Alexander Graham Bell, best known for inventing the telephone and revolutionising communication, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 3, 1847. His grandfather and father were experts on the mechanics of voice and elocution (the skill of clear and expressive speech), and Bell’s mother, Eliza, was an excellent pianist despite being deaf. Thanks to his parents and the environment in which he grew up, Bell became interested in the human voice and helping the deaf communicate.
Young Alexander was first homeschooled by his mother and then he was sent to a prestigious school to continue his education. He was not an outstanding student, but he was very resourceful, and during his teenage years he came up with some small inventions.
When Bell’s two older brothers died of tuberculosis, his parents decided to move to a healthier environment in North America, and the family settled in Canada. Later, they moved to the USA where Alexander continued to study the human voice. He worked with deaf people, teaching them to communicate with the help of a system called ‘visible speech’ that his father had developed in Britain. In 1872, Bell opened a school where deaf people were taught to speak. While teaching, Bell met Mabel Hubbard, a deaf student who later became his wife.
Apart from working with the deaf, Bell was interested in turning electricity into sound and transmitting the human voice over wires. In March 1876, after years of work on the new invention, Bell was granted his telephone patent and made the first phone call. According to a popular story, it was a short message to his assistant, Mr. Watson, consisting of the following words: ‘Mr. Watson, come here – I want to see you.’
One year later, Bell started the Bell Telephone Company, which today is known as AT&T. In 1915, he made the first transcontinental phone call from New York to San Francisco. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to make a phone call when Alexander G. Bell demonstrated his invention to her.
Throughout his life, Bell continued his family’s work with the deaf. He also became president of a little-known U.S. scientific group, called the National Geographic Society and helped make their journal into one of the world’s most popular publications.
Bell died in 1922, in Canada. After his death, the telephone system was shut down for one minute to pay tribute to its inventor.