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Alexander Graham Bell: Biography, Facts & Inventions

Instructor: Thomas Davis

Thomas has taught high school age students for 34 years, undergraduate 12 years, and graduate courses for the last 8 years. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from National Louis University in Evanston, Illinois.

Best known for his invention of the telephone, Scottish-American scientist Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) dedicated much of his life to the research and development of a machine that could transmit sound by electricity. In addition to this, he was an innovative man that had a profound effect on the scientific community.

Great Inventor

Alexander Graham Bell was born into a family trade that was vital in helping the deaf in the world. His motivation for developing the telephone was inspired by his vocation and his mother. Few people in history could claim they have affected society more than Alexander Graham Bell. In 2014, the world population was approximately 7.1 billion. Silicon Valley estimated that in this same year the world had 7.3 billion phones. Enough said! In this lesson we will examine the life of Alexander Graham Bell as well as his inventions and societal contributions.

Alexander Graham Bell
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Family & Inspiration

Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Bell was the son of Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds-Bell. He had two brothers Melville James and Edward Charles. His brothers both died of tuberculosis. He was named after his paternal grandfather, his middle name was added when he was ten.

Inspiration came in many forms for Bell. He lived in Edinburgh, which was a city full of culture and an intellectual beacon of its day. His father and grandfather were both experts on the mechanics of the voice and elocution. A great source of motivation for Bell was his mother. She was almost deaf and yet was a concert level pianist.

Edinburgh Scotland
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Alexander Graham Bell was home schooled by his mother. Her greatest accomplishment was to build in him a thirst for knowledge. Along with homeschooling, Bell attended Edinburgh's Royal High School. Performance wise, he was an average student at best but he had the remarkable ability to solve problems.

One day, a 12 year old Bell and a friend were playing in a grain mill where he saw a machine that was husking the grain. Thinking it was a slow and arduous process, he went home and built a machine using nail brushes and rotating paddles to remove the husks from the grain. This worked much more efficiently.

Bell did not get along well with his overbearing father. His grandfather, however, convinced him that his efforts and intellectual work were much more important than a simple personality conflict. Bell joined his father at the age of sixteen working with the deaf. Soon after that, he took control of his father's London branch.

Move to America

The Bell's traveled often to America. His father decided it was a healthier climate in America than it was in England. In 1870, the Bell family moved to Brantford, Ontario, Canada. It was here Alexander Graham Bell set out to continue his study of the human voice and opened a workshop.

Harmonic Telegraph
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A year later, he moved to Boston, Mass., to work on a way to send several different telegraph messages at the same time on different frequencies. This was called a harmonic telegraph. He found two financial backers, Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders. He became sidetracked in his work and began to form a hypothesis on how to send the human voice over wires. His financial backers were not happy and hired a skilled electrician, Thomas Watson, to get him back on track. Little did the backers know, this was just what Alexander Graham Bell needed, an expert electrician.

Eureka Success

The next three years, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson continued to work on both ideas. His investors began to see merit in his voice machine and filed a patent on the idea. On March 10, 1876, eureka, success! Some believe Bell knocked over a container of transmitting fluid, some say acid, and shouted, 'Mr Watson, come here, I want you!' This might be true or he simply called out to his colleague, Watson. Either way, his voice was heard over the wire and the two were on their way.

The First Telephone Call
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His next step was to promote this new invention. Alexander Graham Bell went to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 to do just that! Dom Pedro, the Emperor of Brazil, was there and said, 'My God, it talks!' Bell continued to tour and demonstrate his new invention. The Bell Telephone Company was founded in 1877. Bell was elated that he could finally step out from his father's shadow.

Who Invented the Telephone?

1877 was a good year for Alexander Graham Bell as he married his financial backers daughter, Mable Hubbard. The newlyweds traveled all over Europe doing presentations on the telephone. When they returned to the United States, Bell was summoned to Washington, D.C. Lawsuits had been filed by others claiming they invented the telephone, or at least conceived the idea before Bell. 550 cases later, including some that were decided by the Supreme Court, Alexander Graham Bell was vindicated. In the first year, 150,000 people purchased phones. The most important early improvement to the phone was a microphone (invented by Thomas Edison), so shouting was no longer necessary.

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