Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Birth of Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh on the 3rd of March, 1847.

There are two Alexanders whom everyone kens, regardless whereof they come. One was an ancient Macedon king and warrior, given to wearing spotless white tunics and rather fetching gold shin pads, and the other was Scotland's Alexander Graham Bell, who gave the world the telephone, and many other useful things. In their own way, both Alexanders conquered the world. The only difference is that Scotland's Alexander left behind him the more lasting legacy. 

Despite being universally known as the inventor of the first practical telephone, Alexander Graham Bell should be remembered for
far more than that, notwithstanding the wonderful invention that was. Bell was an eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator and although he is rightly famous for his ‘acoustic telegraph’, his inquisitiveness, intellect, inspiration and determination drove him to many more achievements. Perhaps, in retrospect, none of his inventions had more of a social impact than the telephone, but his involvement with the art of communication was profound and began at a very early age, due to his father, grandfather and uncle all being elocutionists.

From his earliest days, wee Eck was always looking for answers and, although every child asks “Why?” wee Alecky must’ve driven his parents to distraction by his incessant curiosity. They might have been exasperated on occasion, but you'd like to think they encouraged his interest. One man who surely did was the father of Alec's best friend, John Herdman, dad of Ben and a neighbour to the Bells. Mr. Herdman owned a flour mill and it became the scene of one of A. G. Bell's earliest inventions. At the age of twelve, Alec Bell built a machine to de-husk John Herdman's wheat. It consisted of  rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes and  was used in the mill for a goodly number of years.

Also from an early age, Alex showed his talent for other aspects of sound engineering. He was a poet and musician, having learned to play the piano, and an amateur ventriloquist. Sadly, Alec's mother suffered from gradually worsening deafness, which process began when he was about twelve. Maybe she deafened herself shouting at him to stop messing about in the mill. In any case, Alexander developed with her a sign language, using his fingers, and used that to converse with her and keep her up to date with the family gossip. Becoming aware of resonance and the propagation of sound, Alexander also cleverly developed the technique of pressing his lips against his mother's forehead and speaking to her in clear, modulated tones. In such a manner was she able to 'hear' his voice and understand what he said.

A. G. Bell's concern for his mother's deafness led him to study acoustics and undoubtedly contributed to his most famous invention. Later on, after he'd gotten as far as the United States, Bell established the Volta Bureau, which later evolved into the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. That Association became a leading centre for the research and pedagogy of deafness. Its work was dedicated to Bells' mum.

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh on the 3rd of March, 1847. As a boy, Alexander received his early schooling at home, from his father, whilst later, for four terms, until he was fifteen, in between inventing stuff, he attended the Royal High School in Edinburgh. After that, Alexander spent a year in London with his grandfather, who encouraged his interest in science and coached him in teaching. Back in Scotland at sixteen, Alexander got a job in Elgin as a pupil-teacher of elocution and music and a year later, he made it to the University of Edinburgh. In 1868, Alexander completed his matriculation exams at Edinburgh and was accepted for admission to the University of London.

However, his sojourn in London was short lived as just two short years later, in 1870, Bell, no longer in short trousers, mind you, emigrated to Canada with his parents and the rest, as they say, is history. Alexander Graham Bell first arrived in the United States of America, aged twenty-four, in 1871, via its neighbour and this son of Scotland didn’t become a naturalized citizen of the United States until 1882. Not many people know that.

Bell’s involvement in teaching in Canada and his continued research into hearing and speech, led him to experiment with hearing devices and that culminated in his being awarded the first US patent for the telephone. That patent – number 174,465 – was granted on the 7th of March, 1876. There has been some controversy over Bell's patent as there were claims that Elisha Gray was first to file an application for a device using a water transmitter. However, on the 25th of February, 1875, a year before Gray’s first application and Bell’s successful patent, Bell had filed an application describing mercury as the liquid in its variable resistance device. If anyone copied anyone, it was Gray in his substituting of water for mercury.

A year later, in 1877, Bell formed the Bell Telephone Company and by 1886, over 150,000 people in the U.S. owned telephones. The telephone thus emerged as one of the most successful products ever and, since then, its function has come to be taken for granted. Strangely enough, Bell came to consider his most famous invention to be an intrusion on his ‘real work’ as a scientist and he went so far as to refuse to have a telephone in his study. That's because it would've interrupted his concentration when its bell rang.

Instead of resting on his laurels, Bell continued to devote himself to his scientific interests and continually tested out new ideas throughout a long and productive life. After the telephone, he engaged in a raft of other activities. Bell got involved in ground breaking work in optical telecommunications (his work on the ‘photophone’ presaged fibre optic communications by half a century), hydrofoils, kites, airplanes, tetrahedral structures, sheep-breeding, artificial respiration, desalinisation and water distillation, and metal detecting.

Alexander Graham Bell died of diabetes on the 2nd of August, 1922, at Beinn Bhreagh in Nova Scotia. Who could argue with him being described as one of the most influential figures in human history. During his funeral, every phone on the continent of North America was silenced in his honour. He was buried atop Beinn Bhreagh Mountain, in Nova Scotia.

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