Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds, daughter of a surgeon in  the Royal Navy.  His mother, who was a portrait painter and accomplished musician, began to lose her hearing when Graham (a name that was used by his family and close friends) was twelve.  His father had a world wide reputation as a teacher and author of textbooks on correct speech, and as the inventor of "visible speech," a code of symbols which indicated the position and action of the throat, tongue and lips in uttering various sounds.  Melville’s Visible Speech helped to guide the deaf in learning to speak and Graham became an expert in its use for that purpose. 

Graham and his two brothers assisted Melville in public demonstrations in Visible Speech, beginning in 1862.  At the same time he enrolled as a student-teacher at Weston House, a boys’ school near Edinburgh where he taught music and speech in exchange for being a student of other subjects.  A year later he became a full-time teacher at the University of Edinburgh while studying at the University of London. 

In 1866 Bell carried out a series of experiments to determine how vowel sounds are produced.  He combined the notes of electrically driven tuning forks to make vowel sounds which gave him the idea of "telegraphing" speech.  In 1870 his brothers died of tuberculosis and his family moved to Brantford, Ontario, Canada to a healthier climate.  A year later Graham moved to Boston where he opened a school for teachers of the deaf and in 1872 became a professor at Boston University. 

Bell’s interest in electricity continued and he attempted to send several telegraph messages over a single wire at one time.  Lacking the time and skill to make the equipment for these experiments he enlisted the help of Thomas A. Watson from a nearby electrical shop.  The two became fast friends and worked together on the tedious experimentation to produce sounds over the "harmonic telegraph."  It was on June 2, 1875, while Bell was at one end of the line and Watson worked on the reeds of the telegraph in another room that he heard the sound of a plucked reed coming to him over the wire. 

The next day, after much tinkering, the instrument transmitted the sound of Bell’s voice to Watson.  The instrument transmitted recognizable voice sound, not words.  Bell and Watson experimented all summer and in September, 1875, Bell began to write the specifications for his first telephone patent. 

The patent was issued on March 7, 1876.  The telephone carried its first intelligible sentence three days later in the rented top floor of a Boston boarding house at 109 Court Street, Boston.


More About Bell (PBS)  Alexander Graham Bell Chronology 
Bell Family Papers at Library of Congress Short Biography Bell Family Collection
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf Bell Timeline
Bell, The Scottish Inventor Bell's Telephone
Famous Leaders for Young Readers The Bell Story
Facts about AG Bell Inventing the Telephone


Links updated 2/15/08

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