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.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your post, Wayne. It's funny to walk around Edinburgh and see the "birth place of" plaques for so many famous people. Alexander's is in South Charlotte Street :-)