Monday, 25 July 2016

One thing often leads to another

Alexander Graham Bell Museum

Baddeck, Nova Scotia

On our way to Cape Breton, we stopped off in Baddeck to see the Graham Bell Museum.
The Bell Family

How often do you hear that they found that something worked while taking medication for something else. Quite a bit.

Alexander Graham Bell is known for inventing the telephone, named from the Greek language meaning "far speaking". I can't help but think that if he hadn't been so interested in helping deaf people, would have he invented the telephone? After all I'm sure what he learned about the ear had an impact on what he discovered.

single and double pole magneto telephone

At the age of 21, Graham used his father’s invention to teach the deaf to speak at a school he taught in London. Word of his achievements spread around the world.

Multiple Telegraph Transmitters & receivers

He was a very interesting man. In 1867 his brother died of tuberculosis. Then his other brother came down with the disease and Graham himself became ill. So his father moved the family from Scotland to Brantford, Ontario in Canada where the weather was better. Graham regained his health and went back to work.

His father was an elocutionist and teacher of speech. He created visible speech - a new phonetic alphabet. Graham used his father's invention to teach the deaf to speak. He explored the mechanics of speech, even teaching a dog to speak. He had remarkable success in teaching the deaf to speak.

Graham knew a little bit about electricity and a lot about speech, sound and hearing. He then had an idea about an electrical device that would work like the human ear, a talking wire. In June 1875 Graham had an assistant called Watson who accidentally plucked a transmitter reed on Graham’s apparatus which generated an electric current strong enough that Graham heard it on his receiver in another room. After making some modifications to his apparatus, Watson could then hear some muffled sounds from Graham.

When Graham received his telephone patent in 1876, it still hadn’t transmitted a clear message. It would take another month for a breakthrough to happen. When Graham was working on a new transmitter he accidently spilt some acidulated water on his clothes and called out to Watson. Watson heard the cry through the receiver. So Graham built a liquid transmitter which replaced the electromagnet with a container of acid and water.

Telephones of the 19th & 20th centuries

In 1877 he married one of his students who had been deaf since the age of 5. Mabel could lip read and spoke French, Italian, English and German. While on his honeymoon Graham sketched the basic shape of an airplane. In the same year, he founded the Volta Bureau for "the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf". He wanted day schools for the deaf instead of segregated boarding schools. His achievements regarding the deaf were more important to him than the invention of the telephone.

In 1880 when France awarded Bell the Volta Prize of $10,000 for his invention of the telephone he used this money to form Volta Laboratory, and hired two experimenters to help him where they worked out of Washington DC.

He used the prize money to set up a company that would work on other inventions. They created a photophone which transmitted speech over light waves. However, it didn’t work very well in bad weather but he still considered it a greater achievement than the telephone. Ten years after Edison created the phonograph which didn’t work very well, Graham’s team came up with the gramophone. It was a great success and became the basis for the record industry.

In 1885, Graham and his wife Mabel made Baddeck, Nova Scotia their second home, so that he could pursue his scientific and humanitarian interests away from the summer heat of Washington DC. Graham started a 32 year project to help local farmers – to breed ewes that would consistently bear twins.

In 1887, Graham founded the Volta Bureau to increase the knowledge relating to the deaf, it merged with another association that Graham inspired and financed and still runs today.

He also worked on hydrofoils and airplanes.

one of his planes

In 1914 he talked of the greenhouse effect to describe the heating of the earth and five years later advocated that we find a substitute for coal and oil to provide energy. He created some solar stills to convert saltwater into potable water.

He died in 1922 at the age of 75. A remarkable man clearly way ahead of his time.


  1. What??? We have known about global warming for over a hundred years and how far along are we in addressing it? Thanks for that little bit of history!

    1. Yes, amazing huh and we still do nothing because it's cheaper to ignore it

  2. Bell was clearly brilliant and creative, and he put his talents to good works. Thanks for the interesting life history—I also find it amazing (and appalling) that he warned of global warming a century ago and we've yet to do much about it.

    1. True, different countries have different priorities, so it's difficult to get everyone on the same page