April 3, 2018
Writer: Jordan Davidson
Alexander Graham Bell is best known for his invention of the telephone. However, many of his inventions – even ones that were initially unsuccessful – led to the creation of several of the technologies we use today.
Not all of Bell's inventions were successful initially, but even his failures set the stage for later successes.
In 1881, he helped to develop a device that was meant to find the bullet in the body of the recently-assassinated President James Garfield. Initially, the device was deemed a failure because it wouldn't stop humming while it was being used to examine the President's body. Later, it was discovered that this noise was due to the bedsprings in the President's bed – and thus, the first metal detector was born.
Later in his career he shifted his focus to flight. He experimented with different wing shapes and kite structures, which he felt were cutting-edge innovations. None of his experiments stayed in the air for very long, but in 2013 his "tetrahedral wing" design was replicated at Delft's Technical University. The new tetrahedral wing is called "Solar Bell" and is made of lighter materials – namely, solar cells and carbon fiber – than the original design. Solar Bell is being looked to as a potential platform upon which futuristic cities could float.
Can You Hear Me Now?
While he was pursuing perusing teaching, he was also working on trying to learn how to transmit more than one telegraph message at the same time and over the same wire. During his research he was in an electrical shop in Boston he heard a wire being plucked by his assistant Thomas Watson. Upon hearing the sound, he realized that he could transmit human voices via wire. This research would eventually lead him to invent the telephone.
Many others at the time were also working on trying to do the very same thing. On February 14, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell filed a patent for the idea of the telephone only a few hours before his competitors did. On March 7 he was awarded the patent for his concept and three days later he produced the first intelligible speech when speaking to his assistant.
A few months later he was able to present his ideas to the public, and by August he demonstrated the first long-distance phone call to Paris. Gardiner Hubbard, who led a group of investors, established the Bell Telephone Company to help commercialize the telephone a few years later, with Bell as the company's technical advisor.
Beyond the Telephone
In the early 1880's Bell sold his shares in Bell Telephone Company company and focused his talents elsewhere in inventing and sound recording. In 1880 he was awarded the Volts Prize from the French government for his innovations in technology.