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Who Really Invented the Telephone

While Alexander Ghaham Bell is credited with being the father of the telephone, with any great invention there exists controversy. Elisa Gray, an inventor working on the telegraph at the same time as Bell, claims to have been the first to invent the device.

The history books tell us that Alexander Graham Bell was the first inventor of the telephone. But, it seems that there is some discrepancy over the matter. In 1870, there was another gentleman by the name of Elisha Gray who had also been working diligently to conclude thirty years of communication through the telegraph. Both men were able to design devices that could transmit speech over the same wire; later known as the telephone. However, Alexander Graham Bell was able to get his patent more quickly, thus, claiming the title of inventor over Elisha Gray. A legal battle was pursued by Gray; however he was unsuccessful in claiming any rights to the telephone.

How did Alexander Graham Bell Pursue His Invention?
Initially, Alexander Graham Bell relied on his skilled understanding of music and the nature of sound to draw his ideas. His goal was to send multiple messages of sound at the same time over the same wire. Put another way, he wanted to overcome the technical limitations of a telegraph, which allows one party to transmit a message, but requires the other to wait until the first is finished before sending their message. Also, the signals were all of the same pitch. Morse was able to move from the limiting communication of “Morse Code” over the telegraph, to his very own “Harmonic Telegraph.” This device was successful as it sent several notes, each having a different pitch, simultaneously over one wire.

In October, 1874, with the success of the “Harmonic Telegraph” under his belt, Bell then went to his father-in-law, Gardiner Green Hubbard, a Boston attorney. At the time, the Western Union Telegraph Company had an unshakable monopoly on the telegraph industry. At the time, if you wanted to send a message to a faraway location and time was a factor, your only available option was to send a telegraph. Western Union made a fortune because of this lack of alternatives. As a result, Hubbard was thrilled with the idea of his son-in-law breaking up the conglomerate, and agreed to back Bell financially in his pursuit for a “Multiple Telegraph” invention.

Thomas Watson, Alexander Graham Bell”s assistant, played an important role in Bell”s success. While the duo worked on the “Multiple Telegraph” project, they also worked on a second device. The goal for this device was to transmit speech electronically, which would allow for the invention of the telephone. Bell decided to pitch his idea to the director of the Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Henry, who thought the idea was a great one. Bell received generous encouragement from Henry to pursue his invention.

Author: Nick DAlleva

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