Of all Alexander Graham Bell inventions, the most famous and his true claim to fame is the invention of the telephone. Bell, however, was a prolific inventor who came up with several more inventions, many of which in the fields of communication, sound and audio, but also in aeronautics and other fields.
Alexander Graham Bell’s mother and wife were deaf and his grandfather, father and brother had been working in areas associated with speech and hearing. Having grown up with a mother who was deaf but also a talented pianist, has influenced his education and interests greatly. He was first educated at home by his mother and transferred to a private school for a formal education, where he was considered to be an average student but his problem solving skills was already apparent. It was during that time that he decided to take care of his ill grandfather who was a well-known professor of elocution (the study of formal speaking, grammar, tone and pronunciation).
The experience has further encouraged his passion for learning. When he returned home, he helped his father campaign for his works on visible speech for the deaf. These experiences became the inspiration to many of Bell’s inventions.
However, several of his inventions were actually a result of his interest in other fields.
It was in his teen years when Alexander Graham Bell came up with his first invention. He was 12 when he devised a machine that could make husking wheat grains easier and faster. The wheat husker is made of nail brushes, which were attached to a rotating paddle that would then remove the husk from the wheat grain.
It was March 10, 1876 when the first telephone call was made during which the first words heard were, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”
The original incentive to coming up with the creation of the telephone was to improve on the telegraph system so it could allow the sending of multiple messages.
With the basic idea that sound waves could produce varying electric currents that match those sounds, he turned to Joseph Henry, a famous scientist, to ask for advice on how a metal reed could transmit electric currents back to an audible sound wave. It was when he met a professional electric designer named Thomas Watson, who became his assistant, that his idea was realized through the creation of a working model.
The first telephone was like a cone. When you speak through the open end of it, it would make a needle connected to a battery vibrate accordingly. The intensity of the vibration made by the needle produces varying electric currents, which travel to a wire connected to a receiver and reproduces the sound.
Alexander Graham Bell managed to secure a patent for his invention, and eternal fame for the invention of the telephone. However, it is interesting to point out that prior to Graham Bell, concepts similar to that of the telephone were explored and developed. Some would say they were the original inventors of the telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell made improvements on the phonograph that Thomas Edison originally invented, and so the new product is attributed to him. The tin foil cylinder that Thomas Edison used was replaced by a wax-coated cardboard cylinder. This improvement on the phonograph was included in the 18 Alexander Graham Bell inventions that were patented.
The phonograph, also known as record player or gramophone, was made to record and reproduce sounds. The wax-coated cardboard cylinder rotates and when an individual speaks through the opening of a cone, a stylus vibrates according to the intensity of the sound of the voice and etches wavy lines on the rotating cylinder that when traced or played back, reproduces the sound made.
This is a great reminder that inventions do not necessarily need to be completely original and revolutionary. Sometimes making a small change or improvement that significantly changes a product capabilities or improves its performance, are enough of an innovation to make an impact.
Alexander Graham Bell’s mother and wife were both deaf, leading to many of his works being related to hearing and sounds. The continuous desire to help the deaf led to another great invention—the Audiometer. It is a device that helps in evaluating how well a person can hear.
The audiometer works by producing a sound in controlled and varying levels of intensity. The measure of how much an individual reacts to the sound produced is then compared to what an average person can hear. The unit of measure used is “decibel” which was named after Alexander by Bell Labs.
Apart from the invention of the wheat husker, Alexander Graham Bell also worked on other non-communication related projects when he contributed to the invention of a metal detector in 1881.
The invention came to be in a hurried attempt to help a patient in need - A true story of necessity. U.S. President James Garfield was shot and Alexander Graham Bell was called in to help in detecting the location of the bullet in the president’s chest.
Alexander Graham Bell’s crude metal detector also known as the induction balance uses electromagnets to function. It has a loop of wire that produces a magnetic field caused by an electric current running through the wires.