Alexander Graham Bell, a man who best known for inventing the telephone. Most people dont know he spent the majority of his life teaching and helping the deaf. Educating the hearing impaired is what he wished to be remembered for.
Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother was a painter of miniature portraits and also loved to play the piano even though she was nearly deaf. Alecks mother knew that he had a talent for music and always encouraged him to play (Matthews 12). Alexander Melville Bell, his father, was a Professor of Elocution, Art of public speaking (Bruce 16). Due to the fact that his father was a very knowledgeable man and a professor, Aleck obtained most of his education from his father and soon followed in his footsteps. Aleck had only two siblings, Melville James Bell, Melly, and Edward Charles Bell, Ted (Schuman 127).
Alecks father took a trip over seas in 1868 to see if Americans would take to his new ideas of speech. Alexander Melville Bell was so impressed that he decided to move the entire family. They did not purchase an estate in the United States. However they did buy an estate in Brantford, Ontario, Canada where there were an abundance of Scottish immigrants. Alexander Melville Bell still continued to make trips to Boston to lecture on visible speech (Schuman 39). Alecks father was offered a teaching position at the Boston School for the Deaf. He did not take the job but suggested that Aleck take the position instead. Alexander Graham Bell took the teaching position in April of 1871, and was on his way to the Boston School for the Deaf (Schuman 39).
Alexander Graham Bells, number one passion in life was helping the hearing impaired. Children learn to talk by hearing other people talk, and then they learn to speak by unconscious imitation. Deaf children do not have this option; they cannot imitate anything and therefore have to be taught by other means. Aleck thought that to teach a deaf child to speak consisted of having the child know how to make the sound by using different positions of their mouth. Slowly combining the sounds would make words and again would result in speech.
Aleck tried a numerous number of methods. The method of Visible Speech was one of the ways that Aleck was able to teach his students. The way that Visible Speech worked was that the teacher would pick a student out of the classroom and begin to draw a bisecting side view of that students head. To make sure that the student knew what part of the head the teacher was talking about, the teacher would point to a particular part of the diagram and have the student touch that part of themselves.
When the diagram was up on the black board there were also darkened symbols on certain parts such as the tip of nose, upper and lower lip etc. The next step was to erase all other lines and have the student do the same procedure as before but this time they had to know where all the symbols were. The purpose for learning all of these symbols was so that the teacher would be able to get into more detailed diagrams and actually show the deaf student what part of the throat and mouth to move to pronounce a particular sound (Bell 51-54).
Another way that he was able to teach his students was using the manometric, pressurized, capsule, which enclosed a gas flame. The capsule worked when the vibrations of a voice acted on a membrane that would expand the gas flame and result in a flickering like the teeth of a saw (Mackenzie 66). The flickering would resemble the characteristics of a particular sound. The reason that Bell wanted to use this device was to see if he could discover the shape or form of a vibration that was a characteristic of the elements of English speech (Mackenzie 67). Then he could represent this information on paper for the use of his deaf pupils. With this device he could have a pupil put his mouth on the mouthpiece of the capsule and observe the pattern of the gas flame to tell if the pupil was pronouncing the sound clearly. Leon Scott made an improvement in the manometric capsule; he added a device that recorded the pattern onto a thin sheet of glass. Bell could now make a copy of the pattern and keep one for himself and give one to his student so that they could practice with it until they were able to resemble the same type of pattern (Mackenzie 68).
Aleck taught by day and invented by night. He had some rough sketches on how the telegraph could actually be improved. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was able to lend him a laboratory for him to experiment in. The main reason why he was doing this was he thought that this machine would be able to help him better teach the deaf (Matthews.)
The main man that Aleck worked with was Thomas Watson. The two tried dozens upon dozens of electric current configurations and on top of everything they did not have directions or blueprints to follow. Aleck stated to Watson, if I can get a mechanism which will make a current of electricity vary in its intensity, as the air varies in density when a sound is passing through it, I can telegraph any sound, even the sound of speech (Mackenzie 85.) Bell knew that in order to produce sound to transmitting through a wire he would need more then one transmitter, but having several transmitters in a series would send the current at different rates. When the current was sent at different rates it just blocked the wire up and in return was useless. The two men were skeptical about building the telephone because they were not 100 percent sure that their plans were correct. The other reason why they were skeptical was due to the fact that the cost alone for the prototype would have been astronomical.
In the early months of 1876, Bell and Watson had perfected a design for their telephone. The design that finally worked basically consisted of having transmitters sending currents at different times (Bruce 140-144.) The next step was to apply for a patent at Washington D.C. Aleck applied for the patent himself on February 14, 1876. On March 7, 1876, they were granted U.S. Patent No. 174,465 for improvements in telegraphy (Matthews 61).The night of March 10, 1876, they tested the telephone. Bell and Watson were in two different rooms fifteen feet apart. In Bells room was the transmitter and in Watsons room was the receiver. After all that time Watson heard a crackling sound coming out from the receiver, and he heard the unexpected, Bells voice. This was the first telephone conversation in history.
The first words that were transmitted over the telephone were, Mr. Watson, come here I need you! This was stated because Bell was calling for help from Watson because he had spilt battery acid on himself. Over time this has been accepted as truth, but some, such as historian Tom Hutchison, would disagree. Hutchison would state that he does not think that if were to spill battery acid on themselves they would not have stayed so calm (Schuman 55-56).
After the invention of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell had many other accomplishments that were not as well known. Good examples would be that in 1881 he was awarded the Volta Prize. 1881 he invented the vacuum jacket which saved the lives of many people, eventually the vacuum jacket was improved by other people and today is known as the iron lung (Matthews 61). 1890 Bell founded the American Association for the Promotion of the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf (AAPTSD) (Schuman 115.) 1891-1908 he made flight experiments at Beinn Bhreagh and also established the Aerial Experiment Association. In 1898 he became president on the National Geographic Society. One of his last great accomplishments was that in 1919 he participated in the HD-4 hydrofoil experiments. The watercraft set the world water-speed record at 70.86mph (Matthews 61).
Alexander Graham Bell was a brilliant man and has changed the lives of many people around the world with or with out hearing impairment. His method of Visual Speech was great because it got the student to know how to use the organs in their mouths and be able to talk. To think that the telephone was originally going to be used as a device to help the hearing impaired is surprising because it ended up being used as a devise that people around the would use everyday to commutate. Alexander Graham Bell affected the world more directly by the invention of the telephone, but this could not compare to the gift of speech that he was able to offer to his students.
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Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1973.
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Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1999.
Mackenzie, Catherine. Alexander Graham Bell The Man Who Contracted Space.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1928.
Schuman, Michael A. Alexander Graham Bell Inventor and Teacher.New Jersey:
Enslow Publishers, 1999.