November 03, 2020

#08-005: Bell's Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell

Note: Few realize that Alexander Graham Bell was only one in a long succession of inventors responsible for bringing the dream of transmitting sound over great distances: the TELE- (far) PHONE (sound).

Get Ready: What were telephones like when you were a kid? Can you describe some of the things phones can do today that they couldn't do just 10 or 20 years ago?

We all "know" that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But did he really?

In fact, Bell's work was the culmination of a series of discoveries by others (and there were still many, many more innovations to come!).

Before Bell, an American inventor named Charles Grafton Page in 1840 used electric currents to convert electricity to sound, causing the metal in a horseshoe to "ring." French telegraph engineer Charles Bourseul designed (but did not build) a "make and break" telephone in 1854; in 1861, German scientist Johann Philipp Reis built one. In this technology, a diaphragm would convert a sound (like a human voice) into motion that would "make and break" an electrical circuit, which could be passed along wires and replicate the sound in a distant diaphragm: a speaker.

Around 1854 an Italian, Antonio Meucci, may have created a voice-transmitting device which many claim is the first telephone, though his patent was not filed until 1871. Further, due to various factors--including lack of knowledge of English--he never developed his invention.

Another American, Elisha Gray, developed a "tone telegraph" patented in 1875 that used several vibrating steel reeds to break a circuit. This still had to be "read" by an operator, like a telegraph. In 1876, his lawyer filed a patent for a telephone the same day Bell's lawyer filed his patent.

Bell had been training teachers to work with the deaf, and in doing so, developed a device that would reproduce vibrations from a diaphragm visually by drawing a line on smoked glass. With his assistant, Thomas Watson, he used the work of his forerunners in developing a device similar to the modern mechanical telephone, but that would work only over a short distance--say, room to room in a house.

That was in 1875 and 1876. The first successful  transmission of what Bell called "articulate speech" was made on March 10, 1876, when Bell spoke into a microphone, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you"--and Watson came! By 1877, he had made enough improvements that he was able to form the first telephone exchange and the Bell Telephone Company, becoming a wealthy man.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. articulate
  2. circuit
  3. culmination
  4. diaphragm
  5. forerunners
  6. replicate
  7. telephone exchange
  8. the deaf
  9. transmitting
  10. vibrating

  1. reproduce; duplicate
  2. the path of an electric current
  3. moving rhythmically and steadily; oscillating
  4. completion; fulfillment
  5. a thin vibrating disk that receives or produces sound waves
  6. those who came before
  7. sending
  8. a facility that connects phone users
  9. clear and distinct
  10. people who cannot hear

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 3, 2020

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. b; 3. d; 4. e; 5. f; 6. a; 7. h; 8. j; 9. g; 10. c