During 1870’s, two well known inventors both independently designed devices that could transmit sound along electrical cables. Those inventors were Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray. Both devices were registered at patent office within hours of each other. There followed a bitter legal battle over invention of telephone, which Bell subsequently won.
The telegraph and telephone are very similar in concept, and it was through Bell’s attempts to improve telegraph that he found success with telephone.
The telegraph had been a highly successful communication system for about 30 years before Bell began experimenting. The main problem with telegraph was that it used Morse code, and was limited to sending and receiving one message at a time. Bell had a good understanding about nature of sound and music. This enabled him to perceive possibility of transmitting more than one message along same wire at one time. Bell’s idea was not new, others before him had envisaged a multiple telegraph. Bell offered his own solution, “Harmonic Telegraph”. This was based on principal that musical notes could be sent simultaneously down same wire, if those notes differed in pitch.
By latter part of 1874 Bell’s experiment had progressed enough for him to inform close family members about possibility of a multiple telegraph. Bell’s future father in law, attorney Gardiner Green Hubbard saw opportunity to break monopoly exerted by Western Union Telegraph Company. He gave Bell financial backing required for him to carry on his work developing multiple telegraph. However Bell failed to mention that he and his accomplice, another brilliant young electrician Thomas Watson, were developing an idea which occurred to him during summer. This idea was to create a device that could transmit human voice electrically.
Bell and Watson continued to work on harmonic telegraph at insistence of Hubbard and a few other financial backers. During March 1875 Bell met with a man called Joseph Henry without knowledge of Hubbard. Joseph Henry was respected director of Smithsonian Institution. He listened closely to Bell’s ideas and offered words of encouragement. Both Bell and Watson were spurred on by Henry’s opinions and continued their work with even greater enthusiasm and determination. By June 1875 they realised their goal of creating a device that could transmit speech electrically would soon be realised. Their experiments had proven different tones would vary strength of an electric current in a wire.
Now all they had to do was build a device with a suitable membrane capable of turning those tones into varying electronic currents and a receiver to reproduce variations and turn them back into audible format at other end. In early June, Bell discovered that while working on his harmonic telegraph, he could hear a sound over wire. It was sound of a twanging clock spring. It was on March 10th 1876 that Bell was to finally realise success and communications potential of his new device. The possibilities of being able to talk down an electrical wire far outweighed those of a modified telegraph system, which was essentially based on just dots and dashes.
According to Bell’s notebook entry for that date, he describes his most successful experiment using his new piece of equipment, telephone. Bell spoke to his assistant Watson, who was in next room, through instrument and said “Mr Watson, come here, I want to speak to you”.
Alexander Graham Bell was born on 3rd March 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His family were leading authorities in elocution and speech correction. He was groomed and educated to follow a career in same speciality. By age of just 29 in 1876 he had invented and patented telephone. His thorough knowledge of sound and acoustics helped immensely during development of his telephone, and gave him edge over others working on similar projects at that time. Bell was an intellectual of quality rarely found since his death. He was a man always striving for success and searching for new ideas to nurture and develop.