Alexander Graham Bell

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Bell, Alexander Graham (3 March 1847 - 2 August 1922)

Bell was the inventor of the telephone and devices directed to the needs of the deaf. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Professor Alexander Melville Bell, a philologist and Eliza Grace Symonds Bell

Although he attended Presbyterian and Episcopalian services, in 1902 he wrote his wife that “I am a Unitarian Agnostic.”

In a 1998 biography, Alexander Graham Bell, James Mackay regaled readers with tales about Bell’s inventions. Jean-Louis Forain, who had one of the first telephones in Paris, invited Edgar Degas for dinner and when he jumped to answer the ringing device Degas was amused: “Ah. The telephone. Now I understand—it rings, you jump.” Queen Victoria in England was given two phones made of ivory and trimmed in gold.

Bell answered the phone by saying not “Hello” but “Ahoy!” and was said to have been a night owl, a man who loved solitude. His mother had been next to deaf at the age of thirteen, forced to listen through an ear trumpet. Her son dropped out of school at the age of fifteen but showed his genius by inventing a device which helped the deaf hear. He taught the deaf speech, lip-reading, and anything else that might enhance their lives.

“Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you,” he told an assistant on 10 March 1876 in the first successful telephone call.

Not so well known is that in 1882 he also invented a “vacuum jacket,” today known as the iron lung. He also helped perfect the gramophone, developed a hydrofoil boat, and ordinarily worked from noon until 4 a.m.

Critics object to his view of eugenics, for in an 1883 lecture he proposed, “Those who believe as I do that the production of a defective race of human beings would be a great calamity to the world will examine carefully the causes that lead to the intermarriages of the deaf with the object of applying a remedy.”

Bell died of diabetes. On 4 August 1922 on the day of his funeral in Nova Scotia, all telephone service in the United States was stopped for one minute in his honor at exactly 6:25 p.m.

{CE; The New Yorker, 18 May 1998; U; UU}