Alexander Graham Bell

General Physics, Subatomic Particles, Optics, Biophysics, Theoretical Physics

Worked with the deaf, inventor.

Throughout his life Bell was interested in the education of deaf people. Among his most famous students was Helen Keller. His work with hearing and speech led to his invention of a telephone in 1876. Although the first phone conversation took place in the USA, Bell said he developed the idea in 1875 in Brantford, Ontario. In recent years there has been considerable debate that Bell was not the first person to invent the telephone. Many others claimed its invention, including Antonio Meucci and Elisha Gray (both American), plus Johann Reis (German) and Charles Bourseul (French). Indeed many people were experimenting with telegraph and telephone-like devices in the years before Bell successfully created a practical electric phone. But Bell was indisputably the first to obtain a patent for his device. While the United States Congress passed a resolution in 2002 recognizing the achievements of Antonio Meucci and stating that his contributions to the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged, it stopped short of saying that Meucci actually invented the telephone. US Congress resolution.

It is certain that many of Bell's early telephony experiments were conducted in Canada, including the first long distance telephone call, between Brantford and Paris, Ontario, and experiments with microphones. The Bell Telephone Company and other related businesses made Bell a wealthy man, and he was able to pursue a wide range of scientific interests. He spent his winters in the US on business, and summers in Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, on scientific research, which ranged from the genetics of sheep breeding to aviation. His Silver Dart aircraft was the first to fly in Canada, in 1909, and his hydrofoil speed boats held the world record for more than 10 years. Bell died of diabetes in 1922, ironically the same year that Banting discovered insulin.

His grave is located in Canada on top of Beinn Bhreagh mountain overlooking the Bras D'or Lakes in Cape Breton. The wording on his gravestone reads simply, "Teacher - Inventor - Citizen of the U.S.A.". His descendants still return to the family estate in Baddeck every summer, and some are year-round residents. As one of his great grandchildren once quipped "The Bell family is much like the telephone -- conceived in Canada and born in the United States."

In Canada, Bell also worked on animal husbandry, designed an x-ray machine and was an author of children's books. More can be found in the Beinn Bhreagh Recorder and other documentation on the Bell Institute website. Bell was a British Subject during his life in Scotland and Canada. In 1882 he became a Naturalized United States Citizen and most of his family are United States Citizens. However, his final resting place is decidedly Canadian and most of his work was conducted in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada. He is, in many people's opinion, a preeminent Canadian scientist in that much of his work was done in Canada with Canadian assistants and collaborators from around the world. He is a major contributor to Canadian science.

Sources: Ronald F. MacNeil, P.Eng., Executive Director, Alexander Graham Bell Institute at the University College of Cape Breton; Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame; Canadian Encyclopedia 1985

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