Alexander Graham Bell led a successful life as a teacher, a scientist and also an inventor. He dedicated his life to ensure that mankind lived better and comfortable life. He is, however, known around the world for having invented the first telephone yet he also made other inventions including having greatly assisted in improving the methods and practices of educating the deaf (Osborne 1).
Bell’s invention of the telephone was not a coincidence. He had spent years driven to come up with a way to teach the deaf to talk. His grandfather, Alexander Bell, also made progress and great achievements in treating speech problems. Bell was attracted to speech having witnessed firsthand his grandfather’s prominence in that field (Osborne 1). His father worked as his grandfather’s assistant before later joining the University of Edinburgh as a lecturer on elocution. Bill inherited his keen ear and musical talent from his mother, Miss Eliza Grace Symonds.
Bill reveals that since childhood, he had an interest in acoustics especially on speech and was encouraged by his further to pursue it further. The interest later had a profound role and essence in his professional work (Osborne 2). His father encouraged him to experiment and even offered him a prize for having constructed a speaking device when he was still a young boy.
At sixteen, he took a teaching job at West House Academy in Elgin then later attended the University of Edinburgh to study classical studies. He later returned to the academy as a teacher of music and elocution. His curiosity as a child and insatiable desire to explore and experiment revealed by his childhood interest in resonance pitches of vowels grew more as he grew older. He managed to develop two unique resonance speeches for each vowel by tapping a pencil placed on his neck with a finger. A vast amount of his research found their way to the president of the London Philological Society, Alexander John Ellis, through his father. (Osborne 3).
He came to learn that similar experiments had been conducted by Helmholtz through the use of electromagnetic tuning fork. He was not competent in electrical knowledge hence he decided to study electricity. In 1867, Bell took over his father’s professional duties in London. He got swarmed with enormous duties of lecturing, teaching, experimenting and studying (Osborne 3). It is around this time that he lost his brother to tuberculosis and later his brother died of the same ailment. Bell’s health deteriorated from the overload of responsibilities in his work. He forsook his career and moved to America in the year 1870 (Osborne 3).
He settled in Brantford, Ontario, and his health improved greatly. In 1871, he got invited to Boston to fill a request for a lecture on visible speech to teachers of the auditory impaired. The lecture’s success triggered a chain of successive engagements earning Bell a reputation in Boston as a prominent personality in the field of teaching the deaf. Not long after accepting this job, he got his first real assignment. He got entrusted with the duty of teaching Mr. Thomas Sander’s 5-year-old son, George and 16-year-old daughter, Mabel. Both children were congenitally deaf. These tasks of teaching these children later had great influence on Bell’s life. (Gernand and McAleer 4).
Bell continued with his studies on the electrical experiments of Helmholtz involving tuning forks and electrical units. These sparked an idea in Bell’s mind to make the harmonic telegraph. It made it possible to make subsequent transmissions using different frequencies of interruption of electric current over the same wire. The interrupted current reacting on a mechanically resonant receiving device made it vibrate. It was, however, difficult to achieve harmonic telegraphy through conducting simultaneous transmissions over the same wire. At this time, Bell’s experiments were not limited to the Harmonic telegraph only. He was amazed at the idea that deaf children could visually make out speech as it is spoken (Osborne 5).
He began to work with the manometric capsule of Kenig that produces a band of light that forms outlined patterns depending on the sound pattern spoken into it. It also used a phonautograph that creates patterns on smoked glass corresponding to the sound spoken before it. He intended to create standard patterns of sound with the phonautograph and have deaf children make sounds into the manometric capsule until it produced identical light patterns. He constructed phonautographs of his own. He even used an actual human ear for one of his phonautographs (Osborne 5).
These experiments were futile, though they formed a stepping stone for his later formulation of the idea to construct a telephone with only one vibrating membrane. Researchers had tried severally to transmit speech electrically with no success. Boursaul proposed the idea in 1854 but made no effort in giving a way forward. In 1861, Philip Reis made a device that produced a musical tone on the receiving end when rapid interruptions of current got transmitted through it. The current was, however, not refined enough to transmit speech.
In 1874, Bell formulated a concept that sounds could get transmitted electronically through varying the currents intensity similar to the effect sound has on the density of air when one speaks. The variation could result from the use of a single steel rod in a magnetic field if a way to replicate its movement in correspondence with how air moved by voiced action got discovered. However, voice alone was too weak to produce audible effects on the receiving end of the telephone.
It is at this time that Bell met Joseph Henry who doubled up as both the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the Dean of American Scientists. Bell explained his experiment to Prof. Henry and aroused his interest. He brought his device to the institute the day after and let Henry have a go at experimenting with it. Bell spent his free hours working on the harmonic telegraph encouraged by anxious financial backers Thomas Sanders and Gardner G. Habbard.
On June 2, while working alongside his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, one of the transmitting reeds fell out of line to the extent that instead of interrupting the circuit when plucked it vibrated. Bells keen ear caught the slight variation in the sound produced by the corresponding reed at the receiving end. He was amazed at the discovery that vibration produced enough current to compel a similar audible vibration on the receiving end. Before leaving for the night, he made sketches for the first models and instructed Watson to construct them promptly.
Months passed while they worked tirelessly on the device. One day, while they were experimenting on a new model, Watson ran upstairs to inform Bell that he heard and made out his voice clearly on the receiving end (Osborne 7). What followed involved lots of work on telephone patent applications and dealing with several cases regarding private litigant papers and judges. (Beauchamp 857). Bell’s valiant effort has made communication easier and better. It has earned him a legacy.
Beauchamp, Christopher. “Who Invented the Telephone? Lawyers, Patents, and the Judgments of History.” Technology and Culture 51.4 (2010): 854-878. Retrieved from http://www.princeton.edu/ssp/trips/data/51.4.beauchamp.pdf
Gernand, Bradley E. and Margaret McAleer. “Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers.” Library of Congress, 2014. Retrieved from http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/mss/eadxmlmss/eadpdfmss/2000/ms000011.pdf
Osborne, Harold S. “Biographical Memoir of Alexander Graham Bell.” National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Biographical Memoirs, 1943. Retrieved from http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/bell-alexander-graham.pdf