Alexander Graham Bell, telephone

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Alexander Graham Bell

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Alexander Graham Bell may be credited with creating the telephone, but ironically he refused to have a telephone in his own study because he thought it was an intrusion on his work as a scientist.

The tale of the discovery and invention of Alexander Graham Bell's telephone and how the subsequent Bell telephone system took off is well told. His phrase to his assistant Thomas Watson at his office in Boston: "Watson, come here! I need you!" is a seminal moment in the telecommunications timeline.

Interestingly, Bell's drive to create the world's first telephone was influenced by his personal life: His mother became deaf when he was 12. This, combined with his own family's known status as experts in teaching elecution, fueled his interest and study in acoustics and working with the deaf.  

Having spent time as a professor of Vocal Physiology at Boston University training teachers how to instruct deaf mutes how to speak, Bell conducted experiments with the Leon Scott phonoautograph to record speech vibrations.

His occupation and these early experiments with sound gave Bell the foundation to work with sound waves and electricity.

Of course, Bell's telephone invention of the telephone wasn't without controversy.

On the same day (Feb. 14, 1876) that Bell was filing his patent, Elisha Gray, another early communications pioneer, filed a patent caveat for a telephone. What raised controversy was that the telephone transmitter Bell, who apparently knew of Gray, used in his telephone was influenced by Gray's design.

In the end, it was Bell who ended up prevailing as the inventor of the telephone. Although Bell used Gray's water transmitter to prove that speech could be electrically transmitted, he instead chose to improve the electromagnetic telephone.

Later, Bell with the help of father-in-law Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who also helped organize a sister company-- the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company--formed the Bell Telephone company as a way to protect his telephone patents. Bell's patents would be challenged in various courts.   

While Bell is best known for the telephone, in later years he developed other innovations including early prototypes of the air conditioner, magnetic media (the precursor to cassette tapes and the floppy disc), and even the metal detector.