Scottish scientist and engineer, Alexander Graham Bell, is awarded the first patent for the telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell grows up in a family that has a preoccupation with elocution and speech: his male relatives all work in this field, while the two most important women in his life – his mother and wife – are both deaf. Bell is profoundly affected by his mother’s difficulties hearing, and seeks ways of mitigating its impact on the family, including developing his own form of primitive sign language. He studies acoustics as a result, before researching and experimenting with hearing devices, which leads him to the invention of the telephone.
Not his only invention, the telephone is, however, Bell’s most famous one. It has changed the course of communications and contributed to globalisation and digitisation by circumventing the issue of physical, geographical boundaries.
The US Patent Office issues patent 174,465 to Bell on March 7 1876, which covers “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sound telegraphically… by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound”.
Contention surrounds the issue of whether Bell, or Elisha Gray, who was working on a similar idea with communication via water transmission, first ‘invented’ the working telecommunications device that became the telephone.
On March 10, Bell spoke to his assistant, Thomas Watson, who was in an adjoining room, through a liquid transmitter version of his telephone. “Mr. Watson - come here, I want to see you,” therefore becoming the first words ever spoken on the telephone.
Bell could never have imagined the impact that the successful transmission of that sentence would have. More than 100 years later, one of the largest companies in the world (by revenue or by market capitalisation) makes the majority of its profits from selling a handheld device which combines the work of Bell and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.