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Alexander Graham Bell


Alexander Graham Bell (Wikipedia)

Queen Victoria uses the telephone for the first time (British Library)

Alexander Graham Bell was a scientist and inventor who built the first working telephone. He was born in Edinburgh, where encouraged by his father, he experimented and built inventions from an early age. He began experiments with sound and the human voice. Bell’s mother was deaf and they were attempting to invent methods to help overcome this.

In 1870 he moved to Canada where he continued work with sound and vocal patterns, notably converting the Mowhawk language into speech symbols enabling a written form to be made.

Bell moved to Boston, Mass. and began work on an acoustic telegraph, a forerunner of the telephone, with Thomas Watson, his assistant. They managed to get a liquid transmitter device to work successfully and patented it in March 1876, controversially beating Elisha Grey, an American inventor, to the patent office. Bell may have used some of Grey’s ideas for the device.

March 10th 1876 Bell famously spoke to his assistant in another room saying “Mr Watson-come here –  I want to see you.”

By August that year, he could speak to someone over five miles away along the wires.

They sold the invention to the Western Union for $100,000 and set up the Bell Company in 1877.

On the 14th January 1878 Bell visited Osborne House and demonstrated his invention to Queen Victoria.

She wrote afterwards: After dinner we went to the Council Room and saw the Telephone. Professor Bell explained the whole process, which is most extraordinary. It had been put in communication with Osborne Cottage, and we talked with Sir Thomas and Mary Biddulph, also heard some singing quite plainly. But it is rather faint, and one must hold the tube close to one’s ear. The man, who was very pompous, kept calling Arthur Lord Connaught! which amused us very much.”

The person singing was called Kate Field who also played Kathleen Mavourneen, an Irish ballad, on the piano and then sang Comin’ thro’ the Rye and The Cuckoo Song. Later on, the Queen listened to calls from Cowes, Southampton and London, from where she heard God Save the Queen played on an organ.

Two telephones were purchased for Osborne House soon after for the price of £25 each.

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