Sometimes great inventions are created to solve a problem, but actually solve a bigger problem. This was the situation with Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. In 1876 at the age of 29, Bell successfully tested his invention. Only a few years later he actually invented and tested the first “photophone” that sent voice and images. In recent years that technology was the basis of “fiber optic” communication technology.
Alexander Graham Bell was born in Scotland. His mother, who was deaf, was a musician and a painter of portraits. His father, who taught deaf people how to speak, invented "Visible Speech". This was a code which showed how the tongue, lips, and throat were positioned to make speech sounds. Graham, or "Aleck", as his family called him, was interested in working with the deaf throughout his life.
When he was a teenager, he and his brother Melly used the voice box of a dead sheep to make a speaking machine that cried, "Mama!" This created even more interest in human speech and how it worked.
When he was in his twenties he went to Boston to open a school for teachers of the deaf and then became a professor at Boston University. It was at this time that he met Mabel Hubbard, one of his students who was 10 years younger than he. Mabel had become deaf at the age of four due to scarlet fever. Five years later they were married. At the wedding ceremony he gave her a gift of all but 10 shares of the stock in the newly formed company called Bell Telephone Company. They had three sons.
Thomas Watson became an associate of Bell. He made parts and built models of Bell's inventions. One day while they were working Bell accidentally heard the sound of a plucked reed coming over the telegraph wire. Watson had been tuning the metal reeds in the next room. Bell drew up a plan for the telephone (go to: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/bellhtml/bell1.html) and they continued to experiment. The next day he transmitted the famous words, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you!" A few months later on February 14, 1876, he applied for a patent on his telephone.
He knew he would have to work quickly to get the patent because other people were also trying to make an invention to transmit the human voice. Elisha Gray claims he too invented the telephone, but Bell got to the patent office an hour or so before he did. It is said that Antonio Meucci also succeeded with the invention before Bell.
Because Bell had the patent, he had the right to be the only one to produce telephones in the U.S. for the next 19 years. By 1917, nearly all of the United State had telephone service.
So, what began as a “hearing aid” for the deaf became the most important communication device of the century. Bell’s continued legacy is the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, an international organization that helps deaf children to learn to speak.
We are going to talk about all the ways you can communicate with deaf people, and how modern communication technology has made that communication easier.