Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), the Scottish-born American scientist best known as the inventor of the telephone, worked at a school for the deaf while attempting to invent a machine that would transmit sound by electricity. Bell was granted the first official patent for his telephone in March 1876, though he would later face years of legal challenges to his claim that he was its sole inventor, resulting in one of history’s longest patent battles. Bell continued his scientific work for the rest of his life, and used his success and wealth to establish various research centers nationwide.
Bell owes his immortality to his having been the first to design and patent a practical device for transmitting the human voice by means of an electric current. But Bell always described himself simply as a “teacher of the deaf,” and his contributions in that field were of the first order.
Bell, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, was educated there and at the University of London. He also studied under his grandfather, Alexander Bell, a noted speech teacher. He taught elocution, assisted his father, also a speech teacher and noted phonetician, and taught at a school for the deaf in England, using his father’s methods. In 1870, Bell immigrated with his parents to Canada.
Two years later he established a school for the deaf in Boston, Massachusetts, and the following year became a professor in speech and vocal physiology at Boston University. While teaching he experimented with a means of transmitting several telegraph messages simultaneously over a single wire and also with various devices to help the deaf learn to speak, including a means of graphically recording sound waves.