Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Telephones

Alexander Graham Bell

a black and white photograph of Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell was one of several inventors involved in the development of the telephone. Despite lending his name to the telephone company that held a monopoly on American telecommunications for much of the twentieth century, Bell lost interest in the telephone after only a few years. (Library of Congress)

Library of Congress

Alexander Graham Bell was one of several inventors involved in the development of the telephone. Bell was born in Scotland and emigrated to the United States in 1871, where he became a teacher for the deaf. At the same time, he joined the large number of inventors who were searching for a method to transmit multiple simultaneous messages over a single telegraph wire. He instead developed a “harmonic telegraph” that used reeds to transmit musical tones, and a new device for transmitting human voice over wire: the telephone.

Despite lending his name to the telephone company that held a monopoly on American telecommunications for much of the twentieth century, Bell lost interest in the telephone after only a few years. By the early 1880s, he had sold most of his shares in the company and no longer served on its advisory board. He instead turned his attention to refining the phonograph and returned to his true passion of enriching the lives of deaf people. Much of his wealth went to establishing the Volta Laboratory, a facility for studying both sound recording and deafness. It merged with the American Association for the Promotion and Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1908 and became the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in 1999.

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