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Image by Wendy Scofield

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 8, 1847. His mother, who was an accomplished musician and portrait painter, began to lose her hearing when Graham (a name used only by family and close friends) was twelve. His father, who he’d been named for, had a worldwide reputation as an author of books on correct speech and as a teacher. He also invented “invisible speech.”

Alexander Graham Bell
And His Telephone 


Author: Mary Alward

Published on: May 18, 2002


Alexander was fascinated by electricity and with the communication between people many years before he invented the telephone. As a boy, he built a speaking robot and discovered that if he touched his pet terrier’s throat in a certain way that he could transmit growls into words. Later in life, he obtained a human ear from a medical facility in order to conduct experiments by tracing sound patterns.

In February 1870, Alexander’s brother, Teddy, died. In May of the same year, his brother Mellie, died of tuberculosis. Because Alexander suffered from this ailment, his parents decided to move to Canada at the urging of their friend, Thomas Henderson. Possibly in Canada’s climate, Alexander’s health would improve.

The Bell family landed at Quebec on August 1, 1870. From there, they traveled to Paris, Ontario to visit the Hendersons. While there, they heard of a property that was for sale in Brantford, Ontario and purchased it on April 6, for $2600. The black-trimmed house stood on ten acres of land set well back from the road and was four miles southwest of town. It was screened by tall trees and thick shrubbery and sat high on a bluff overlooking the Grand River. There was also a carriage shed, henhouse, icehouse, pigsty, stable, well and rainwater cisterns on the property. An orchard produced cherries, plums, peaches, pears and apples. Young Alexander called this home his “dreaming place.” Here, he was able to recover from tuberculosis, though symptoms plagued him all of his life. It was here too, that he began to think about the future and the idea of the telephone was conceived.

Alexander Graham Bell began teaching Invisible Speech at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes in 1871. Here, he met and fell in love with Mabel Hubbard, the daughter of Gardiner Hubbard, who would give Alexander financial backing for his experiments with the telephone.

Alexander had often dreamed of transmitting speech electronically. While in Boston, he began to focus on achieving this goal. After Samuel Morse completed his telegraph in 1843, telegraphy became an industry that sent messages long distances almost instantly. The only problem with this technological form of communication was that messages still had to be hand-delivered between the telegraph office and the individual the message was sent to. Also, only one message could be sent at a time. Alexander drew parallels between multiple messages and multiple notes in a musical chord. He named his theory “harmonic telegraph.” This theory is what sparked his idea for the invention of the telephone. It came to him while on vacation at his parent’s home on Tutela Heights in Brantford.

Alexander met Thomas Watson at the electrical machine shop of Charles Williams in Boston. Watson, as Alexander called him, was assigned to work with inventors. The pair spoke of ways to refine the “harmonic telegraph” and Alexander shared with Watson his dream of what would later become known as the telephone.

Alexander and Watson became a team. They reached a milestone on June 2, 1875 when working in a hot attic in Boston. Alexander was tinkering in the receiving room while Watson was in the transmitting room attempting to free a reed that had been wound too tightly on its electromagnetic pole. He produced a “twang.” Alexander heard it come through the wire into the receiving room and startled Watson when he burst into the transmitting room. Alexander was now convinced that his dream of sending speech over a wire would become a reality.

Alexander and Watson worked constantly on this new discovery. At the same time, Alexander filed an application with the United States Patent Office in Washington. On March 10, 1876 he was issued patent number174, 465.

In the meantime, Alexander had discovered that a wire vibrated by the voice while partially immersed in mercury or battery acid, could be made to produce an undulating current. This meant that human speech could be transmitted over a wire.

On March 10, 1876, Alexander and Watson decided to test their findings. Again, each was working in a separate room. Alexander called, “Mr. Watson, come here. I need you!” Watson heard Alexander’s voice over the wire. Watson had received the first telephone call to ever be transmitted.

On July 7, 9 and 22, 1876 Alexander attempted to use the telephone on various circuits from Boston to New York, Boston to Rye and other places. His attempts failed. Alexander was devastated but was determined not to give up.

Alexander returned to his parent’s home at Tutela Heights in Brantford near the end of July 1876. He brought with him apparatus and lots of telephone coil of different types and lengths. He also brought two membrane telephones and an iron receiver that he had used in his long distance experiments in Boston.

Little was ever recorded of the following days before Alexander made the first of three historic tests. However, there are a few things known of this time.

While at the family home in Brantford, Alexander decided to do some preliminary testing. He planned to send messages along a tightly stretched wire that would be strung between the house and the barn but soon realized this would not suffice. He then approached his friend, Thomas Cowherd, who constructed, according to Alexander’s specifications, an elaborate piece of equipment with three mouthpieces. The pair decided that stovepipe wire could be used for experiments and proceeded to purchase ever foot that was available in Brantford.

Daily tests were conducted, and Alexander continued to remain on the receiving end, where he could check the results. Guests to the Bell Homestead during this period listened to songs and recitals that reached them over the flimsy stovepipe wire.

On August 3, 1876, Alexander took his testing equipment and headed to Mt. Pleasant, which was located two miles west of Brantford. There, he and Isabella Wallis, the daughter of the proprietor of the general store, strung stovepipe wire around the store, which was also the local office of the Dominion Telegraph Company. Jim Biggar, a twelve-year-old boy who visited the store with his father was awed at the sight. He overheard Alexander tell his father that people were going to talk over the wires all the way from the Dominion Telegraph Company to Brantford.

It had been decided that the transmissions would be sent from Brantford and received in Mt. Pleasant. At the specified time, a voice was heard speaking the words, “To be or not to be…” The telephone had been born.

There is much controversy over where the telephone was invented. Through the years, I have researched the topic extensively and come to this conclusion. The telephone was conceived in Brantford at the Bell Homestead on Tutela Heights. The actual invention of the telephone took place in Boston when Alexander and Watson successfully sent a message from one room to another. The first long distance message was transmitted in Brantford and received in Mt. Pleasant, Ontario. Therefore, both Brantford and Boston share the glory of the invention of the telephone.

Today, Brantford is known as “The Telephone City.” The Bell Homestead still stands on its original site on Tutela Heights Road, though the Grand River has eroded away much of the property. The Bell Homestead is now a National Historic Site. Tours include the Bell family home and the Henderson Home, which was Canada’s first telephone office. There is also a quaint teahouse on the grounds.

The Bell Memorial is located at the junction of West, King, Wellington and Pearl Streets in Brantford. The modern Bell Canada office still stands two blocks away. A bronze statue of Alexander Graham Bell sitting in a chair, stands near the entrance. Unfortunately, this office was closed a few years ago due to cutbacks.

I often wonder if Alexander Graham Bell could have envisioned the impact that his invention would have on the world? The telephone was the forerunner of today’s technology and has made communication possible throughout the entire world. Alexander Graham Bell left behind a great legacy. Thank you Mr. Bell.


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