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March 3, 2023

Saluting An Engineer Who Found His “Calling”

Today is the 175th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Graham Bell: scientist, engineer, and, as inventor of the telephone, the reason you keep getting all those calls about your expiring auto warranty.

Bell’s invention of the telephone was born of his early work as a teacher of the deaf. Bell’s mother and wife were hearing-impaired. It was a visit with her that sparked his idea of “electronic speech.” As a husband, son and teacher of hearing-impaired people, Bell had long had a fascination with how sound is transmitted via the human voice. With Samuel Morse’s telegraph as inspiration, Bell began applying his knowledge of sound and speech to invent what he called his “electrical speech machine.”

In 1874, Bell hired electrical designer and mechanic Thomas Watson as his assistant on his speech machine project. Together, they experimented with acoustic telegraphy until one day, quite by accident, Watson plucked one of the reeds and Bell heard its overtones at the receiving end of the wire. Bell was issued a patent on March 7, 1876 for his “method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically.”

Three days later, Bell uttered the first words ever spoken into a telephone: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.” Bell would write of his successful experiment, “To my delight, he came and declared that he heard and understood what I said.”

Bell’s work on his “speech machine” is a perfect example of the essence of engineering: the application of science to solve problems and serve humanity. Bell saw a sector of society that needed a different way of communicating, and he set about finding a way to help them. That work paved the way for one of history’s most important inventions. It facilitated human connection. Suddenly, the world wasn’t quite so vast – or so far away.

Bell himself once said, “Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do you will be certain to find something you have never seen before.” Our industry dives into the woods. We don’t see problems, we see challenges – and we rise to meet those challenges.  So Happy 175th to Alexander Graham Bell, whose work changed the course of history and brought the world closer together.

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March 3, 2023



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