The telephone is arguably one of the most influential inventions in all of history. This relatively small device allowed people to talk and communicate from across the world using the telegraph lines which were already in place. Up until then, people looking to communicate with one another were limited to the monotonous task of sending a telegraph or by letter. While both of these methods allowed people to communicate, they simply weren’t as effective or convenient as the telephone.
Most of us learned back in high school that Alexander Graham Bell was the man responsible for inventing the world’s first telephone, and while this isn’t entirely false, it’s not exactly true either. Bell did in fact play a major role in the invention of the telephone, but there were others both before and during his time that also contributed. Whether or not Bell’s design was original is another mystery shrouded in debate. Here we’ll dive a little deeper into the invention of the telephone and reveal why there’s so much controversy surrounding the subject.
A man who contributed a great deal to the invention of the telephone but rarely given the credit he deserves is Antonio Meucci. He was an inventor who immigrated with his wife from their home located in the countryside of a Spanish providence to Staten Island, New York on April 13, 1850. Ever since he was a young boy, Meucci has remained infatuated with technology and electricity. At the young age of just 15, he studied chemical and mechanical engineering at the Florence Academy of Fine Arts. He then took this knowledge and began applying it to some of his ideas, one of which was a device used to communicate to and from different locations.
In the mid 1950s, Meucci reportedly invented a device that was capable of sending and receiving voice transmissions, which he used in his Staten Island home. Meucii filed a caveat for his device the telettrofono at the U.S. patent office in 1971. Unfortunately, however, his caveat lacked vital information regarding his device, such as the electromagnet and conversion elements; therefore, he wasn’t given full credit for the invention of the telephone. With that said, many historians still believe he was single-highhandedly responsible for creating the world’s first voice communication device. Following his patent claim, Meucci suffered serious burns that forced him to cut back on scaling his telettrofono device.
Alexander Graham Bell
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3, 1847, Alexander Graham Bell is most known for his contributions to the invention of the telephone. Many people refer Bell as a “jack of all trades” since he was an avid engineer, inventor, scientist and a teacher. For many years, he worked as a professor at Boston University where taught deaf students how to speak. During his time as a vocal professor, Bell began experimenting with various electrical instruments used to manipulate sound waves, which laid the foundation for his future ideas involving the telephone.
During the early to mid 1870s, Bell started working on a voice communication device that used various circuits to trigger vibrations in a steel reeds. It was by no means a working telephone, but it was a promising advancement towards his final goal. On July 1st, 1875, Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson conducted an experiment with an improved model of his original device. Bell talked into the device from one end, while Watson listed on the other. To their delightment, the device worked and both parties were able to communicate with one another. When Bell spoke through the device, he said these famous words – “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”
On March 7th, 1876, Bell was awarded U.S. patent #174,465 for his invention of the telephone. There’s no denying the face that Bell was the person who was originally awarded the patent for the telephone, but this doesn’t exactly mean he’s the one who invented it. Antonio Meucci certainly played a crucial role in developing the necessary technology, as did Elisha Gray (see below). In any case, I think we have to conclude by saying all three of these brilliant individuals helped to develop the telephones we now use on a daily basis.
Many historians believe that Elisha Gray of Highland Park, Illinois should have received credit for the invention of the telephone instead of Alexander Graham Bell. Gray was an inventor who supplied equipment and services to telegraph companies throughout North America. In the mid 1870’s, both Bell and Gray were in a heated battle to be the first one to develop a voice communication device. A couple years later in 1874, Gray was able to successfully demonstrate a voice communication device to the public at his local church. On February 11, 1876, both Gray and Bell filed for patents on their telephone device. However, Gray failed to submit a complete application, so the office postponed awarding the patent to either parties.
Gray was eventually awarded U.S. patent # 166,096 for his “Electric Telegraph for Transmitting Musical Tones,” but it was ultimately Bell who was awarded the patent for what we now refer to as the telephone. After Bell was awarded the patent, questions were raised as to whether or not his design was inspired from Gray. Bell was even forced to testify in court that his invention was original and not the works of someone else. Even so, people have remained skeptical as to whether or not Bell took at least some of the ideas from Elisha Gray.
As you can see, there’s no easy answer to the question of who invented the world’s first telephone. Most people of us were taught back in high school that Alexander Graham Bell was the person solely responsible for it, but the facts prove otherwise. Both Elisha Gray and Antonio Meucci were undeniably a part in this magnificent achievement, so we shouldn’t give all the credit to Bell. Sure, Bell was a brilliant man who worked hard on his device, but the technology was around before his time. Hopefully this will give you a better understanding on the controversy surrounding the telephone invention.