, beating out competitors and initiating a massive change in how people would communicate. Here are 5 surprising facts about the telephone..


The Telephone Was the Result of Research to Expand the Use of the Telegraph. The telephone was basically a happy accident. At the time, telegraphs couldn't send speech -- they relied on Morse Code -- and they could send only one message at a time through the wires. In other words, if you hooked up several telegraphs to the same transmission wire, only one telegraph could send a message at a time. Bell wanted to change this so multiple messages could be transmitted along a wire at the same time. His thinking was that changing the frequency of the signals sent could enable several signals to fit along the same wire. It was through that work that Bell started looking at transmitting a human voice, rather than Morse Code.

Western Union Passed on an Offer to Buy the Telephone For $100,000 In 1876, a cash-strapped Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the first successful telephone offered to sell his telephone patent to Western Union for $100,000. They declined.


Bell Filed for a Patent Two Hours Before His Rival Bell's name is one you may have heard of all your life, but you should learn the names Gray and Meucci, too. Elisha Gray was one of Bell's contemporaries and competitors, and he was also working on a telephone-like device as a way to improve the telegraph. He and Bell submitted paperwork on the same day -- Bell, a patent application, and Gray, a patent caveat, which was supposed to suspend other patent applications for the same product. But Bell's application was received two hourse before Gray's, so Bell got his patent. Gray sued but eventually lost.

Antonio Meucci's Telephone Proceeded Both Gray and Bell by 5 Years Italian inventor Antonio Meucci had filed his own patent caveat for a telephone device in December of 1871. But, Antonio Meucci did not renew his caveat after 1874 and Alexander Graham Bell was granted the patent for in March of 1876.  Still, some scholars consider Meucci the real inventor of the telephone.

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.