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Alexander Graham Bell, as a young man Bell, Alexander Graham (1847-1922)

Alexander Graham Bell was born on 3 March 1847. He was born in Scotland, but moved to America as an adult. He is known as the inventor of the telephone.

Bell had a strong imagination and an inquiring mind and created his first invention when he was 15 years old. He made a model of a skull and voice box and with a pair of bellows blew air through this instrument, to produce human-like sounds. The story is that Bell made this instrument cry "ma ma" like a baby, at which a neighbour rushed to look for it, only to discover the sound actually came from Bell’s device.

Bell’s passion for invention and experimentation grew with age. One of his ideas was that of sending sounds along electric telegraph wires. Graham called this the ‘harmonic telegraph’. He wanted to create a way to send telegraph messages along lines as tones, instead of simple electric currents. By this means, if different tones were used for different messages, he believed multiple messages might be sent simultaneously.

Bell mixed in wealthy and powerful circles due to his father’s success in the field of teaching the deaf. One of these people was Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Hubbard was impressed with Bell’s idea of the ‘harmonic telegraph’ and he funded Bell in his aim to create this invention. It was created in April 1875.

At this time Bell met a technician called Thomas Augustus Watson. Bell and Watson took the ‘harmonic telegraph’ a step further and began to think of a way of sending speech down wires. This was the beginning of Bell’s creation of the telephone. Together they were able to send sounds along wires, but it would be later in his life that Bell would discover how to transmit whole speech.

By October 1875 Bell had designed the telephone and by March 1876 it was built. Bell’s telephone finally carried real articulate speech. It is said that Bell called into the latest model "Mr Watson, come here, I want you", and Watson ran down the hall to him, having heard every word from another room.

Once a working model had been made, Bell took his model to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. One of the judges exclaimed: "My God, it talks", and another described it as: "the most marvellous thing I have seen in America".

Following from this success, Bell set up the Bell Telephone Company in July 1877. In 1879, at the age of just 32, Bell stepped down from the board of the Bell Telephone Company a very wealthy and famous man. Bell retired early and married Mabel Hubbard, daughter of Gardiner Greene Hubbard. He continued to invent during his retirement and worked energetically as a philanthropist. He remained happily married and had two daughters.

Alexander Graham Bell died on 2 August 1922, at the age of 75. By the time of his death there were around 14 million telephones in the USA alone. On the day of Bell’s funeral, the USA and Canada paid tribute to him by closing down their telephone systems for a minute’s silence.

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