Physics

Alexander Graham Bell



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Alexander Graham Bell was a Scottish-American inventor born March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was an internationally recognized teacher of visual speech. He taught in Scotland and in Canada, where the family moved in 1870. As a boy, Alexander assisted his father in the instruction of the speech courses and in 1871 he was invited to become one of the instructors at a school for the deaf in Boston and to train others in the system that had been developed by his father. Two years later be became professor of vocal physiology at Boston University, a position in which he remained until 1877.

While he was still teaching, Bell attempted to develop a harmonic telegraph system hoping to be able to send several messages over the wires at the same time. Because he did not have the time needed to devote to this project because he needed to construct all the various components, he hired an electrician named Thomas Watson to help him. Over time, the project developed into the attempt to send spoken messages over the wires.

In June 1875, the two reproduced a natural sound by means of electromagnetic transmission. The sound was the plucking of a stringed instrument and the success was due to the mistake or tightening the screws too much. Instead of producing an intermittent electric current in their device, they actually created a continuous one. This was a major breakthrough in science because a continuous current was essential for carrying sound waves.

The development of the telephone from that point on was relatively easy. There were many unsuccessful attempts before they were actually ready to test the new transmitter on March 10, 1876. Just before the official test was due to start Bell accidentally spilled acid on his clothing. He called out for Watson and his voice transmitted perfectly.

Bell moved to Washington, D.C. in 1881, but after this time he did not take a lot of interest in the telephone. Instead he devoted himself to making contributions to education and technology. One of his inventions during this time was the vacuum jacket, which was the predecessor of the iron lung. He invested a device to locate metallic objects embedded in soft tissues. After the telephone, he is best known for his invention of wax phonograph records.

He remained active in his later years helping young inventors. He launched the Science magazine in 1883and through a generous monetary gift in 1891, he helped establish the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institute. He served as president of the National Geographic Society from 1896 and 1904 and was instrumental in increasing the readership of the magazine.

He died at Baddeck, Nova Scotia on August 2, 1922. A museum dedicated to his life and works is located in this town and has become a National Historic Site.

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