Tag Archives: Alexander Graham Bell

Telephone

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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A rotary dial telephone, c.1940s

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Modern telephones use push buttons

A telephone, or phone, is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly. A telephone converts sound, typically and most efficiently the human voice, into electronic signals that are transmitted via cables and other communication channels to another telephone which reproduces the sound to the receiving user.

In 1876, Scottish emigrant Alexander Graham Bell was the first to be granted a United States patent for a device that produced clearly intelligible replication of the human voice. This instrument was further developed by many others. The telephone was the first device in history that enabled people to talk directly with each other across large distances. Telephones rapidly became indispensable to businesses, government, and households, and are today some of the most widely used small appliances.

The essential elements of a telephone are a microphone (transmitter) to speak into and an earphone (receiver) which reproduces the voice in a distant location. In addition, most telephones contain a ringer which produces a sound to announce an incoming telephone call, and a dial or keypad used to enter a telephone number when initiating a call to another telephone. Until approximately the 1970s most telephones used a rotary dial, which was superseded by the modern DTMF push-button dial, first introduced to the public by AT&T in 1963. The receiver and transmitter are usually built into a handset which is held up to the ear and mouth during conversation. The dial may be located either on the handset, or on a base unit to which the handset is connected. The transmitter converts the sound waves to electrical signals which are sent through a telephone network to the receiving telephone which converts the signals into audible sound in the receiver, or sometimes a loudspeaker. Telephones are duplex devices, meaning they permit transmission in both directions simultaneously.

The first telephones were directly connected to each other from one customer’s office or residence to another customer’s location. Being impractical beyond just a few customers, these systems were quickly replaced by manually operated centrally located switchboards. This gave rise to landline telephone service in which each telephone is connected by a pair of dedicated wires to a local central office switching system, which developed into fully automated systems starting in the early 1900s. For greater mobility, various radio systems were developed for transmission between mobile stations on ships and automobiles in the middle 20th century. Hand-held mobile phones were introduced for personal service starting in 1973. By the late 1970s several mobile telephone networks operated around the world. In 1983, the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS) was launched, offering a standardized technology providing portability for users far beyond the personal residence or office. These analog cellular system evolved into digital networks with better security, greater capacity, better regional coverage, and lower cost. Today, the worldwide public switched telephone network, with its hierarchical system of many switching centers, can connect any telephone on the network with any other. With the standardized international numbering system, E.164, each telephone line has an identifying telephone number, that may be called from any other, authorized telephone on the network.

Although originally designed for simple voice communications, convergence has enabled most modern cell phones to have many additional capabilities. They may be able to record spoken messages, send and receive text messages, take and display photographs or video, play music or games, surf the Internet, do road navigation or immerse the user in virtual reality. Since 1999, the trend for mobile phones is smartphones that integrate all mobile communication and computing needs.

Basic Principles


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Schematic of a landline telephone installation.

A traditional landline telephone system, also known as plain old telephone service (POTS), commonly carries both control and audio signals on the same twisted pair (C in diagram) of insulated wires, the telephone line. The control and signaling equipment consists of three components, the ringer, the hookswitch, and a dial. The ringer, or beeper, light or other device (A7), alerts the user to incoming calls. The hookswitch signals to the central office that the user has picked up the handset to either answer a call or initiate a call. A dial, if present, is used by the subscriber to transmit a telephone number to the central office when initiating a call. Until the 1960s dials used almost exclusively the rotary technology, which was replaced by dual-tone multi-frequency signaling (DTMF) with pushbutton telephones (A4).

A major expense of wire-line telephone service is the outside wire plant. Telephones transmit both the incoming and outgoing speech signals on a single pair of wires. A twisted pair line rejects electromagnetic interference (EMI) and crosstalk better than a single wire or an untwisted pair. The strong outgoing speech signal from the microphone (transmitter) does not overpower the weaker incoming speaker (receiver) signal with sidetone because a hybrid coil (A3) and other components compensate the imbalance. The junction box (B) arrests lightning (B2) and adjusts the line’s resistance (B1) to maximize the signal power for the line length. Telephones have similar adjustments for inside line lengths (A8). The line voltages are negative compared to earth, to reduce galvanic corrosion. Negative voltage attracts positive metal ions toward the wires.

Details of Operation


The landline telephone contains a switchhook (A4) and an alerting device, usually a ringer (A7), that remains connected to the phone line whenever the phone is “on hook” (i.e. the switch (A4) is open), and other components which are connected when the phone is “off hook”. The off-hook components include a transmitter (microphone, A2), a receiver (speaker, A1), and other circuits for dialing, filtering (A3), and amplification.

A calling party wishing to speak to another party will pick up the telephone’s handset, thereby operating a lever which closes the switchhook (A4), which powers the telephone by connecting the transmitter (microphone), receiver (speaker), and related audio components to the line. The off-hook circuitry has a low resistance (less than 300 ohms) which causes a direct current (DC), which comes down the line (C) from the telephone exchange. The exchange detects this current, attaches a digit receiver circuit to the line, and sends a dial tone to indicate readiness. On a modern push-button telephone, the caller then presses the number keys to send the telephone number of the called party. The keys control a tone generator circuit (not shown) that makes DTMF tones that the exchange receives. A rotary-dial telephone uses pulse dialing, sending electrical pulses, that the exchange can count to get the telephone number (as of 2010 many exchanges were still equipped to handle pulse dialing). If the called party’s line is available, the exchange sends an intermittent ringing signal (about 75 volts alternating current (AC) in North America and UK and 60 volts in Germany) to alert the called party to an incoming call. If the called party’s line is in use, the exchange returns a busy signal to the calling party. However, if the called party’s line is in use but has call waiting installed, the exchange sends an intermittent audible tone to the called party to indicate an incoming call.

The ringer of a telephone (A7) is connected to the line through a capacitor (A6), which blocks direct current but passes the alternating current of the ringing signal. The telephone draws no current when it is on hook, while a DC voltage is continually applied to the line. Exchange circuitry (D2) can send an AC current down the line to activate the ringer and announce an incoming call. When there is no automatic exchange, telephones have hand-cranked magnetos to generate a ringing voltage back to the exchange or any other telephone on the same line. When a landline telephone is inactive (on hook), the circuitry at the telephone exchange detects the absence of direct current to indicate that the line is not in use. When a party initiates a call to this line, the exchange sends the ringing signal. When the called party picks up the handset, they actuate a double-circuit switchhook (not shown) which may simultaneously disconnects the alerting device and connects the audio circuitry to the line. This, in turn, draws direct current through the line, confirming that the called phone is now active. The exchange circuitry turns off the ring signal, and both telephones are now active and connected through the exchange. The parties may now converse as long as both phones remain off hook. When a party hangs up, placing the handset back on the cradle or hook, direct current ceases in that line, signaling the exchange to disconnect the call.

Calls to parties beyond the local exchange are carried over trunk lines which establish connections between exchanges. In modern telephone networks, fiber-optic cable and digital technology are often employed in such connections. Satellite technology may be used for communication over very long distances.

In most landline telephones, the transmitter and receiver (microphone and speaker) are located in the handset, although in a speakerphone these components may be located in the base or in a separate enclosure. Powered by the line, the microphone (A2) produces a modulated electric current which varies its frequency and amplitude in response to the sound waves arriving at its diaphragm. The resulting current is transmitted along the telephone line to the local exchange then on to the other phone (via the local exchange or via a larger network), where it passes through the coil of the receiver (A3). The varying current in the coil produces a corresponding movement of the receiver’s diaphragm, reproducing the original sound waves present at the transmitter.

Along with the microphone and speaker, additional circuitry is incorporated to prevent the incoming speaker signal and the outgoing microphone signal from interfering with each other. This is accomplished through a hybrid coil (A3). The incoming audio signal passes through a resistor (A8) and the primary winding of the coil (A3) which passes it to the speaker (A1). Since the current path A8 – A3 has a far lower impedance than the microphone (A2), virtually all of the incoming signal passes through it and bypasses the microphone.

At the same time the DC voltage across the line causes a DC current which is split between the resistor-coil (A8-A3) branch and the microphone-coil (A2-A3) branch. The DC current through the resistor-coil branch has no effect on the incoming audio signal. But the DC current passing through the microphone is turned into AC current (in response to voice sounds) which then passes through only the upper branch of the coil’s (A3) primary winding, which has far fewer turns than the lower primary winding. This causes a small portion of the microphone output to be fed back to the speaker, while the rest of the AC current goes out through the phone line.

A lineman’s handset is a telephone designed for testing the telephone network, and may be attached directly to aerial lines and other infrastructure components.

History


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Bell placing the first New York to Chicago telephone call in 1892

Before the development of the electric telephone, the term “telephone” was applied to other inventions, and not all early researchers of the electrical device called it “telephone”. A communication device for sailing vessels The Telephone was the invention of a captain John Taylor in 1844. This instrument used four air horns to communicate with vessels in foggy weather. Later, c. 1860, Johann Philipp Reis used the term in reference to his Reis telephone, his device appears to be the first such device based on conversion of sound into electrical impulses, the term telephone was adopted into the vocabulary of many languages. It is derived from the Greek: τῆλε, tēle, “far” and φωνή, phōnē, “voice”, together meaning “distant voice”.

Credit for the invention of the electric telephone is frequently disputed. As with other influential inventions such as radio, television, the light bulb, and the computer, several inventors pioneered experimental work on voice transmission over a wire and improved on each other’s ideas. New controversies over the issue still arise from time to time. Charles Bourseul, Antonio Meucci, Johann Philipp Reis, Alexander Graham Bell, and Elisha Gray, amongst others, have all been credited with the invention of the telephone.

Alexander Graham Bell was the first to be awarded a patent for the electric telephone by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in March 1876. The Bell patents were forensically victorious and commercially decisive. That first patent by Bell was the master patent of the telephone, from which other patents for electric telephone devices and features flowed.

In 1876, shortly after the telephone was invented, Hungarian engineer Tivadar Puskás invented the telephone switch, which allowed for the formation of telephone exchanges, and eventually networks.

Early Development

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Reis’ telephone

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Acoustic telephone ad, The Consolidated Telephone Co., Jersey City, NJ 1886

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1896 telephone from Sweden

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Wooden wall telephone with a hand-cranked magneto generator

  • 1844: Innocenzo Manzetti first mooted the idea of a “speaking telegraph” or telephone. Use of the “speaking telegraph” and “sound telegraph” monikers would eventually be replaced by the newer, distinct name, “telephone”.
  • 26 August 1854: Charles Bourseul published an article in the magazine L’Illustration (Paris): “Transmission électrique de la parole” (electric transmission of speech), describing a “make-and-break” type telephone transmitter later created by Johann Reis.
  • 26 October 1861: Johann Philipp Reis (1834–1874) publicly demonstrated the Reis telephone before the Physical Society of Frankfurt. Reis’ telephone was not limited to musical sounds. Reis also used his telephone to transmit the phrase “Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat” (“The horse does not eat cucumber salad”).
  • 22 August 1865, La Feuille d’Aoste reported “It is rumored that English technicians to whom Mr. Manzetti illustrated his method for transmitting spoken words on the telegraph wire intend to apply said invention in England on several private telegraph lines”. However telephones would not be demonstrated there until 1876, with a set of telephones from Bell.
  • 28 December 1871: Antonio Meucci files patent caveat No. 3335 in the U.S. Patent Office titled “Sound Telegraph”, describing communication of voice between two people by wire. A ‘patent caveat’ was not an invention patent award, but only an unverified notice filed by an individual that he or she intends to file a regular patent application in the future.
  • 1874: Meucci, after having renewed the caveat for two years does not renew it again, and the caveat lapses.
  • 6 April 1875: Bell’s U.S. Patent 161,739 “Transmitters and Receivers for Electric Telegraphs” is granted. This uses multiple vibrating steel reeds in make-break circuits.
  • 11 February 1876: Gray invents a liquid transmitter for use with a telephone but does not build one.
  • 14 February 1876: Elisha Gray files a patent caveat for transmitting the human voice through a telegraphic circuit.
  • 14 February 1876: Alexander Graham Bell applies for the patent “Improvements in Telegraphy”, for electromagnetic telephones using what is now called amplitude modulation (oscillating current and voltage) but which he referred to as “undulating current”.
  • 19 February 1876: Gray is notified by the U.S. Patent Office of an interference between his caveat and Bell’s patent application. Gray decides to abandon his caveat.
  • 7 March 1876: Bell’s U.S. patent 174,465 “Improvement in Telegraphy” is granted, covering “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically…by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound.”
  • 10 March 1876: The first successful telephone transmission of clear speech using a liquid transmitter when Bell spoke into his device, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” and Watson heard each word distinctly.
  • 30 January 1877: Bell’s U.S. patent 186,787 is granted for an electromagnetic telephone using permanent magnets, iron diaphragms, and a call bell.
  • 27 April 1877: Edison files for a patent on a carbon (graphite) transmitter. The patent 474,230 was granted 3 May 1892, after a 15-year delay because of litigation. Edison was granted patent 222,390 for a carbon granules transmitter in 1879.

Early commercial Instruments

Early telephones were technically diverse. Some used a water microphone, some had a metal diaphragm that induced current in an electromagnet wound around a permanent magnet, and some were dynamic – their diaphragm vibrated a coil of wire in the field of a permanent magnet or the coil vibrated the diaphragm. The sound-powered dynamic variants survived in small numbers through the 20th century in military and maritime applications, where its ability to create its own electrical power was crucial. Most, however, used the Edison/Berliner carbon transmitter, which was much louder than the other kinds, even though it required an induction coil which was an impedance matching transformer to make it compatible with the impedance of the line. The Edison patents kept the Bell monopoly viable into the 20th century, by which time the network was more important than the instrument.

Early telephones were locally powered, using either a dynamic transmitter or by the powering of a transmitter with a local battery. One of the jobs of outside plant personnel was to visit each telephone periodically to inspect the battery. During the 20th century, telephones powered from the telephone exchange over the same wires that carried the voice signals became common.

Early telephones used a single wire for the subscriber’s line, with ground return used to complete the circuit (as used in telegraphs). The earliest dynamic telephones also had only one port opening for sound, with the user alternately listening and speaking (or rather, shouting) into the same hole. Sometimes the instruments were operated in pairs at each end, making conversation more convenient but also more expensive.

At first, the benefits of a telephone exchange were not exploited. Instead telephones were leased in pairs to a subscriber, who had to arrange for a telegraph contractor to construct a line between them, for example between a home and a shop. Users who wanted the ability to speak to several different locations would need to obtain and set up three or four pairs of telephones. Western Union, already using telegraph exchanges, quickly extended the principle to its telephones in New York City and San Francisco, and Bell was not slow in appreciating the potential.

Signalling began in an appropriately primitive manner. The user alerted the other end, or the exchange operator, by whistling into the transmitter. Exchange operation soon resulted in telephones being equipped with a bell in a ringer box, first operated over a second wire, and later over the same wire, but with a condenser (capacitor) in series with the bell coil to allow the AC ringer signal through while still blocking DC (keeping the phone “on hook”). Telephones connected to the earliest Strowger switch automatic exchanges had seven wires, one for the knife switch, one for each telegraph key, one for the bell, one for the push-button and two for speaking. Large wall telephones in the early 20th century usually incorporated the bell, and separate bell boxes for desk phones dwindled away in the middle of the century.

Rural and other telephones that were not on a common battery exchange had a magneto hand-cranked generator to produce a high voltage alternating signal to ring the bells of other telephones on the line and to alert the operator. Some local farming communities that were not connected to the main networks set up barbed wire telephone lines that exploited the existing system of field fences to transmit the signal.

In the 1890s a new smaller style of telephone was introduced, packaged in three parts. The transmitter stood on a stand, known as a “candlestick” for its shape. When not in use, the receiver hung on a hook with a switch in it, known as a “switchhook”. Previous telephones required the user to operate a separate switch to connect either the voice or the bell. With the new kind, the user was less likely to leave the phone “off the hook”. In phones connected to magneto exchanges, the bell, induction coil, battery and magneto were in a separate bell box or “ringer box”. In phones connected to common battery exchanges, the ringer box was installed under a desk, or other out of the way place, since it did not need a battery or magneto.

Cradle designs were also used at this time, having a handle with the receiver and transmitter attached, now called a handset, separate from the cradle base that housed the magneto crank and other parts. They were larger than the “candlestick” and more popular.

Disadvantages of single wire operation such as crosstalk and hum from nearby AC power wires had already led to the use of twisted pairs and, for long distance telephones, four-wire circuits. Users at the beginning of the 20th century did not place long distance calls from their own telephones but made an appointment to use a special soundproofed long distance telephone booth furnished with the latest technology.

What turned out to be the most popular and longest lasting physical style of telephone was introduced in the early 20th century, including Bell’s 202-type desk set. A carbon granule transmitter and electromagnetic receiver were united in a single molded plastic handle, which when not in use sat in a cradle in the base unit. The circuit diagram of the model 202 shows the direct connection of the transmitter to the line, while the receiver was induction coupled. In local battery configurations, when the local loop was too long to provide sufficient current from the exchange, the transmitter was powered by a local battery and inductively coupled, while the receiver was included in the local loop. The coupling transformer and the ringer were mounted in a separate enclosure, called the subscriber set. The dial switch in the base interrupted the line current by repeatedly but very briefly disconnecting the line 1 to 10 times for each digit, and the hook switch (in the center of the circuit diagram) disconnected the line and the transmitter battery while the handset was on the cradle.

In the 1930s, telephone sets were developed that combined the bell and induction coil with the desk set, obviating a separate ringer box. The rotary dial becoming commonplace in the 1930s in many areas enabled customer-dialed service, but some magneto systems remained even into the 1960s. After World-War II, the telephone networks saw rapid expansion and more efficient telephone sets, such as the model 500 telephone in the United States, were developed that permitted larger local networks centered around central offices. A breakthrough new technology was the introduction of Touch-Tone signaling using push-button telephones by American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1963.

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Ericsson DBH 1001 (ca. 1931), the first combined telephone made with a Bakelite housing and handset.

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Telephone used by American soldiers (WWII, Minalin, Pampanga, Philippines)

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Video shows the operation of an Ericofon

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AT&T push button telephone made by Western Electric model 2500 DMG black 1980

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A candlestick phone

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Modern sound-powered emergency telephone

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A mobile phone, also called a cell phone

Digital telephones and voice over IP


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An IP desktop telephone attached to a computer network, with touch-tone dialing

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Fixed telephone lines per 100 inhabitants 1997–2007

The invention of the transistor in 1947 dramatically changed the technology used in telephone systems and in the long-distance transmission networks. With the development of electronic switching systems in the 1960s, telephony gradually evolved towards digital telephony which improved the capacity, quality, and cost of the network.

The development of digital data communications method, such as the protocols used for the Internet, it became possible to digitize voice and transmit it as real-time data across computer networks, giving rise to the field of Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, also known as voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a term that reflects the methodology memorably. VoIP has proven to be a disruptive technology that is rapidly replacing traditional telephone network infrastructure.

As of January 2005, up to 10% of telephone subscribers in Japan and South Korea have switched to this digital telephone service. A January 2005 Newsweek article suggested that Internet telephony may be “the next big thing.” As of 2006 many VoIP companies offer service to consumers and businesses.

From a customer perspective, IP telephony uses a high-bandwidth Internet connection and specialized customer premises equipment to transmit telephone calls via the Internet, or any modern private data network. The customer equipment may be an analog telephone adapter (ATA) which interfaces a conventional analog telephone to the IP networking equipment, or it may be an IP Phone that has the networking and interface technology built into the desk-top set and provides the traditional, familiar parts of a telephone, the handset, the dial or keypad, and a ringer in a package that usually resembles a standard telephone set.

In addition, many computer software vendors and telephony operators provide softphone application software that emulates a telephone by use of an attached microphone and audio headset, or loud speaker.

Despite the new features and conveniences of IP telephones, some may have notable disadvantages compared to traditional telephones. Unless the IP telephone’s components are backed up with an uninterruptible power supply or other emergency power source, the phone ceases to function during a power outage as can occur during an emergency or disaster when the phone is most needed. Traditional phones connected to the older PSTN network do not experience that problem since they are powered by the telephone company’s battery supply, which will continue to function even if there is a prolonged power outage. Another problem in Internet-based services is the lack of a fixed physical location, impacting the provisioning of emergency services such as police, fire or ambulance, should someone call for them. Unless the registered user updates the IP phone’s physical address location after moving to a new residence, emergency services can be, and have been, dispatched to the wrong location.

Symbols

Graphic symbols used to designate telephone service or phone-related information in print, signage, and other media include ℡ (U+2121), ☎ (U+260E), ☏ (U+260F), ✆ (U+2706), and ⌕ (U+2315).

Use

In 2002, only 10% of the world’s population used cell phones and by 2005 that percentage had risen to 46%.  By the end of 2009, there were a total of nearly 6 billion mobile and fixed-line telephone subscribers worldwide. This included 1.26 billion fixed-line subscribers and 4.6 billion mobile subscribers.

Patents


  • “US 174,465”. pdfpiw.uspto.gov.—Telegraphy (Bell’s first telephone patent)—Alexander Graham Bell
  • US 186,787—Electric Telegraphy (permanent magnet receiver)—Alexander Graham Bell
  • US 474,230—Speaking Telegraph (graphite transmitter)—Thomas Edison
  • US 203,016—Speaking Telephone (carbon button transmitter)—Thomas Edison
  • US 222,390—Carbon Telephone (carbon granules transmitter)—Thomas Edison
  • US 485,311—Telephone (solid back carbon transmitter)—Anthony C. White (Bell engineer) This design was used until 1925 and installed phones were used until the 1940s.
  • US 3,449,750—Duplex Radio Communication and Signalling Appartus—G. H. Sweigert
  • US 3,663,762—Cellular Mobile Communication System—Amos Edward Joel (Bell Labs)
  • US 3,906,166—Radio Telephone System (DynaTAC cell phone)—Martin Cooper et al. (Motorola)

Alexander Graham Bell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) was a Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer, and innovator who is credited with patenting the first practical telephone and founding the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1885.

Bell’s father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech and both his mother and wife were deaf, profoundly influencing Bell’s life’s work. His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876. Bell considered his invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.

Many other inventions marked Bell’s later life, including groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils, and aeronautics. Although Bell was not one of the 33 founders of the National Geographic Society, he had a strong influence on the magazine while serving as the second president from January 7, 1898, until 1903.

Early Life


Alexander Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 3, 1847. The family home was at 16 South Charlotte Street, and has a stone inscription marking it as Alexander Graham Bell’s birthplace. He had two brothers: Melville James Bell (1845–70) and Edward Charles Bell (1848–67), both of whom would die of tuberculosis. His father was Professor Alexander Melville Bell, a phonetician, and his mother was Eliza Grace (née Symonds). Born as just “Alexander Bell”, at age 10, he made a plea to his father to have a middle name like his two brothers. For his 11th birthday, his father acquiesced and allowed him to adopt the name “Graham”, chosen out of respect for Alexander Graham, a Canadian being treated by his father who had become a family friend. To close relatives and friends he remained “Aleck”.

First Invention

As a child, young Bell displayed a natural curiosity about his world, resulting in gathering botanical specimens as well as experimenting even at an early age. His best friend was Ben Herdman, a neighbour whose family operated a flour mill, the scene of many forays. Young Bell asked what needed to be done at the mill. He was told wheat had to be dehusked through a laborious process and at the age of 12, Bell built a homemade device that combined rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes, creating a simple dehusking machine that was put into operation and used steadily for a number of years. In return, Ben’s father John Herdman gave both boys the run of a small workshop in which to “invent”.

From his early years, Bell showed a sensitive nature and a talent for art, poetry, and music that was encouraged by his mother. With no formal training, he mastered the piano and became the family’s pianist. Despite being normally quiet and introspective, he revelled in mimicry and “voice tricks” akin to ventriloquism that continually entertained family guests during their occasional visits. Bell was also deeply affected by his mother’s gradual deafness (she began to lose her hearing when he was 12), and learned a manual finger language so he could sit at her side and tap out silently the conversations swirling around the family parlour. He also developed a technique of speaking in clear, modulated tones directly into his mother’s forehead wherein she would hear him with reasonable clarity. Bell’s preoccupation with his mother’s deafness led him to study acoustics.

His family was long associated with the teaching of elocution: his grandfather, Alexander Bell, in London, his uncle in Dublin, and his father, in Edinburgh, were all elocutionists. His father published a variety of works on the subject, several of which are still well known, especially his The Standard Elocutionist (1860), which appeared in Edinburgh in 1868. The Standard Elocutionist appeared in 168 British editions and sold over a quarter of a million copies in the United States alone. In this treatise, his father explains his methods of how to instruct deaf-mutes (as they were then known) to articulate words and read other people’s lip movements to decipher meaning. Bell’s father taught him and his brothers not only to write Visible Speech but to identify any symbol and its accompanying sound. Bell became so proficient that he became a part of his father’s public demonstrations and astounded audiences with his abilities. He could decipher Visible Speech representing virtually every language, including Latin, Scottish Gaelic, and even Sanskrit, accurately reciting written tracts without any prior knowledge of their pronunciation.

Education

As a young child, Bell, like his brothers, received his early schooling at home from his father. At an early age, he was enrolled at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, which he left at the age of 15, having completed only the first four forms. His school record was undistinguished, marked by absenteeism and lacklustre grades. His main interest remained in the sciences, especially biology while he treated other school subjects with indifference, to the dismay of his demanding father. Upon leaving school, Bell travelled to London to live with his grandfather, Alexander Bell. During the year he spent with his grandfather, a love of learning was born, with long hours spent in serious discussion and study. The elder Bell took great efforts to have his young pupil learn to speak clearly and with conviction, the attributes that his pupil would need to become a teacher himself. At the age of 16, Bell secured a position as a “pupil-teacher” of elocution and music, in Weston House Academy at Elgin, Moray, Scotland. Although he was enrolled as a student in Latin and Greek, he instructed classes himself in return for board and £10 per session. The following year, he attended the University of Edinburgh; joining his older brother Melville who had enrolled there the previous year. In 1868, not long before he departed for Canada with his family, Bell completed his matriculation exams and was accepted for admission to University College London.

First Experiments with Sound

His father encouraged Bell’s interest in speech and, in 1863, took his sons to see a unique automaton developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone based on the earlier work of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen. The rudimentary “mechanical man” simulated a human voice. Bell was fascinated by the machine and after he obtained a copy of von Kempelen’s book, published in German, and had laboriously translated it, he and his older brother Melville built their own automaton head. Their father, highly interested in their project, offered to pay for any supplies and spurred the boys on with the enticement of a “big prize” if they were successful. While his brother constructed the throat and larynx, Bell tackled the more difficult task of recreating a realistic skull. His efforts resulted in a remarkably lifelike head that could “speak”, albeit only a few words. The boys would carefully adjust the “lips” and when a bellows forced air through the windpipe, a very recognizable “Mama” ensued, to the delight of neighbours who came to see the Bell invention.

Intrigued by the results of the automaton, Bell continued to experiment with a live subject, the family’s Skye Terrier, “Trouve”. After he taught it to growl continuously, Bell would reach into its mouth and manipulate the dog’s lips and vocal cords to produce a crude-sounding “Ow ah oo ga ma ma”. With little convincing, visitors believed his dog could articulate “How are you, grandma?” Indicative of his playful nature, his experiments convinced onlookers that they saw a “talking dog”. These initial forays into experimentation with sound led Bell to undertake his first serious work on the transmission of sound, using tuning forks to explore resonance.

At age 19, Bell wrote a report on his work and sent it to philologist Alexander Ellis, a colleague of his father (who would later be portrayed as Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion). Ellis immediately wrote back indicating that the experiments were similar to existing work in Germany, and also lent Bell a copy of Hermann von Helmholtz’s work, The Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music.

Dismayed to find that groundbreaking work had already been undertaken by Helmholtz who had conveyed vowel sounds by means of a similar tuning fork “contraption”, Bell pored over the German scientist’s book. Working from his own erroneous mistranslation of a French edition, Bell fortuitously then made a deduction that would be the underpinning of all his future work on transmitting sound, reporting: “Without knowing much about the subject, it seemed to me that if vowel sounds could be produced by electrical means, so could consonants, so could articulate speech.” He also later remarked: “I thought that Helmholtz had done it … and that my failure was due only to my ignorance of electricity. It was a valuable blunder … If I had been able to read German in those days, I might never have commenced my experiments!”

Family Tragedy

In 1865, when the Bell family moved to London, Bell returned to Weston House as an assistant master and, in his spare hours, continued experiments on sound using a minimum of laboratory equipment. Bell concentrated on experimenting with electricity to convey sound and later installed a telegraph wire from his room in Somerset College to that of a friend. Throughout late 1867, his health faltered mainly through exhaustion. His younger brother, Edward “Ted,” was similarly bed-ridden, suffering from tuberculosis. While Bell recovered (by then referring to himself in correspondence as “A. G. Bell”) and served the next year as an instructor at Somerset College, Bath, England, his brother’s condition deteriorated. Edward would never recover. Upon his brother’s death, Bell returned home in 1867. His older brother Melville had married and moved out. With aspirations to obtain a degree at University College London, Bell considered his next years as preparation for the degree examinations, devoting his spare time at his family’s residence to studying.

Helping his father in Visible Speech demonstrations and lectures brought Bell to Susanna E. Hull’s private school for the deaf in South Kensington, London. His first two pupils were deaf-mute girls who made remarkable progress under his tutelage. While his older brother seemed to achieve success on many fronts including opening his own elocution school, applying for a patent on an invention, and starting a family, Bell continued as a teacher. However, in May 1870, Melville died from complications due to tuberculosis, causing a family crisis. His father had also suffered a debilitating illness earlier in life and had been restored to health by a convalescence in Newfoundland. Bell’s parents embarked upon a long-planned move when they realized that their remaining son was also sickly. Acting decisively, Alexander Melville Bell asked Bell to arrange for the sale of all the family property, conclude all of his brother’s affairs (Bell took over his last student, curing a pronounced lisp), and join his father and mother in setting out for the “New World”. Reluctantly, Bell also had to conclude a relationship with Marie Eccleston, who, as he had surmised, was not prepared to leave England with him.

Canada


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Melville House, the Bells’ first home in North America, now a National Historic Site of Canada

In 1870, aged 23, Bell, together with Bell’s brother’s widow, Caroline Margaret Ottaway, and his parents travelled on the SS Nestorian to Canada. After landing at Quebec City, the Bells transferred to another steamer to Montreal and then boarded a train to Paris, Ontario, to stay with the Reverend Thomas Henderson, a family friend. After a brief stay with the Hendersons, the Bell family purchased a farm of 10.5 acres (42,000 m2) at Tutelo Heights (now called Tutela Heights), near Brantford, Ontario. The property consisted of an orchard, large farmhouse, stable, pigsty, hen-house, and a carriage house, which bordered the Grand River.

At the homestead, Bell set up his own workshop in the converted carriage house near to what he called his “dreaming place”, a large hollow nestled in trees at the back of the property above the river. Despite his frail condition upon arriving in Canada, Bell found the climate and environs to his liking, and rapidly improved. He continued his interest in the study of the human voice and when he discovered the Six Nations Reserve across the river at Onondaga, he learned the Mohawk language and translated its unwritten vocabulary into Visible Speech symbols. For his work, Bell was awarded the title of Honorary Chief and participated in a ceremony where he donned a Mohawk headdress and danced traditional dances.

After setting up his workshop, Bell continued experiments based on Helmholtz’s work with electricity and sound. He also modified a melodeon (a type of pump organ) so that it could transmit its music electrically over a distance. Once the family was settled in, both Bell and his father made plans to establish a teaching practice and in 1871, he accompanied his father to Montreal, where Melville was offered a position to teach his System of Visible Speech.

Work with the deaf


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Bell, top right, providing pedagogical instruction to teachers at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes, 1871. Throughout his life, he referred to himself as “a teacher of the deaf”.

Bell’s father was invited by Sarah Fuller, principal of the Boston School for Deaf Mutes (which continues today as the public Horace Mann School for the Deaf), in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, to introduce the Visible Speech System by providing training for Fuller’s instructors, but he declined the post in favour of his son. Travelling to Boston in April 1871, Bell proved successful in training the school’s instructors. He was subsequently asked to repeat the programme at the American Asylum for Deaf-mutes in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Returning home to Brantford after six months abroad, Bell continued his experiments with his “harmonic telegraph”. The basic concept behind his device was that messages could be sent through a single wire if each message was transmitted at a different pitch, but work on both the transmitter and receiver was needed.

Unsure of his future, he first contemplated returning to London to complete his studies, but decided to return to Boston as a teacher. His father helped him set up his private practice by contacting Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the president of the Clarke School for the Deaf for a recommendation. Teaching his father’s system, in October 1872, Alexander Bell opened his “School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech” in Boston, which attracted a large number of deaf pupils, with his first class numbering 30 students. While he was working as a private tutor, one of his pupils was Helen Keller, who came to him as a young child unable to see, hear, or speak. She was later to say that Bell dedicated his life to the penetration of that “inhuman silence which separates and estranges”. In 1893, Keller performed the sod-breaking ceremony for the construction of Bell’s new Volta Bureau, dedicated to “the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf”.

Several influential people of the time, including Bell, viewed deafness as something that should be eradicated, and also believed that with resources and effort, they could teach the deaf to speak and avoid the use of sign language, thus enabling their integration within the wider society from which many were often being excluded. Owing to his efforts to suppress the teaching of sign language, Bell is often viewed negatively by those embracing Deaf culture.

Continuing Experimentation


In the following year, Bell became professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory. During this period, he alternated between Boston and Brantford, spending summers in his Canadian home. At Boston University, Bell was “swept up” by the excitement engendered by the many scientists and inventors residing in the city. He continued his research in sound and endeavored to find a way to transmit musical notes and articulate speech, but although absorbed by his experiments, he found it difficult to devote enough time to experimentation. While days and evenings were occupied by his teaching and private classes, Bell began to stay awake late into the night, running experiment after experiment in rented facilities at his boarding house. Keeping “night owl” hours, he worried that his work would be discovered and took great pains to lock up his notebooks and laboratory equipment. Bell had a specially made table where he could place his notes and equipment inside a locking cover. Worse still, his health deteriorated as he suffered severe headaches. Returning to Boston in fall 1873, Bell made a fateful decision to concentrate on his experiments in sound.

Deciding to give up his lucrative private Boston practice, Bell retained only two students, six-year-old “Georgie” Sanders, deaf from birth, and 15-year-old Mabel Hubbard. Each pupil would play an important role in the next developments. George’s father, Thomas Sanders, a wealthy businessman, offered Bell a place to stay in nearby Salem with Georgie’s grandmother, complete with a room to “experiment”. Although the offer was made by George’s mother and followed the year-long arrangement in 1872 where her son and his nurse had moved to quarters next to Bell’s boarding house, it was clear that Mr. Sanders was backing the proposal. The arrangement was for teacher and student to continue their work together, with free room and board thrown in. Mabel was a bright, attractive girl who was ten years Bell’s junior but became the object of his affection. Having lost her hearing after a near-fatal bout of scarlet fever close to her fifth birthday, she had learned to read lips but her father, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Bell’s benefactor and personal friend, wanted her to work directly with her teacher.

Telephone


By 1874, Bell’s initial work on the harmonic telegraph had entered a formative stage, with progress made both at his new Boston “laboratory” (a rented facility) and at his family home in Canada a big success. While working that summer in Brantford, Bell experimented with a “phonautograph”, a pen-like machine that could draw shapes of sound waves on smoked glass by tracing their vibrations. Bell thought it might be possible to generate undulating electrical currents that corresponded to sound waves. Bell also thought that multiple metal reeds tuned to different frequencies like a harp would be able to convert the undulating currents back into sound. But he had no working model to demonstrate the feasibility of these ideas.

In 1874, telegraph message traffic was rapidly expanding and in the words of Western Union President William Orton, had become “the nervous system of commerce”. Orton had contracted with inventors Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray to find a way to send multiple telegraph messages on each telegraph line to avoid the great cost of constructing new lines. When Bell mentioned to Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders that he was working on a method of sending multiple tones on a telegraph wire using a multi-reed device, the two wealthy patrons began to financially support Bell’s experiments. Patent matters would be handled by Hubbard’s patent attorney, Anthony Pollok.

In March 1875, Bell and Pollok visited the scientist Joseph Henry, who was then director of the Smithsonian Institution, and asked Henry’s advice on the electrical multi-reed apparatus that Bell hoped would transmit the human voice by telegraph. Henry replied that Bell had “the germ of a great invention”. When Bell said that he did not have the necessary knowledge, Henry replied, “Get it!” That declaration greatly encouraged Bell to keep trying, even though he did not have the equipment needed to continue his experiments, nor the ability to create a working model of his ideas. However, a chance meeting in 1874 between Bell and Thomas A. Watson, an experienced electrical designer and mechanic at the electrical machine shop of Charles Williams, changed all that.

With financial support from Sanders and Hubbard, Bell hired Thomas Watson as his assistant, and the two of them experimented with acoustic telegraphy. On June 2, 1875, Watson accidentally plucked one of the reeds and Bell, at the receiving end of the wire, heard the overtones of the reed; overtones that would be necessary for transmitting speech. That demonstrated to Bell that only one reed or armature was necessary, not multiple reeds. This led to the “gallows” sound-powered telephone, which could transmit indistinct, voice-like sounds, but not clear speech.

The race to the patent office

In 1875, Bell developed an acoustic telegraph and drew up a patent application for it. Since he had agreed to share U.S. profits with his investors Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, Bell requested that an associate in Ontario, George Brown, attempt to patent it in Britain, instructing his lawyers to apply for a patent in the U.S. only after they received word from Britain (Britain would issue patents only for discoveries not previously patented elsewhere).

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Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent drawing, March 7, 1876

Meanwhile, Elisha Gray was also experimenting with acoustic telegraphy and thought of a way to transmit speech using a water transmitter. On February 14, 1876, Gray filed a caveat with the U.S. Patent Office for a telephone design that used a water transmitter. That same morning, Bell’s lawyer filed Bell’s application with the patent office. There is considerable debate about who arrived first and Gray later challenged the primacy of Bell’s patent. Bell was in Boston on February 14 and did not arrive in Washington until February 26.

Bell’s patent 174,465, was issued to Bell on March 7, 1876, by the U.S. Patent Office. Bell’s patent covered “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically … by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound” Bell returned to Boston the same day and the next day resumed work, drawing in his notebook a diagram similar to that in Gray’s patent caveat.

On March 10, 1876, three days after his patent was issued, Bell succeeded in getting his telephone to work, using a liquid transmitter similar to Gray’s design. Vibration of the diaphragm caused a needle to vibrate in the water, varying the electrical resistance in the circuit. When Bell spoke the sentence “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you” into the liquid transmitter, Watson, listening at the receiving end in an adjoining room, heard the words clearly.

Although Bell was, and still is, accused of stealing the telephone from Gray, Bell used Gray’s water transmitter design only after Bell’s patent had been granted, and only as a proof of concept scientific experiment, to prove to his own satisfaction that intelligible “articulate speech” (Bell’s words) could be electrically transmitted. After March 1876, Bell focused on improving the electromagnetic telephone and never used Gray’s liquid transmitter in public demonstrations or commercial use.

The question of priority for the variable resistance feature of the telephone was raised by the examiner before he approved Bell’s patent application. He told Bell that his claim for the variable resistance feature was also described in Gray’s caveat. Bell pointed to a variable resistance device in Bell’s previous application in which Bell described a cup of mercury, not water. Bell had filed the mercury application at the patent office a year earlier on February 25, 1875, long before Elisha Gray described the water device. In addition, Gray abandoned his caveat, and because he did not contest Bell’s priority, the examiner approved Bell’s patent on March 3, 1876. Gray had reinvented the variable resistance telephone, but Bell was the first to write down the idea and the first to test it in a telephone.

The patent examiner, Zenas Fisk Wilber, later stated in an affidavit that he was an alcoholic who was much in debt to Bell’s lawyer, Marcellus Bailey, with whom he had served in the Civil War. He claimed he showed Gray’s patent caveat to Bailey. Wilber also claimed (after Bell arrived in Washington D.C. from Boston) that he showed Gray’s caveat to Bell and that Bell paid him $100. Bell claimed they discussed the patent only in general terms, although in a letter to Gray, Bell admitted that he learned some of the technical details. Bell denied in an affidavit that he ever gave Wilber any money.

Later developments

Continuing his experiments in Brantford, Bell brought home a working model of his telephone. On August 3, 1876, from the telegraph office in Mount Pleasant five miles (eight km) away from Brantford, Bell sent a tentative telegram indicating that he was ready. With curious onlookers packed into the office as witnesses, faint voices were heard replying. The following night, he amazed guests as well as his family when a message was received at the Bell home from Brantford, four miles (six km) distant, along an improvised wire strung up along telegraph lines and fences, and laid through a tunnel. This time, guests at the household distinctly heard people in Brantford reading and singing. These experiments clearly proved that the telephone could work over long distances.

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Bell at the opening of the long-distance line from New York to Chicago in 1892

Bell and his partners, Hubbard and Sanders, offered to sell the patent outright to Western Union for $100,000. The president of Western Union balked, countering that the telephone was nothing but a toy. Two years later, he told colleagues that if he could get the patent for $25 million he would consider it a bargain. By then, the Bell company no longer wanted to sell the patent. Bell’s investors would become millionaires while he fared well from residuals and at one point had assets of nearly one million dollars.

Bell began a series of public demonstrations and lectures to introduce the new invention to the scientific community as well as the general public. A short time later, his demonstration of an early telephone prototype at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia brought the telephone to international attention. Influential visitors to the exhibition included Emperor Pedro II of Brazil. Later, Bell had the opportunity to demonstrate the invention personally to Sir William Thomson (later, Lord Kelvin), a renowned Scottish scientist, as well as to Queen Victoria, who had requested a private audience at Osborne House, her Isle of Wight home. She called the demonstration “most extraordinary”. The enthusiasm surrounding Bell’s public displays laid the groundwork for universal acceptance of the revolutionary device.

The Bell Telephone Company was created in 1877, and by 1886, more than 150,000 people in the U.S. owned telephones. Bell Company engineers made numerous other improvements to the telephone, which emerged as one of the most successful products ever. In 1879, the Bell company acquired Edison’s patents for the carbon microphone from Western Union. This made the telephone practical for longer distances, and it was no longer necessary to shout to be heard at the receiving telephone.

In January 1915, Bell made the first ceremonial transcontinental telephone call. Calling from the AT&T head office at 15 Dey Street in New York City, Bell was heard by Thomas Watson at 333 Grant Avenue in San Francisco. The New York Times reported:

On October 9, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson talked by telephone to each other over a two-mile wire stretched between Cambridge and Boston. It was the first wire conversation ever held. Yesterday afternoon [on January 25, 1915], the same two men talked by telephone to each other over a 3,400-mile wire between New York and San Francisco. Dr. Bell, the veteran inventor of the telephone, was in New York, and Mr. Watson, his former associate, was on the other side of the continent.

Competitors

As is sometimes common in scientific discoveries, simultaneous developments can occur, as evidenced by a number of inventors who were at work on the telephone. Over a period of 18 years, the Bell Telephone Company faced 587 court challenges to its patents, including five that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, but none was successful in establishing priority over the original Bell patent and the Bell Telephone Company never lost a case that had proceeded to a final trial stage. Bell’s laboratory notes and family letters were the key to establishing a long lineage to his experiments. The Bell company lawyers successfully fought off myriad lawsuits generated initially around the challenges by Elisha Gray and Amos Dolbear. In personal correspondence to Bell, both Gray and Dolbear had acknowledged his prior work, which considerably weakened their later claims.

On January 13, 1887, the U.S. Government moved to annul the patent issued to Bell on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation. After a series of decisions and reversals, the Bell company won a decision in the Supreme Court, though a couple of the original claims from the lower court cases were left undecided. By the time that the trial wound its way through nine years of legal battles, the U.S. prosecuting attorney had died and the two Bell patents (No. 174,465 dated March 7, 1876, and No. 186,787 dated January 30, 1877) were no longer in effect, although the presiding judges agreed to continue the proceedings due to the case’s importance as a precedent. With a change in administration and charges of conflict of interest (on both sides) arising from the original trial, the US Attorney General dropped the lawsuit on November 30, 1897, leaving several issues undecided on the merits.

During a deposition filed for the 1887 trial, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci also claimed to have created the first working model of a telephone in Italy in 1834. In 1886, in the first of three cases in which he was involved, Meucci took the stand as a witness in the hopes of establishing his invention’s priority. Meucci’s evidence in this case was disputed due to a lack of material evidence for his inventions as his working models were purportedly lost at the laboratory of American District Telegraph (ADT) of New York, which was later incorporated as a subsidiary of Western Union in 1901. Meucci’s work, like many other inventors of the period, was based on earlier acoustic principles and despite evidence of earlier experiments, the final case involving Meucci was eventually dropped upon Meucci’s death. However, due to the efforts of Congressman Vito Fossella, the U.S. House of Representatives on June 11, 2002, stated that Meucci’s “work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged”, even though this did not put an end to a still contentious issue. Some modern scholars do not agree with the claims that Bell’s work on the telephone was influenced by Meucci’s inventions.

The value of the Bell patent was acknowledged throughout the world, and patent applications were made in most major countries, but when Bell delayed the German patent application, the electrical firm of Siemens & Halske (S&H) set up a rival manufacturer of Bell telephones under their own patent. The Siemens company produced near-identical copies of the Bell telephone without having to pay royalties. The establishment of the International Bell Telephone Company in Brussels, Belgium in 1880, as well as a series of agreements in other countries eventually consolidated a global telephone operation. The strain put on Bell by his constant appearances in court, necessitated by the legal battles, eventually resulted in his resignation from the company.

Family Life


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Alexander Graham Bell, his wife Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, and their daughters Elsie (left) and Marian ca. 1885

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The Brodhead-Bell mansion, the Bell family residence in Washington, D.C., from 1882 to 1889

On July 11, 1877, a few days after the Bell Telephone Company was established, Bell married Mabel Hubbard (1857–1923) at the Hubbard estate in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His wedding present to his bride was to turn over 1,487 of his 1,497 shares in the newly formed Bell Telephone Company. Shortly thereafter, the newlyweds embarked on a year-long honeymoon in Europe. During that excursion, Bell took a handmade model of his telephone with him, making it a “working holiday”. The courtship had begun years earlier; however, Bell waited until he was more financially secure before marrying. Although the telephone appeared to be an “instant” success, it was not initially a profitable venture and Bell’s main sources of income were from lectures until after 1897. One unusual request exacted by his fiancée was that he use “Alec” rather than the family’s earlier familiar name of “Aleck”. From 1876, he would sign his name “Alec Bell”. They had four children:

Elsie May Bell (1878–1964) who married Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor of National Geographic fame.

Marian Hubbard Bell (1880–1962) who was referred to as “Daisy”. Married David Fairchild.

Two sons who died in infancy (Edward in 1881 and Robert in 1883).

The Bell family home was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until 1880 when Bell’s father-in-law bought a house in Washington, D.C.; in 1882 he bought a home in the same city for Bell’s family, so they could be with him while he attended to the numerous court cases involving patent disputes.

Bell was a British subject throughout his early life in Scotland and later in Canada until 1882 when he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1915, he characterized his status as: “I am not one of those hyphenated Americans who claim allegiance to two countries.” Despite this declaration, Bell has been proudly claimed as a “native son” by all three countries he resided in: the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

By 1885, a new summer retreat was contemplated. That summer, the Bells had a vacation on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, spending time at the small village of Baddeck. Returning in 1886, Bell started building an estate on a point across from Baddeck, overlooking Bras d’Or Lake. By 1889, a large house, christened The Lodge was completed and two years later, a larger complex of buildings, including a new laboratory, were begun that the Bells would name Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic: beautiful mountain) after Bell’s ancestral Scottish highlands. Bell also built the Bell Boatyard on the estate, employing up to 40 people building experimental craft as well as wartime lifeboats and workboats for the Royal Canadian Navy and pleasure craft for the Bell family. He was an enthusiastic boater, and Bell and his family sailed or rowed a long series of vessels on Bras d’Or Lake, ordering additional vessels from the H.W. Embree and Sons boatyard in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. In his final, and some of his most productive years, Bell split his residency between Washington, D.C., where he and his family initially resided for most of the year, and at Beinn Bhreagh where they spent increasing amounts of time.

Until the end of his life, Bell and his family would alternate between the two homes, but Beinn Bhreagh would, over the next 30 years, become more than a summer home as Bell became so absorbed in his experiments that his annual stays lengthened. Both Mabel and Bell became immersed in the Baddeck community and were accepted by the villagers as “their own”. The Bells were still in residence at Beinn Bhreagh when the Halifax Explosion occurred on December 6, 1917. Mabel and Bell mobilized the community to help victims in Halifax.

Further information: Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia

Later Inventions


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Alexander Graham Bell in his later years

Although Alexander Graham Bell is most often associated with the invention of the telephone, his interests were extremely varied. According to one of his biographers, Charlotte Gray, Bell’s work ranged “unfettered across the scientific landscape” and he often went to bed voraciously reading the Encyclopædia Britannica, scouring it for new areas of interest. The range of Bell’s inventive genius is represented only in part by the 18 patents granted in his name alone and the 12 he shared with his collaborators. These included 14 for the telephone and telegraph, four for the photophone, one for the phonograph, five for aerial vehicles, four for “hydroairplanes”, and two for selenium cells. Bell’s inventions spanned a wide range of interests and included a metal jacket to assist in breathing, the audiometer to detect minor hearing problems, a device to locate icebergs, investigations on how to separate salt from seawater, and work on finding alternative fuels.

Bell worked extensively in medical research and invented techniques for teaching speech to the deaf. During his Volta Laboratory period, Bell and his associates considered impressing a magnetic field on a record as a means of reproducing sound. Although the trio briefly experimented with the concept, they could not develop a workable prototype. They abandoned the idea, never realizing they had glimpsed a basic principle which would one day find its application in the tape recorder, the hard disc and floppy disc drive, and other magnetic media.

Bell’s own home used a primitive form of air conditioning, in which fans blew currents of air across great blocks of ice. He also anticipated modern concerns with fuel shortages and industrial pollution. Methane gas, he reasoned, could be produced from the waste of farms and factories. At his Canadian estate in Nova Scotia, he experimented with composting toilets and devices to capture water from the atmosphere. In a magazine interview published shortly before his death, he reflected on the possibility of using solar panels to heat houses.

Photophone

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Photophone receiver, one half of Bell’s wireless optical communication system, ca. 1880

Bell and his assistant Charles Sumner Tainter jointly invented a wireless telephone, named a photophone, which allowed for the transmission of both sounds and normal human conversations on a beam of light. Both men later became full associates in the Volta Laboratory Association.

On June 21, 1880, Bell’s assistant transmitted a wireless voice telephone message a considerable distance, from the roof of the Franklin School in Washington, D.C., to Bell at the window of his laboratory, some 213 metres (700 ft) away, 19 years before the first voice radio transmissions.

Bell believed the photophone’s principles were his life’s “greatest achievement”, telling a reporter shortly before his death that the photophone was “the greatest invention [I have] ever made, greater than the telephone”. The photophone was a precursor to the fiber-optic communication systems which achieved popular worldwide usage in the 1980s. Its master patent was issued in December 1880, many decades before the photophone’s principles came into popular use.

Metal Detector

Bell is also credited with developing one of the early versions of a metal detector in 1881. The device was quickly put together in an attempt to find the bullet in the body of U.S. President James Garfield. According to some accounts, the metal detector worked flawlessly in tests but did not find the assassin’s bullet partly because the metal bed frame on which the President was lying disturbed the instrument, resulting in static. The president’s surgeons, who were skeptical of the device, ignored Bell’s requests to move the president to a bed not fitted with metal springs. Alternatively, although Bell had detected a slight sound on his first test, the bullet may have been lodged too deeply to be detected by the crude apparatus.

Bell’s own detailed account, presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1882, differs in several particulars from most of the many and varied versions now in circulation, by concluding that extraneous metal was not to blame for failure to locate the bullet. Perplexed by the peculiar results he had obtained during an examination of Garfield, Bell “proceeded to the Executive Mansion the next morning … to ascertain from the surgeons whether they were perfectly sure that all metal had been removed from the neighborhood of the bed. It was then recollected that underneath the horse-hair mattress on which the President lay was another mattress composed of steel wires. Upon obtaining a duplicate, the mattress was found to consist of a sort of net of woven steel wires, with large meshes. The extent of the [area that produced a response from the detector] having been so small, as compared with the area of the bed, it seemed reasonable to conclude that the steel mattress had produced no detrimental effect.” In a footnote, Bell adds, “The death of President Garfield and the subsequent post-mortem examination, however, proved that the bullet was at too great a distance from the surface to have affected our apparatus.”

Hydrofoils

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Bell HD-4 on a test run ca. 1919

The March 1906 Scientific American article by American pioneer William E. Meacham explained the basic principle of hydrofoils and hydroplanes. Bell considered the invention of the hydroplane as a very significant achievement. Based on information gained from that article, he began to sketch concepts of what is now called a hydrofoil boat. Bell and assistant Frederick W. “Casey” Baldwin began hydrofoil experimentation in the summer of 1908 as a possible aid to airplane takeoff from water. Baldwin studied the work of the Italian inventor Enrico Forlanini and began testing models. This led him and Bell to the development of practical hydrofoil watercraft.

During his world tour of 1910–11, Bell and Baldwin met with Forlanini in France. They had rides in the Forlanini hydrofoil boat over Lake Maggiore. Baldwin described it as being as smooth as flying. On returning to Baddeck, a number of initial concepts were built as experimental models, including the Dhonnas Beag (Scottish Gaelic for little devil), the first self-propelled Bell-Baldwin hydrofoil. The experimental boats were essentially proof-of-concept prototypes that culminated in the more substantial HD-4, powered by Renault engines. A top speed of 54 miles per hour (87 km/h) was achieved, with the hydrofoil exhibiting rapid acceleration, good stability, and steering, along with the ability to take waves without difficulty. In 1913, Dr. Bell hired Walter Pinaud, a Sydney yacht designer and builder as well as the proprietor of Pinaud’s Yacht Yard in Westmount, Nova Scotia to work on the pontoons of the HD-4. Pinaud soon took over the boatyard at Bell Laboratories on Beinn Bhreagh, Bell’s estate near Baddeck, Nova Scotia. Pinaud’s experience in boat-building enabled him to make useful design changes to the HD-4. After the First World War, work began again on the HD-4. Bell’s report to the U.S. Navy permitted him to obtain two 350 horsepower (260 kilowatts) engines in July 1919. On September 9, 1919, the HD-4 set a world marine speed record of 70.86 miles per hour (114.04 kilometres per hour), a record which stood for ten years.

Aeronautics

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AEA Silver Dart ca. 1909

In 1891, Bell had begun experiments to develop motor-powered heavier-than-air aircraft. The AEA was first formed as Bell shared the vision to fly with his wife, who advised him to seek “young” help as Bell was at the age of 60.

In 1898, Bell experimented with tetrahedral box kites and wings constructed of multiple compound tetrahedral kites covered in maroon silk. The tetrahedral wings were named Cygnet I, II, and III, and were flown both unmanned and manned (Cygnet I crashed during a flight carrying Selfridge) in the period from 1907–1912. Some of Bell’s kites are on display at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site.

Bell was a supporter of aerospace engineering research through the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), officially formed at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, in October 1907 at the suggestion of his wife Mabel and with her financial support after the sale of some of her real estate. The AEA was headed by Bell and the founding members were four young men: American Glenn H. Curtiss, a motorcycle manufacturer at the time and who held the title “world’s fastest man”, having ridden his self-constructed motor bicycle around in the shortest time, and who was later awarded the Scientific American Trophy for the first official one-kilometre flight in the Western hemisphere, and who later became a world-renowned airplane manufacturer; Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, an official observer from the U.S. Federal government and one of the few people in the army who believed that aviation was the future; Frederick W. Baldwin, the first Canadian and first British subject to pilot a public flight in Hammondsport, New York, and J. A .D. McCurdy–Baldwin and McCurdy being new engineering graduates from the University of Toronto.

The AEA’s work progressed to heavier-than-air machines, applying their knowledge of kites to gliders. Moving to Hammondsport, the group then designed and built the Red Wing, framed in bamboo and covered in red silk and powered by a small air-cooled engine. On March 12, 1908, over Keuka Lake, the biplane lifted off on the first public flight in North America. The innovations that were incorporated into this design included a cockpit enclosure and tail rudder (later variations on the original design would add ailerons as a means of control). One of the AEA’s inventions, a practical wingtip form of the aileron, was to become a standard component on all aircraft.  The White Wing and June Bug were to follow and by the end of 1908, over 150 flights without mishap had been accomplished. However, the AEA had depleted its initial reserves and only a $15,000 grant from Mrs. Bell allowed it to continue with experiments. Lt. Selfridge had also become the first person killed in a powered heavier-than-air flight in a crash of the Wright Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia, on September 17, 1908.

Their final aircraft design, the Silver Dart, embodied all of the advancements found in the earlier machines. On February 23, 1909, Bell was present as the Silver Dart flown by J. A. D. McCurdy from the frozen ice of Bras d’Or made the first aircraft flight in Canada. Bell had worried that the flight was too dangerous and had arranged for a doctor to be on hand. With the successful flight, the AEA disbanded and the Silver Dart would revert to Baldwin and McCurdy who began the Canadian Aerodrome Company and would later demonstrate the aircraft to the Canadian Army.

Eugenics


Bell was connected with the eugenics movement in the United States. In his lecture Memoir upon the formation of a deaf variety of the human race presented to the National Academy of Sciences on November 13, 1883, he noted that congenitally deaf parents were more likely to produce deaf children and tentatively suggested that couples where both parties were deaf should not marry. However, it was his hobby of livestock breeding which led to his appointment to biologist David Starr Jordan’s Committee on Eugenics, under the auspices of the American Breeders’ Association. The committee unequivocally extended the principle to humans. From 1912 until 1918, he was the chairman of the board of scientific advisers to the Eugenics Record Office associated with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, and regularly attended meetings. In 1921, he was the honorary president of the Second International Congress of Eugenics held under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Organizations such as these advocated passing laws (with success in some states) that established the compulsory sterilization of people deemed to be, as Bell called them, a “defective variety of the human race”. By the late 1930s, about half the states in the U.S. had eugenics laws, and California’s compulsory sterilization law was used as a model for that of Nazi Germany.

Legacy and Honors


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Bell statue by A. E. Cleeve Horne, similar in style to the Lincoln Memorial, in the front portico of the Bell Telephone Building of Brantford, Ontario, The Telephone City. (Courtesy: Brantford Heritage Inventory, City of Brantford, Ontario, Canada)

Honors and tributes flowed to Bell in increasing numbers as his invention became ubiquitous and his personal fame grew. Bell received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities to the point that the requests almost became burdensome. During his life, he also received dozens of major awards, medals, and other tributes. These included statuary monuments to both him and the new form of communication his telephone created, including the Bell Telephone Memorial erected in his honor in Alexander Graham Bell Gardens in Brantford, Ontario, in 1917.

A large number of Bell’s writings, personal correspondence, notebooks, papers, and other documents reside in both the United States Library of Congress Manuscript Division (as the Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers), and at the Alexander Graham Bell Institute, Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia; major portions of which are available for online viewing.

A number of historic sites and other marks commemorate Bell in North America and Europe, including the first telephone companies in the United States and Canada. Among the major sites are:

  • The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, maintained by Parks Canada, which incorporates the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, close to the Bell estate Beinn Bhreagh
  • The Bell Homestead National Historic Site, includes the Bell family home, “Melville House”, and farm overlooking Brantford, Ontario and the Grand River. It was their first home in North America;
  • Canada’s first telephone company building, the “Henderson Home” of the late 1870s, a predecessor of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada (officially chartered in 1880). In 1969, the building was carefully moved to the historic Bell Homestead National Historic Site in Brantford, Ontario, and was refurbished to become a telephone museum. The Bell Homestead, the Henderson Home telephone museum, and the National Historic Site’s reception centre are all maintained by the Bell Homestead Society;
  • The Alexander Graham Bell Memorial Park, which features a broad neoclassical monument built in 1917 by public subscription. The monument depicts mankind’s ability to span the globe through telecommunications;
  • The Alexander Graham Bell Museum (opened in 1956), part of the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site which was completed in 1978 in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. Many of the museum’s artifacts were donated by Bell’s daughters;

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The Bell Museum, Cape Breton, part of the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

In 1880, Bell received the Volta Prize with a purse of 50,000 francs (approximately US$260,000 in today’s dollars) for the invention of the telephone from the Académie française, representing the French government. Among the luminaries who judged were Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. The Volta Prize was conceived by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801, and named in honor of Alessandro Volta, with Bell receiving the third grand prize in its history. Since Bell was becoming increasingly affluent, he used his prize money to create endowment funds (the ‘Volta Fund’) and institutions in and around the United States capital of Washington, D.C.. These included the prestigious ‘Volta Laboratory Association’ (1880), also known as the Volta Laboratory and as the ‘Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory’, and which eventually led to the Volta Bureau (1887) as a center for studies on deafness which is still in operation in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. The Volta Laboratory became an experimental facility devoted to scientific discovery, and the very next year it improved Edison’s phonograph by substituting wax for tinfoil as the recording medium and incising the recording rather than indenting it, key upgrades that Edison himself later adopted. The laboratory was also the site where he and his associate invented his “proudest achievement”, “the photophone”, the “optical telephone” which presaged fibre optical telecommunications while the Volta Bureau would later evolve into the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (the AG Bell), a leading center for the research and pedagogy of deafness.

In partnership with Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Bell helped establish the publication Science during the early 1880s. In 1898, Bell was elected as the second president of the National Geographic Society, serving until 1903, and was primarily responsible for the extensive use of illustrations, including photography, in the magazine. he also became a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution (1898–1922). The French government conferred on him the decoration of the Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor); the Royal Society of Arts in London awarded him the Albert Medal in 1902; the University of Würzburg, Bavaria, granted him a PhD, and he was awarded the Franklin Institute’s Elliott Cresson Medal in 1912. He was one of the founders of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1884 and served as its president from 1891–92. Bell was later awarded the AIEE’s Edison Medal in 1914 “For meritorious achievement in the invention of the telephone”.

The bel (B) and the smaller decibel (dB) are units of measurement of sound intensity invented by Bell Labs and named after him. Since 1976, the IEEE’s Alexander Graham Bell Medal has been awarded to honor outstanding contributions in the field of telecommunications.

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~ A.G. Bell issue of 1940 ~

In 1936, the US Patent Office declared Bell first on its list of the country’s greatest inventors, leading to the US Post Office issuing a commemorative stamp honoring Bell in 1940 as part of its ‘Famous Americans Series’. The First Day of Issue ceremony was held on October 28 in Boston, Massachusetts, the city where Bell spent considerable time on research and working with the deaf. The Bell stamp became very popular and sold out in little time. The stamp became and remains to this day, the most valuable one of the series.

The 150th anniversary of Bell’s birth in 1997 was marked by a special issue of commemorative £1 banknotes from the Royal Bank of Scotland. The illustrations on the reverse of the note include Bell’s face in profile, his signature, and objects from Bell’s life and career: users of the telephone over the ages; an audio wave signal; a diagram of a telephone receiver; geometric shapes from engineering structures; representations of sign language and the phonetic alphabet; the geese which helped him to understand flight; and the sheep which he studied to understand genetics. Additionally, the Government of Canada honored Bell in 1997 with a C$100 gold coin, in tribute also to the 150th anniversary of his birth, and with a silver dollar coin in 2009 in honor of the 100th anniversary of flight in Canada. That first flight was made by an airplane designed under Dr. Bell’s tutelage, named the Silver Dart. Bell’s image, and also those of his many inventions have graced paper money, coinage, and postal stamps in numerous countries worldwide for many dozens of years.

Alexander Graham Bell was ranked 57th among the 100 Greatest Britons (2002) in an official BBC nationwide poll, and among the Top Ten Greatest Canadians (2004), and the 100 Greatest Americans (2005). In 2006, Bell was also named as one of the 10 greatest Scottish scientists in history after having been listed in the National Library of Scotland’s ‘Scottish Science Hall of Fame’. Bell’s name is still widely known and used as part of the names of dozens of educational institutes, corporate namesakes, street and place names around the world.

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Bell, an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree (LL.D.) at the university in 1906

Honorary degrees

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Alexander Graham Bell, who could not complete the university program of his youth, received at least a dozen honorary degrees from academic institutions, including eight honorary LL.D.s (Doctorate of Laws), two Ph.D.s, a D.Sc., and an M.D.:

  • Gallaudet College (then named National Deaf-Mute College) in Washington, D.C. (Ph.D.) in 1880
  • University of Würzburg in Würzburg, Bavaria (Ph.D.) in 1882
  • Heidelberg University in Heidelberg, Germany (M.D.) in 1886
  • Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (LL.D.) in 1896
  • Illinois College, in Jacksonville, Illinois (LL.D.) in 1896, possibly 1881
  • Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts (LL.D.) in 1901
  • St. Andrew’s University in St Andrews, Scotland (LL.D) in 1902
  • University of Oxford in Oxford, England (D.Sc.) in 1906
  • University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland (LL.D.) in 1906
  • George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (LL.D.) in 1913
  • Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada (LL.D.) in 1908
  • Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire (LL.D.) in 1913, possibly 1914

Innovators awarded in his name


Aegis Graham Bell Award are consistuted to recognise good work by innovators in India. Since 2010 awards are being given to innovators in IT and Telecom sector. Companies like Mahendra Tech, Data Infosys, CDOT, Infosys etc. have been awarded for the same.

Portrayal in film and television


  • The 1939 film The Story of Alexander Graham Bell was based on his life and works.
  • The 1992 film The Sound and the Silence was a TV film.
  • Biography aired an episode Alexander Graham Bell: Voice of Invention on 6 August 1996.

Death


Bell died of complications arising from diabetes on August 2, 1922, at his private estate in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, at age 75. Bell had also been afflicted with pernicious anemia. His last view of the land he had inhabited was by moonlight on his mountain estate at 2:00 a.m. While tending to him after his long illness, Mabel, his wife, whispered, “Don’t leave me.” By way of reply, Bell signed “no…”, lost consciousness, and died shortly after.

On learning of Bell’s death, the Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, cabled Mrs. Bell, saying:

My colleagues in the Government join with me in expressing to you our sense of the world’s loss in the death of your distinguished husband. It will ever be a source of pride to our country that the great invention, with which his name is immortally associated, is a part of its history. On the behalf of the citizens of Canada, may I extend to you an expression of our combined gratitude and sympathy.

Bell’s coffin was constructed of Beinn Bhreagh pine by his laboratory staff, lined with the same red silk fabric used in his tetrahedral kite experiments. To help celebrate his life, his wife asked guests not to wear black (the traditional funeral color) while attending his service, during which soloist Jean MacDonald sang a verse of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem”:

  • Under a wide and starry sky,
  • Dig the grave and let me lie.
  • Glad did I live and gladly die
  • And I laid me down with a will.

Upon the conclusion of Bell’s funeral, “every phone on the continent of North America was silenced in honor of the man who had given to mankind the means for direct communication at a distance”.

Dr. Alexander Graham Bell was buried atop Beinn Bhreagh mountain, on his estate where he had resided increasingly for the last 35 years of his life, overlooking Bras d’Or Lake. He was survived by his wife Mabel, his two daughters, Elsie May and Marian, and nine of his grandchildren.