About Alexander Graham Bell
After you talk on the telephone, you might want to thank Alexander Graham Bell, the man who made it all possible. He built the first telephone over 100 years ago.
Alexander Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Scotland. Bell was a sensitive boy who enjoyed art, poetry, and music. His mother constantly encouraged him to explore these things. With no formal training, he even mastered the piano, becoming the family's official pianist. When Alexander was 12, his mother began to lose her hearing. He learned a finger language so he could sit with her and tap out the conversations racing around their house. He also learned to speak in clear tones directly into his mother's forehead. She would hear him through the vibrations of his voice. His mother's deafness greatly influenced him, and because of her he studied acoustics, which is the science of sound.
Later, as a grownup, he worked at a school for deaf girls. He helped his students use vibrations (sound waves) to speak and listen, instead of using their ears.
Alexander continued to invent new things. One of these was an exciting new way to speak with a tuning fork. A tuning fork makes a vibrating, ringing sound. Up until Alexander Bell’s time, people only used them as a way to help tune musical instruments, like a piano, or the human voice. Alexander changed all that. He figured out that electricity could be vibrated like a tuning fork to send out the sounds of people talking.
One day, Alexander’s family moved to Canada. There, he learned the Mohawk Indian language. Clever as always, he turned that language into a new way for deaf people to lip read. Alexander Bell called his new lip-reading skill “Visible Speech.” He traveled all over, teaching it to others. His Visible Speech worked very well for people who didn’t understand sign language (a way to “talk” using your hands). Soon, Alexander was able to open his own school in Boston, Massachusetts, that specialized in Visable Speech.
From Telegraph to Telephone
In 1874, the main way people sent messages long distance was by telegraph. A telegraph was a small machine. People used it to tap out clicking sounds that moved across a wire. The telegraph operators on each end knew what letters of the alphabet each group of clicks stood for and they wrote them down. Although this seemed like a fast way to send a message a hundred years ago, it was really very slow!
Bell thought he could come up with a better way to send real words over a telegraph wire. In 1876, at the age of 29, Alexander Graham Bell built the world’s first working telephone! This telephone was a very big box, so forget about carrying it around in your pocket or purse like a cell phone. Still, it worked just fine.
Do you know what the very first words ever spoken into a telephone were? Bell had a helper, named Mr. Watson, standing by with his own telephone in a room two miles away. Watson was the first guy to wait nervously by the phone, hoping it would ring! Then Bell called him. “Mr. Watson, come here,” Bell said. “I want to see you.” Watson could hear Bell so clearly he thought Bell had just shouted to him from down the road.
Soon, everybody wanted a phone. Alexander Bell became very rich from his invention, but he never stopped tinkering with sound.
Making Long-Distance Phone Calls
A few years later, Alexander created the Bell Telephone Company. Even though people had to shout into the phone for their friends to hear them, more than 150,000 telephones were sold in the United States. The problem of shouting was fixed by Thomas Edison, who invented the carbon microphone which turns sound into an electrical signal. The carbon microphone would boost the signal so a person would not have to shout.
By 1884, people could make calls between Boston and New York. It was not until 1915, many years later, that the first telephone call was made across the sea, from the United States to England. For that call, Bell once again phoned Watson, who had traveled all the way to London to receive it. What did Bell say?
Did he make the first prank phone call?
Bell: “Watson, is your refrigerator running?”
Watson: “Why, yes, Alexander, it is.”
Bell: “Hah! Hah! Then go catch it!”
Who knows? The point is, it worked.
Today, your parents like to phone others on their cell phones, which beams calls into outer space! But we owe it all to the man who whose name still rings a bell, Alexander Graham Bell. We've come a long way since then.
Facts about Alexander Graham Bell
- Bell’s mother and wife were both deaf.
- With coaching from his father, Bell became so good at lip reading that he could do so in many different languages.
- Helen Keller, a famous deaf and blind woman, was one of Bell’s first students in Boston.
- Bell helped create the National Geographic Society.
- Bell’s favorite laboratory was the one he built in his parent’s home.
Bell invented many other things too. With friends, he created a hydrofoil boat that set a speed record in 1919. This record wasn’t broken until 1963! His friends also said Bell didn’t like to be interrupted when he was working. So much so, he refused to have a telephone in his office ! Talk about a funny “hang up.”