Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Love Affair Leads to the Telephone

Alexander Melville Bell was born in Edinburgh in 1819. He was a popular teacher of elocution, as was his father, and each year his “readings” were the most popular in the city. He wrote many articles about elocution from a scientific standpoint. He invented a method of removing impediments in speech and was the first to show that words might be framed and thoughts conveyed in the absence of sound. He married a lady who was hearing impaired. His brilliant son would later do the same.

Late in life, Mr. Bell moved with his family to Canada and became an instructor in elocution at Queen’s University, Kingston. His passion was working with “deaf-mutes” and how to break down the barriers of their isolation. In spite of his accomplishments, he would remain unknown but for the success of his son, Alexander Graham Bell.

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 3, 1847, and came with his father to Canada but later moved to Boston where he became a professor of vocal physiology at Boston University. Like his father and his grandfather, he took a great interest in the education of people who were hearing impaired. “It was this that led to romance and the fortune of his life - the invention of the telephone and his marriage.”

Gardiner Greene Hubbard, a lawyer, lived near Cambridge, MA. He had four charming daughters but the youngest fell to scarlet fever when she was five years old and it left her totally deaf. He did everything possible for his daughter. Mabel was sent to the best institutions in Europe but to no avail. In the process she was taught how to read lips, but nothing could be done to restore her hearing. She was finally placed in the classes being taught by Alexander Graham Bell.

In his book, “The Scots in America,” published in 1896, Peter Ross, L.L.D., makes the following statement: “It was while endeavoring to contrive some electrical method by which his finance could regain her lost sense that Mr. Bell, who was always of an inventive turn of mind, discovered the secret of the transmitter of the telephone.” Alexander and Mabel finally married and had four children but two sons died in infancy. One daughter, Elsie May Bell married Gilbert Grosvenor of National Geographic fame. Marian (Daisy) Bell married the famous botanist, David Fairchild.

Mr. Hubbard was not sure about the telephone and he told Alexander that he could not marry his daughter unless he gave up the idea of a telephone. The young man didn’t and later, as the telephone developed, Mr. Hubbard became more interested and filed for the patent on February 14, 1876. It is said by many to have been the most important patent ever issued. Alexander Graham Bell was now 29 years old and becoming more secure and financially stable, he and Mable were married in 1877.  In 1878, The National Bell Telephone Company was formed. The stock first traded in June 1897 at $11.25 per share. In December it traded at $995. 00 a share.  More than 600 lawsuits were filed to challenge the patent, all the way to the Supreme Court, but they were successful in every case. Today, we know the company as AT&T.

On October 19, 1892, Mayor Washburne of Chicago spoke to Hugh Grant, the mayor of New York City, by telephone. There were 60 people present in Chicago and 150 in the company’s office on Cortland Street in New York. The “Star-spangled Banner” was played in both cities and from New York came the song “Annie Laurie.” The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that “the test was a perfect success, and the two great cities of the New World have added a new link to their interlaced ties.”

The newspaper also reported that the line was 950 miles in length and that the poles were of cedar and chestnut, thirty feet in length and averaged about forty-five per miles for a total of 42,750. The wire was No. 8 cooper wire and weighted 435 pounds per mile. The cost of a five minute call was set at $9.00.

On August 2, 1922, Alexander Graham Bell died and was buried at Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia. A year later, his wife died and they are buried together in Nova Scotia, their summer home.

Wayne Rethford, President
Scottish American History Club

HISTORY TOUR - March 31. The charter bus will leave the Scottish Home at 9:30 a.m. for the Auditorium Theater. We will be given a tour of the Theater, its past, present and future. It should be a very interesting tour of a Chicago landmark. Somewhere along the way, we will have a box lunch and then visit Mount Hope cemetery and drive by "Comely Bank," home of Paul Harris. Reservations are now being taken. Cost is $22.50 per person. Payment and reservations can be made on the website. Or you can call, send me an email or you can also register by calling Kristin at 708-447-5092.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why Is There a Horseshoe in Our Museum? The Story of Henry Burden.

Henry Burden was born near Dunblaine, Scotland, April 20, 1791. His father took care of sheep but he sent his son to a school of engineering in Edinburgh. After graduation, he returned to his father’s farm and made a number of agricultural implements, many of them operated by a water-wheel.  In 1819, he emigrated to American with letters of introduction to General Stephen Van Rensselaer and John C. Calhoun, an Ulster-Scot.

In America, he continued the practice of making tools and machines which were exhibited at fairs to farmers. In 1820 he invented the first cultivator patented in America. In 1822, he went to Troy, New York and took charge of an “iron and nail factory.” He invented a machine for making railroad spikes. It was patented May 26, 1825 and five years later, invented a machine to make horseshoe nails. In 1835, he invented a machine for making horseshoes with additional improvements in 1845. His new machine in 1857 for making horseshoes was considered his greatest invention.

At the start of the Civil War, the North had approximately 3.4 million horses. The South had 1.7 million. The total number of horses killed in the war is estimated at more than 1 million. It is reported that, in the beginning of the war, more horses were killed than men; and at Gettysburg some 1,500 horses died. At the Henry Burden Iron Works the capacity for horseshoes during the war was 60 a minute, or 51,000,000 annually. During the war, the Iron Works was taken over by the government with Henry Burden as the manager.

Henry Burden was also interested in steam navigation. His plans for the construction of a “long vessel” were adopted in the building of the Hendrick Hudson. The ship was a “schooner-rigged screw steamer” which I think means it combined the use of wind and a steam engine. Maybe like our hybrid cars of today? It was captured by Union forces while trying to run the blockade during the Civil War. She was then converted to a gun ship and used to stop blockade runners along the coast of Florida. The SS Hendrick Hudson was lost near Havana, Cuba on November 13, 1867.

Henry Burden died in Troy, New York, on January 18, 1871. He was succeeded in business by his sons. James Abercrombie Burden who attended Yale college became a celebrated inventor like his father.  He invented a machine that could take one piece of iron, and in one heat, make it into horseshoes with nail holes punched at the rate of 70 per minute. We have one horseshoe in the Scottish American Museum in honor of the Burden family. The horseshoe belonged to “Sugar” who lived on the “Rockin’R” ranch in Oklahoma.

The Burden family belonged to the Presbyterian church and in honor of their mother built a stone church along the Hudson river at Troy. Inside the church a plaque read: “Woodside Memorial Church, dedicated to the service of the Triune God, has been erected to the memory of Helen Burden by her husband Henry Burden, in accordance with her long cherished and earnest desire.” I don’t believe the church is still active.

Henry Burden is a member of the Scottish American Hall of Fame.

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus

History Tour - March 31, 2012
April History Club meeting is cancelled.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


On Sunday some of you received an email stating that I was in London, had been robbed and needed one thousand dollars.  I was not in London as many of you know and thus had not been robbed.  My private email account had been hacked by someone.  The only thing I could do was changed my password and write this note.  Many of you responded with emails and telephone calls and I appreciate having  many friends who care about my welfare. While you are reading this let me cover a few more items.

HISTORY TOUR: Scheduled for March 31st.  The bus will leave the Scottish Home promptly at 9:30 a.m.  Our first stop will be the Auditorium Theater in Chicago where we will be given a tour of this historic building.  Many Scottish events have been held here and it continues to be a vibrant, busy theater.  The cost is $22.50 per person.  Please call Kristen at 708-447-5092  to make reservations or go directly to the ISAS store to reserve your place and pay. is the History Club web site.  In 2011, the number of people who visited this site, according to Google Analytics, was 16,717.  They viewed 29, 736 pages or almost 2 pages per visit.  Most people viewed the Name List, one would assume looking for descendants or doing research.  The Name List was built by Elaine Moore during the writing of the “Scots of Chicago.”

Most of the “hits” came from the United States (11,817) but others literally came from around the world.  From the UK - 1,712; Canada - 883; Australia - 534; India - 149; France - 100 and Brazil - 82.

On March 3, 2012, I had the privilege of conducting a memorial service for Bernita Burns Raus.  She was 101 years old and had lived at the Scottish Home for 13 years.  There are lots of words to describe Bernita.  She was happy, friendly, helpful, concerned, interested and involved.  Rather than resist her circumstances she became part of the fabric of the Home.  Her family became involved as well.  The two daughters were very faithful to their Mother and set an example for all families.

During the service we heard comments about Bernita from family members and friends.  She brought joy to a lot of people.  I retired as the Administrator of the Scottish Home on December 31, 2003 after 17 years.  Most  of the residents I have known are now gone, so I believe this was my last memorial service at the Scottish Home.  It was a nice way to end those enjoyable years.


Wayne Rethford