na
na
na
New Military Coins from The Royal Mint
ENGRAVED IN HISTORY
New Military Coins from The Royal Mint
ENGRAVED IN HISTORY

Alexander Graham Bell: A Penchant for Invention

Alexander Graham Bell – A Penchant for Invention

As the brains behind the invention of the telephone, it should come as no surprise that Alexander Graham Bell is widely regarded as one of the greatest inventors in modern history. His invention has become a vital part of daily life, taking up residence in an overwhelming majority of homes throughout the Western world for decades. Today, advances in technology have seen the next evolution of the telephone in the form of the smartphone, which takes up similar residency in an equally overwhelming proportion of pockets around the world.

Undeniably one of the most influential technological innovations of the past 200 years, the telephone has allowed friends, families and businesses to stay connected, regardless of the miles that separate their receivers. It is hard to imagine a world without the telephone but to limit Bell’s list of accolades to this one creation would be a serious disservice to the Scotsman.

Growing up with a deaf mother and a father that was a respected authority in the field of elocution, the subject of speech and sound was a common theme in the Bell household. This subject extended to his wider family too, as his uncle David Charles Bell served as a professor of elocution and his grandfather Alexander Bell served as an authority on phonetics and speech disorders.

Naturally, Alexander Graham Bell followed his relatives’ example and began to learn the family business during his teens, which provided a solid foundation for what would follow when the Bell family emigrated to Canada in 1870. Upon settling in North America, Bell began to travel to the city of Boston where he not only became Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory but also eventually opened his own School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech, teaching his father’s system of Visible Speech and changing the lives of many in the process.

During that time, Bell met perhaps his most prominent follower Helen Keller, a young deaf and blind woman who famously became an advocate for people with these impairments and also co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union. It was Bell who introduced Keller to Anne Sullivan – a fellow teacher of the hearing impaired who taught Keller to read, write and speak. Bell continued to correspond with Keller and acted as a mentor to her for the rest of his life; Keller even dedicated her autobiography to Bell, crediting the telephonic pioneer with providing the ‘door through which I should pass from darkness into light’.

Despite his tireless dedication to the field of oracy and helping those afflicted with hearing difficulties, the history books chiefly remember Bell as a prolific inventor. Outside his revolutionary invention of the telephone in 1876, Bell was responsible for a wide range of creations, including some revolutionary inventions in fields you wouldn’t immediately associate him with.

Alexander Graham Bell

Bell was a man of many interests and this is evident through the sheer variety of his inventions. In 1881, just five years after innovating the world of communication, Bell invented the metal detector. Whilst this feat is altogether less famous than his magnum opus, the story and reason behind its invention is arguably altogether more interesting – it was a desperate means to save the life of the then President of the United States.

On 2 July 1881, Charles Guiteau – an evangelist who claimed to be doing God’s work – shot President James Garfield twice from behind in an assassination attempt. While the first bullet had hit Garfield in the right arm, the second pierced his mid-section, breaking two ribs and lodging itself behind the pancreas. With doctors unable to locate the embedded bullet, Alexander Graham Bell stepped up to offer his services.

During his experimentation with the telephone, Bell had stumbled upon a way to detect small pieces of metal and believed the same method could help save the ailing president’s life. Whilst the theory proved sound, the reality was far more complex. During Bell’s swift trialling of his new machine, doctors probed and tried various treatments on Garfield as they were searching for the rogue bullet, many of which were wholly unsanitary and led to serious infections.

By the time the White House summoned Bell with his newfound technology, time was scarce and unable to locate the bullet, the errors ultimately proved fatal for the Commander-in-Chief. Later, proof emerged that Bell’s machine had indeed been in working order but unbeknown to him, the mattress that Garfield had been lying on was composed of steel wires, which made detecting the bullet almost impossible. For decades, military surgeons used Bell’s device to detect bullets in wounded soldiers.

In addition to this landmark invention, Bell was also a keen explorer of aviation and sea craft technology, which ultimately resulted in the development of two breakthrough vehicles. In the early twentieth century, Bell helped the Aerial Experiment Association’s first major aircrafts with the introduction of the Silver Dart – a construction made from steel tubing, tape, wire and wood. The name for this machine is a nod to the silver, rubberised balloon cloth that coated the plane’s wings. In 1909, the Silver Dart successfully achieved the first aircraft flight in Canadian history.

Similarly, Bell’s foray into nautical vessels also led him to a notable first with the development of the HD-4 hydrofoil (also known as the Hydrodome #4). Designed and built at the Bell Boatyard on Bell’s Beinn Bhreagh estate in Nova Scotia, preparations for the new machine began as the Silver Dart project began to reach its conclusion, once again evidencing Bell’s ceaseless hunger for pushing the boundaries of existing technology. After years of trial and error, including a pause in production due to the outbreak of the First World War, the HD-4 launched in 1919 and broke the world marine speed record at the time with a speed of 70.84mph.

From teaching and telecoms to seacraft and aviation, via metal detection and more in between, creativity and an insatiable hunger for breaking the boundaries of conventional technology defined Alexander Graham Bell’s life. Existing during a golden age of invention that featured a cavalcade of legendary figures with the likes of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell remains a standout name during this period. His incredible achievements in multiple fields prove that he was so much more than an audio visionary and truly had a penchant for invention that rivalled the very best.

Alexander Graham Bell

Honouring an Audio Visionary

Be Inspired

BEHIND THE DESIGN WITH HENRY GRAY

Find out more
BEHIND THE DESIGN WITH HENRY GRAY

WIN AN ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL UK £2 COIN

Find out more
WIN AN ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL UK £2 COIN
Feefo logo