Alexander Graham Bell More Than Just A Telephone
Thea Marshall shares her own AHA! moment when she learned the other life changing inventions of Alexander Graham Bell.
If I ask you who invented the telephone, you wouldn't hesitate. Alexander Graham Bell, of course, and you might even know he had a home on the Northern Neck.
You may not know his research ranged from separating salt from seawater and finding alternative fuels to the invention of the metal detector. More significant, he invented techniques for teaching speech to the deaf.
What makes this last especially interesting requires a jump back in time to Scotland and his grandfather. His name was also Alexander; he had a passion for communications. He was an actor, an orator, his passion, well, his passion led him to, quote, "seek to unleash in others the full potential of the spoken word."
He was especially interested in people who had speaking challenges, like stuttering. As for the middle generation, Alexander Graham Bell's father Melville also had a passion for communication. He became fascinated by speech pathologies and developed many methods to help the deaf learn to speak. He taught at a school for the deaf, fell in love with one of his students, Eliza Grace Simmons. She had a fierce determination to hear and, in spite of her deafness, became a talented pianist and was probably the spark that ignited her son's scientific passion that led to the development of that great jewel of communication, the telephone.
Young Alec was probably a certifiable genius, developing his own techniques for speech recognition when he was just a teenager in Scotland. He traveled with his father to London, attended school there and met with physicists and others working on hearing and speech devices.
A fateful 'aha' moment occurred when Alec read a thesis by a German physicist concluding that vowel sounds could be produced by a combination of electrical tuning forks and resonators, but even a young genius can make mistakes. In Bell's case, a happy mistake.
The thesis was written in German and Alec misread it to say that vowel sounds could be transmitted over a wire. This could be the point where I say, 'the rest is history,' but so much transpired to get to the 'Mr. Watson, come here' moment.
The family moved to Canada, then to America, where Alec taught the deaf at Boston University and, like his father, well, he fell in love with and married one of his students, Mabel Hubbard, who was, like his mother, a deaf-mute. Later came Bell's discovery, fueled by that earlier misread thesis, that a wire vibrated by the voice while partially immersed in a conducting liquid like mercury, could be made to vary its resistance and produce an undulating current, human speech transmitted over a wire. And then, to those famous words sent electrically over a wire telephonically, 'Mr. Watson, come here. I need you.' And yes, clearly, now is the time to say, 'and the rest is history.'
This is Thea Marshall.