One has to wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would think of today’s smart phones. The thought of his simple telephone would pale in comparison, but would it really. At the time of its invention, the means of communication were limited to the telegraph and Morse Code. It wasn’t until 30 years later that Bell improved on the telegraph and invented the earliest telephone. At the time, it was an amazing invention – beyond peoples’ wildest dreams. You could speak to someone miles away and keep in touch in what seemed an instant. Who knew this would lead to someday having instant communication all over the world – information systems that would feed our brains with unknown knowledge – set up the perfect storm for false news reporting and identity theft. Well, at least the humble beginnings of the telephone were well intentioned.
Alexander grew up in a home with a father who studied sound, speech and elocution. His mother was deaf, but in spite of it, played the piano brilliantly. She instilled a strong work ethic in her son and the desire to help people. His experimentation with the passage of sound waves was inspired by the work his father did, but he wasn’t keen on following in his footsteps. His grandfather had a strong influence on him and encouraged him to work with his dad.
I remember attaching two tin cans with wire and talking from one room to the other and thinking how smart it was. We had to shout at the top of our lungs, but we could be heard in the other room. Alexander’s experience working with the deaf, gave him the motivation to find a tool that would help with that. It wasn’t until nine years after the telephone was invented that a microphone was added to the device so that you didn’t have to holler into it. Thomas Edison was responsible for coming up with that idea.
The phone has gone through some radical changes over the years. There were the party lines – where you could inconspicuously listen in on your neighbors’ conversations. The town gossips loved that. Later phones came with a separate ear phone and speaker device You also had to crank a handle on the side to get it started. From there we went to dial phones – eliminating the need for switchboard operators. Soon dials were replaced with buttons. Cords became a thing of the past and it was then possible to walk around all over, with the device in your hand. Then the first cell phone was introduced. The rest is history.
Alexander was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on this day in 1847. He was a problem solver from a very early age. He had two brothers who died from Tuberculosis. In 1870 the family moved to Brantford, Ontario, where Alexander continued to work with the deaf and study the human voice.
As we look at all the accomplishments that have occurred with telecommunications in just the last 75 years, we see an amazing jump from one extreme to another. Men like Bell were responsible for setting the ball in motion with their innovations. Living through most of those years myself, it amazes me how we advance in such a hurry today.
When Bell died on August 2, 1922, the entire telephone system was shut down for one minute in tribute to his life.
Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself. Alexander Graham Bell
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