Alexander Graham Bell is a name of great significance in American history today. A skillful inventor and generous philanthropist, he astounded the world with his intuitive ideas that proved to be both innovative and extremely practical in the latter half of the 19th century. Most notable, of course, are Bell’s work in developing the telephone and his venerable life-long endeavor to educate the deaf.
Originally, his only wish was to help deaf people overcome their difficulty in learning verbal communication, and later was pushed into researching the possibility of a device that could transmit the human voice lectronically over a distance. After building his first working telephone model, Bell’s fame spread quickly as people in America and around the world began to realize the awesome potential this wonderfully fascinating new device held in store for society (Brinkley 481).
His telephone an instant success and already a burgeoning industry, A. G. Bell decided to turn his attention back to assisting the deaf and following other creative ideas including the development of a metal detector, an electric probe which was used by many surgeons before the X ray was invented, a device having the same purpose as today’s iron lung, nd also a method of locating icebergs by detecting echoes from them.
With his many inventions (especially the insanely popular and universally applied telephone), his efforts to educate the deaf, and the founding and financing of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf (now called the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf), Alexander Graham Bell has become a very important historical figure indeed (Berstein 9). Perhaps a key factor in Bell’s successful life was his invigorating background. His family and his education definitely had a deep influence on his career.
Born in Scotland, his mother was a painter and an accomplished musician, his father a teacher of the deaf and speech textbook writer. His father invented “Visible Speech,” a code of symbols which indicated the position of the throat, tongue, and lips in making sounds. These symbols helped guide the deaf in learning to speak. His grandfather, also named Alexander Bell, had similarly specialized in good speech. He acted for several years and later gave dramatic readings from Shakespeare. Young Alexander Graham Bell had a great talent for music. He played by ear from infancy, and received a musical education. Later,
Bell and his two brothers assisted their father in public demonstrations in Visible Speech, beginning in 1862. He also enrolled as a student-teacher at Weston House, a boys’ school, where he taught music and speech in exchange for instructions in other subjects. Bell became a full-time teacher after studying for a year at the University of Edinburgh. He also studied at the University of London and used Visible Speech to teach a class of deaf children. Growing up in a healthy environment where creativity and new ideas were embraced with vigor was to certainly contribute to Alexander Graham Bell’s genius later on in life Winefield 12).
Young Bell carried out in 1866 a series of experiments to determine how vowel sounds are produced. A book, describing experiments in combing the notes of electrically driven tuning forks to make vowel sounds, gave him the idea of “telegraphing” speech, though he had no idea about doing it. However, this was the start of his interest in electricity. Bell took charge of his father’s work while the latter lectured in America in 1968. Bell became his father’s partner in London in the following year. He specialized in the anatomy of the vocal apparatus at University College in London at the same time.
In 1872, Alexander opened his own school for teachers of the deaf in Boston. The following year, he became a professor at Boston University. Bell won the friendship of Gardiner Green Hubbard, a Boston attorney at this time. Hubbard’s daughter, Mabel, had been left deaf by scarlet fever when she was 4. Hubbard had Bell tutor her and in no time they were in love, although Mabel’s first memories of Alexander were not all positive. I both did not, and did like him. He was so interesting that I was forced to like to listen to him, but he himself I disliked.
He dressed carelessly and in a orrible, shiny [hat]expensive but fashionableand which made his jet-black hair look shiny. Altogether I did not think him exactly a gentleman (Winefield 17). Miss Hubbard became Bell’s wife in 1877. Another friendship developed when Thomas Sanders, a successful merchant, brought his son to Bell as a private pupil. Both Hubbard and Sanders learned in 1873 of electrical experiments Bell carried on at night and offered to pay the cost. Bell did not attempt to transmit speech electrically at this time. He tried instead to send several telegraph messages over a single wire at the same time.