RISMEDIA, March 7, 2007-Have you ever left your cell phone home for a day accidentally? Did you feel as though something was missing throughout the day? Well, imagine your day-to-day life without the simple device we take for granted-the telephone. Without it, we would never have even sen the invention of the cordless phone or even cell phone, let alone text messaging, taking pictures, or wearing Bluetooth. Today, we recognize the accomplishments and teamwork of Alexander Graham Bell, when on this day in history, he was granted a patent for an invention he calls the telephone (patent # 174,464).
The invention of the telephone is a confusing morass of claims and counterclaims, further worsened by the huge mass of lawsuits which hoped to resolve the patent claims of individuals. There is no one "inventor of the telephone," though Alexander Graham Bell is often credited as such. The modern telephone is the result of work done by many people, all worthy of recognition of their contributions to the field. Bell was merely the first to patent the telephone, an "apparatus for transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically." Here's a little background on the road to creating the telephone.
In 1874, telegraph message traffic was rapidly expanding and had become "the nervous system" of commerce in the words of Western Union president William Orton. 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, parents of two of Bell's students, that he (Bell) was working on a method of sending multiple tones on a telegraph wire using a multi-reed device, Hubbard and Sanders began to financially support Bell's experiments.
Bell was able to hire an assistant Thomas A. Watson who was an experienced electrical designer and mechanic. Bell and Watson experimented with acoustic telegraphy in 1874 and 1875. 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. This led to the "gallows" sound-powered telephone which on July 1 was able to transmit indistinct voice-like sounds, but not clear speech.
Meanwhile, Elisha Gray was also experimenting with acoustic telegraphy and thought of a way to transmit speech using a water transmitter. On Monday February 14, 1876, Elisha Gray filed a caveat with the U.S. patent office for a telephone design that used a water transmitter. Two hours earlier, Bell's lawyer filed an application with the patent office for the telephone. There is a debate about who arrived first.
On February 14, 1876, Bell was in Boston. Hubbard, the lawyer who was paying for the costs of Bell's patents, told his patent lawyer Anthony Pollok to file Bell's application in the U.S. Patent Office. This was done without Bell's knowledge. This patent 174,465 was issued to Bell on March 7, 1876 by the U.S. Patent Office which 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."
Three days after his patent issued, Bell experimented with a water transmitter, using an acid-water mixture. Vibration of the diaphragm caused a needle to vibrate in the water which varied the electrical resistance in the circuit. When Bell spoke the famous sentence "Mr. Watson-Come here-I want to see you" into the liquid transmitter, Watson, listening at the receiving end, heard the words clearly. The story about the spilled battery acid is a story that Watson told many years later and may have happened on a different day.
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'd consider it a bargain. By then the Bell Company no longer wanted to sell the patent.
In 1879 the Bell Company acquired Edison's patents for the carbon microphone from Western Union. This made the telephone practical for long distances, unlike Bell's voice-powered transmitter that required users to shout into it to hear at the receiving telephone, even at short distances.
The Bell company lawyers successfully fought off several lawsuits. On January 13, 1887 the Government of the United States moved to annul the patent issued to Alexander Graham Bell on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation. The prosecuting attorney was the Hon. George M. Stearns under the direction of the Solicitor General George A. Jenks. The Bell Company won that case.
The Bell Telephone Company was created in 1877 and by 1886 over 150,000 people in the U.S. owned telephones. Bell and his investors became millionaires. Bell Company engineers made numerous other improvements to the telephone which developed into one of the most successful products.