By an odd coincidence, the first message transmitted by telephone, an instrument which has proved such a great boon in emergencies, was a cry for help from its inventor.
At the moment Alexander Graham Bell was ready to test his invention for the first time, he accidentally spilt some acid on his clothes.
So the first words his assistant, waiting in the basement of Bell’s home, heard over the receiver from his employer who was in the attic were: ‘Mr. Watson, come here! I want you!’
Bell, born in Edinburgh in 1847, had been trying to design a machine for communicating with the deaf when he stumbled on the basic principles for a telephone. He found that when an iron diaphragm was vibrated by the human voice, close to a magnet around which was a wire coil, a weak current was created. This could be transmitted along a cable to a corresponding diaphragm.
Although Bell is generally acknowledged as inventor of the telephone in 1876, ten years later the US Supreme Court admitted a prior claim by an Italian, Antonio Meucci, who had perfected a similar device in Havana.
Also, a German, Johann Philipp Reis, made one in 1861.
It is thought that Bell may have been influenced by Reis, but almost certainly developed his telephone without knowledge of Meucci’s experiments.
Bell later went on to invent the gramophone record, the photophone – which was the forerunner of film soundtracks – and the electric eye.
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