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When was the telephone invented?

When was the last time you made a phone call? Sometimes we take for granted things we use on a regular basis. This day in history, March 7, 1876, 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his revolutionary new invention...the telephone. That being said, Daily Doodles can't be that easy... Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell independently designed devices that could transmit speech electrically. Both men rushed their respective designs for these prototype telephones to the patent office within hours of each other. Bell patented his telephone first and later emerged the victor in a legal dispute with Gray, leading Bell's name to be synonymous with the telephone and Gray's all but forgotten.

Alexander Graham Bell started working in London with his father, Alexander Melville Bell, who developed Visible Speech, a written system used to teach speaking to the deaf. His father (Melville), uncle, and grandfather were authorities on elocution and speech therapy for the deaf. It was understood that Bell would follow in the family footsteps after finishing college. However, after Bell's two brothers died of tuberculosis, Bell and his parents decided to immigrate to Canada in 1870, then shortly after, moving to Boston, Massachusetts, where the younger Bell found work as a teacher at the Pemberton Avenue School for the Deaf. One of Alexander Graham Bell's most notable pupils was a young Helen Keller, who when they met was not only blind and deaf but also unable to speak. Though I'm sure he would argue his favorite student was Mabel Hubbard, whom he would later marry.

While in Boston, Bell became very interested in the possibility of transmitting speech over wires. Samuel F.B. Morse’s invention of the telegraph in 1843 had made nearly instantaneous communication possible between two distant points. The drawback however, was the telegraph still required hand-delivery of messages between telegraph stations and recipients, and only one message could be transmitted at a time. Bell wanted to improve on this by creating a “harmonic telegraph,” a device that combined aspects of the telegraph and record player to allow individuals to speak to each other from a distance.

With the help of Thomas A. Watson, a Boston machine shop employee, and funding from his father-in-law (Hubbard resented the control by the Western Union Telegraph Company, and saw the potential for breaking such a monopoly), Bell developed a prototype. Alexander Graham Bell's success with the telephone came as a direct result of his attempts to improve on the telegraph. When he began experimenting with electrical signals, the telegraph had been an established means of communication for over 30 years. Bell's extensive knowledge of the nature of sound and his understanding of music enabled him to consider the possibility of transmitting multiple messages over the same wire at the same time. Although the idea of a "multiple telegraph" had been in existence for some time, it was purely conjecture as no one had been able to fabricate one—until Bell and his assistant, Watson. His "harmonic telegraph" was based on the principle that several notes could be sent simultaneously along the same wire if the notes or signals differed in pitch.

On June 2, 1875, while experimenting with the harmonic telegraph, the men discovered that sound could be transmitted over a wire by accident. Watson was trying to loosen a reed that had been wound around a transmitter when he plucked it by accident. The vibration traveled along the wire into a second device in the other room where Bell was working. The "twang" Bell heard was all the inspiration he and Watson needed to work at an even more feverish pace. They continued to work into the next year and on March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received the patent for the Telephone. Three days later the first "phone call" was made. Bell recounted the critical moment in his journal: "I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: 'Mr. Watson, come here—I want to see you.' To my delight, he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said."

Quite the history, and as intelligent an inventor as Bell was, there is no way he could have even dreamed where the "telephone" would be today!

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