Alexander Graham Bell – Can You Hear Me Now?

WORLD HISTORY | May 5, 2019

Alexander Graham Bell, the Scotsman who invented the telephone, experimented with giant man-carrying kites during the first decade of the 20th Century. Source: (Bettmann/Contributor, Getty Image #514891992)

Everyone is familiar with the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell, but he was more than just the inventor of the telephone. He also invented the phonograph, the metal detector, hydrofoils, man-carrying kites called tetrahedral box kites, and a special interest in working with the deaf.

Alexander Graham Bell’s father and grandfather were also in the field of elocution and sound. Bell and his two brothers developed the same interests. Unfortunately, his two brothers both became sick with tuberculosis which eventually caused both their deaths. Bell also was ill but recovered. His interest in sound and working with the deaf was greatly influenced by his own mother as she was almost totally deaf and later by his future wife.  

Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell. Source: (inverclydesheritage.co.uk)

Early Beginnings

It was in 1871 where Bell first began working with deaf children, teaching them with a system his father had invented called Visible Speech. It was a set of symbols that helped the children to actually speak. He met a man named Thomas Borthwick who had a deaf child and who was interested in his “Visible Speech Machine.” Borthwick and the group of Greenock Businessmen that he was with asked Bell about helping start a school for the deaf in their area.

Bell agreed but when the first teacher that was to come over from America did not show, Bell himself began to teach the children. A year later, a teacher did come and take over the teaching. Six years later, in 1877, Bell married one of his former students, Mabel Hubbard, who had lost her hearing as a child due to disease.

Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell. Source: (biography.com)

Helen Keller, who was born as a healthy baby in 1880 developed a fever that left her not only blind but deaf as well. Her early childhood was quite disastrous as her family struggled with her helpless state as well as her constant tantrums that understandably resulted from her isolation. Having no way to communicate with anyone left her to her own way of coping with life.

Finally, in 1886, her parents, who were desperate, went to Baltimore, MD from their home in Alabama seeking a possible treatment for her eyesight. Unfortunately, nothing could be done for her eyes but they were referred to Alexander Graham Bell for education as he was gaining popularity working with deaf children in the Washington D.C. area. It was through him that she was able to meet Anne Sullivan, who was the person who finally was able to make a connection with her and ultimately led to the break-through that she needed. Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell stayed close friends until his death. 

Alexander Graham Bell. Source: (pinterest.com)


For the acoustic telegraph, Alexander Graham Bell was not alone in his ideas and theories. A competitor almost beat him out on getting the patent in 1876. Although some have questioned who should have gotten the patent, it was Bell who received it. By 1877, The Bell Telephone Company was formed with over 150,000 customers owning telephones in the United States by 1886.

In 1880, with the help of his assistant, Bell invented the photophone which was a wireless telephone. In an effort to help President James Garfield after an attempted assassination, Bell quickly created an early version of the metal detector in order to locate the bullet in the President’s body. Some believe it failed to locate the bullet only because he was lying on a metallic bedframe. Later, it was determined that the bullet was too deep to have been detected anyway. Despite Bell’s efforts to help, the President did pass away.

Photographing Sound in 1884. (Volta Laboratory – Photo taken by J.Harris Rogers, friend of Bell and Tainter) (Smithsonian Photo 44312-E) Source: (Photo from commons.wikimedia.org)

Bell’s inventions and experiments continued as he experimented in different areas of interest. He invented a hydrofoil boat with the idea of allowing airplanes to take off from the water. Between 1907 through 1912, he began experiments with kites thus creating tetrahedral box kites and wings.

The Telegraph House. Source: (en.wikipedia.org)

Built in 1861, this hotel located in Baddeck, Nova Scotia became quite prominent. Bell and his wife had read about the hotel in Charles Dudley Warner’s book "Baddeck, And That Sort Of Thing."  Intrigued, they visited and stayed at the hotel and enjoyed their stay so much that they obtained a cottage for the next year. After the Bells’ stay there, the room was kept and preserved just as it was back then.

Out of all of Alexander Graham Bell’s accomplishments, what meant the most to him was his dedication to helping the deaf and his devotion to his wife, Mabel who inspired him with his work. 

Tags: alecander graham bell | inventor

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