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Facial Hair Friday: Can you hear me now?

Alexander Graham Bell's Telephone Patent Drawing, Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, National Archives (ARC Identifier 302052)

Alexander Graham Bell's Telephone Patent Drawing, Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, National Archives (ARC Identifier 302052)

In a break with tradition, today’s Facial Hair doesn’t feature a picture of a beard, but the man whose accomplishments we are featuring did indeed have a luxurious beard. And whether or not whiskers tickle your own chin, you almost certainly have one of his inventions attached to your face at some point during the day.

Forget Steve Jobs and the iPhone. You can thank Alexander Graham Bell that you are not carrying a wireless telegraph around with you.

Bell’s telephone was the child of the telegraph. The telegraph–the creation of bearded inventor Samuel Morse–took electric sounds and converted them into words. While it was useful for sending messages, it required a skilled operator. It was not a device for the homes of regular Americans.

Bell’s telephone allowed sounds to be transmitted–sounds that were heard as words.

“It is possible to connect every man’s house, office or factory with a central station, so as to give him direct communication with his neighbors,” wrote Bell.

March 1876 was a big month for Bell. His 29th birthday was March 3. He was issued the patent above on March 7. Just 3 days later on March 10, he made his now famous request of “Mr. Watson, come here!” over the telephone to his assistant.

This new invention was then exhibited at the  Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Over 8 million people attended, and saw Bell’s telephone on display in Machinery Hall.

Bell’s invention was an enormous success. Bell established The Bell Telephone Company in 1877, and  by 1900 the company had 800,000 phones in America, far more than any competitor. The company had the edge in developing long-distance services, and it monopolized them even after the patent expired.

What would Bell think of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs?

Although he invented the telephone as a means for people to hear each other’s voices, his interest in telegraphy was inspired by his mother, who lost her hearing, and his work with deaf students. Helen Keller even dedicated her autobiography to him.

So while millions of people are now glued to their wireless phones, they can also communicate with each other instantaneously without any sounds at all–I think Bell would have approved.

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Comments

Comment from Tom O’Connor
Time March 4, 2011 at 11:23 am

Bell would probably say, “Watson come here, quick, I need you! How do you use this Facebook thing or Twitter for that matter? And what in the blazes is Bing??? “