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Brrring, brrring… it’s Alexander Graham Bell day!


Copyright: brat82 / 123RF Stock Photo

Alexander Graham Bell was an inventor who lived from 1847–1922. He invented a lot of things, but is best known for inventing the telephone. Phones are so common today that it’s pretty difficult to imagine what life was like before the phone was invented! So celebrate today by learning more about the man who started it all...

How did Bell invent the telephone?

Bell teaching at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes

Bell taught the Visible Speech System — a system he developed to teach the deaf to speak instead of using sign language — to the teachers at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes in Boston. You can see him seated at the top on the right.

Bell was always interested in speech and hearing since both his mother and his wife were hearing-impaired. He was fascinated by communication, how sounds are made and teaching the deaf to speak, as opposed to communication through gestures or writing. His method was called Visible Speech System. But not everyone agreed with his method of teaching the deaf, instead believing that sign language was a better method for communication. This method — known in North America as ASL — is what is taught to this day. 

a very bad photo of Bell's earliest phone

An early telephone transmitter invented by Bell around 1876 — the first device that could transmit intelligible speech. (Wikimedia)

While working with an assistant named Thomas Watson on a way to send many telegraph messages at one time, the two ended up finding a way to transmit human voices using electricity and wires. Although the first few tries were unsuccessful, it was pretty exciting when they finally managed to send words that could actually be understood! The first words Bell said over the phone? “Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.”

The Canadian connection

Bell's childhood home in Ontario, now a historic site

The Bell Homestead National Historic Site in Brantford Ontario. (Wikimedia/Harryzilber/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Although Bell was born in Scotland, he moved with his parents to Ontario when he was 23. He ended up moving and settling in the United States just a year later, but he bought a summer home in Nova Scotia in 1885, and ended up living there until he died.

a black and white photo of Bell's airplane

The AEA Silver Dart, built under Alexander Graham Bell's tutelage in 1908. (Wikimedia)

In addition to the telephone, Bell was really interested in how things flew. He created the Aerial Experiment Association in Nova Scotia, and in 1909 he flew the first airplane in Canada.

a black and white photo of Bell's hydrofoil

The Bell HD-4 Hydrofoil in 1909. (Wikimedia)

He also created a hydrofoil (that’s a machine that travels across water) that broke the world water-speed record back in 1919, moving at 114 kilometres per hour across Bras d’Or Lake in Nova Scotia.

Fun fact

Unlike his brothers, Alexander wasn’t given a middle name when he was born. So when he turned 11, he asked his dad for a middle name. His grandfather's name — Graham — was picked. What name would you have chosen?

Could Bell see the future?

a drawing of Bell's photophone invention

Bell invented many things, including the Photophone you see in this drawing, which could transmit your voice using a beam of light.

Bell had lots of great ideas including ways to improve his original invention. In fact, he once said that “the day will come when the man at the telephone will be able to see the distant person to whom he is speaking.” Do you think that he was imagining a video call at a computer? Amazing.