Saturday, 24 March 2012 09:56

Alexander Graham Bell: Men of Ideas

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Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) was a Scottish-American inventor who invented the telephone. Bell made other inventions, such as in hydrofoils and aeronautics but his lasting legacy was his invention of the telephone.

Bell began his career teaching the deaf and dumb to talk or use sign language. As a result of health issues he and his family moved from Britain to Canada and he eventually obtained a job at Boston, Massachusetts teaching students with hearing and speaking problems. Some of his students included Helen Keller.

While in Boston, Bell began to tinker with ways to have two people who are not in the presence of one another talk to one another. Many other persons were doing the same thing at the time he was doing so.

The telegraph was already established and the moss was already established as a means of sending messages between long distances thus giving folk the impression that it is possible to communicate verbally over long distances.

Bell experimented with phonautograph, a pen like machine that could draw shapes of sound waves on smoked glass by tracing their vibrations. Bell believed that it might be possible to generate electrical currents that corresponded to sound waves. This and other experiments led Bell to experiment with water transmitters, using an acid-water mixture. Vibration of the diaphragm caused the needle to vibrate in the water which varied the electrical resistance in the circuit.

Bell spoke the now famous sentence into the liquid transmitter: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you”, and Watson listening at a receiving end in another room heard him clearly.

Subsequently, Bell improved the electromagnetic telephone without employing water as transmitter.

By 1877 Bell Telephone Company was formed and shortly thereafter many persons in the USA were connected by telephones.

In 1915 Bell sent the first transcontinental call between New York and San Francisco (sent by him to his friend, Watson).

Alexander Graham Bell made other inventions but he is forever associated with the telephone.

Later in life he got into serious controversy when he got himself involved with the Eugenics movement. Interestingly, he spent his earlier life teaching those born unable to hear or talk and, indeed, was married to such a person but he preached the gospel of not encouraging such persons to live.

Bell said that the “defective variety of the human race” ought not to be encouraged to live. Many states in the USA passed laws discouraging persons capable of producing “the defective variety of the human race” not to have children.

Despite this black mark on his records, Bell remains a great contributor to human technological development.


Lewis Coe. The Telephone and its Several Inventors: A History. (1995)

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176