Apr 18

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Explain stuff: Fact of the day : Mystery :Did Bell really invent the phone ?

Attributing the true inventor or inventors to a specific invention can be tricky business. Often credit goes to the inventor of the most practical or best working invention rather than to the original inventor(s). This happens to be the case of the invention of the telephone!

There is a lot of controversy and intrigue surrounding the invention of the telephone. There have been court cases, books, and articles generated about the subject. Of course, Alexander Graham Bell is the father of the telephone. After all it was his design that was first patented, however, he was not the first inventor to come up with the idea of a telephone.

Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant, began developing the design of a talking telegraph or telephone in 1849. In 1871, he filed a caveat (an announcement of an invention) for his design of a talking telegraph. Due to hardships, Meucci could not renew his caveat. His role in the invention of the telephone was overlooked until the United States House of Representatives passed a Resolution on June 11, 2002, honoring Meucci’s contributions and work

To make matters even more interesting Elisha Gray, a professor at Oberlin College, applied for a caveat of the telephone on the same day Bell applied for his patent of the telephone. In Historical First Patents: The First United States Patent for Many Everyday Things (Scarecrow Press, 1994), Travis Brown, reports that Bell got to the patent office first. The date was February 14, 1876 . He was the fifth entry of that day, while Gray was 39th. Therefore, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Bell with the first patent for a telephone, US Patent Number 174,465 rather than honor Gray’s caveat.

A new book indicates that Alexander Graham Bell stole part of his rival’s invention. It’s one of the facts everyone learns in school – the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. But author Seth Shulman is set to debunk history in his new book, The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret. He claims that Bell plagiarized the phone design of his rival Elisha Gray. That’s a big claim, but on its website, Shulman’s publisher, W W Norton, says that “”Bell furtively — and illegally — copied part of Elisha Gray’s invention in the race to secure what would become the most valuable US patent ever issued. As Bell’s device led to the world’s largest monopoly, he hid his invention’s illicit beginnings.” That monopoly, of course, was AT&T. Shulman not only looked at Bell’s letters, but also his journals, and has concluded that he colluded with a patent examiner to look at Gray’s patent documents, and thanks to a feisty legal team was able to claim credit for filing his patent first.

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1 comment

  1. francois mcinnes

    Mr. Duquet invented a telephone, which had been patented in Canada in 1877. The Duquet telephone, patented February1 , 1878, called for the use of permanent magnets of round or flat steel in the form of a bunch or cluster to be used in the telephone, which at that time consisted simply of what we would call the receiver, the one device being used for both talking and listening. (A person using the telephone in those days moved the receiver alternately from mouth to ear, and when he became excited might find himself talking with his ear and listening with his mouth!)

    Mr. Duquet formed the Quebec & Levis Telephone Company in 1881 but in the next year sold his plant contracts and patents to the Bell.

    So, depending on how you define a phone, the real inventor could be someone else.

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