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07 Feb 2019

Did You Know the Telephone was Invented on Valentine’s Day? Part One

I recently found out the telephone was officially invented on Valentine’s Day in 1876. That’s when the patent was filed; the rest of the story I’ll save for next week’s blog because there’s so much drama around the patent itself. I’m afraid this isn’t a very romantic story but hopefully you’ll find it as interesting as I did.

actor tipping his hat

An actor portray Bell

Like you, I thought Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. He filed a patent on February 14th, 1876, which became successful; however, five years earlier, Antonia Meucci, filed a patent for “telegrafo parlante” or talking telegraph. That was a telephone by any other name.

But Meucci was poor and didn’t speak English very well, so he wasn’t able to renew his patent. Furthermore, some of his original prototypes were “lost”. It’s been suggested, Meucci and Bell worked in the same lab from which those prototypes went missing, although it’s not clear if that’s true.

The scandal!

Elisha Gray, a famous engineer and inventor in his own right, filed a patent for a telephone the same day Bell did. I’m not going to pretend to understand US patent law, but there was some contention around who filed first it seems. Apparently, Bell’s application may also have been incomplete, lacking crucial language and drawings commonly required for patents at the time.

Officially, Bell’s filed his patent before Gray. The problem is the patent clerk was Zenas Fisk Wilber who was Civil War buddies with Bell’s attorney, Marcellus Bailey. The idea is that Bell or Bailey (or both) leveraged this relationship to get their patent filed first. They later called on Wilber again to give them access to Gray’s confidential patent and copy what was lacking into Bell’s patent.

There seem to be lot of bits of evidence if you care to read about them, sworn affidavits made and withdrawn, suspicious dates in notebooks, cutting personal remarks. I suspect the truth of it is lost to time; however, in 2002, the case was presented to the United States Congress who recognised Meucci’s contribution. In his homeland of Italy, Meucci is widely recognised as the true inventor of the telephone!

What’s interesting to me is that until a few days ago, I was absolutely certain that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone; now, I’m not so sure. It’s wise to challenge our facts every now and again.

Best wishes

Adam

Next, I’ll find out Michael Jackson didn’t invent the Moonwalk . . .oh

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