Alexander Graham Bell


Alexander Graham Bell : biography

March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922

The AEA’s work progressed to heavier-than-air machines, applying their knowledge of kites to gliders. Moving to Hammondsport, the group then designed and built the Red Wing, framed in bamboo and covered in red silk and powered by a small air-cooled engine.Phillips 1977, p. 95. On March 12, 1908, over Keuka Lake, the biplane lifted off on the first public flight in North America. The innovations that were incorporated into this design included a cockpit enclosure and tail rudder (later variations on the original design would add ailerons as a means of control). One of the AEA’s inventions, the aileron, which was also created independently by Robert Esnault-Pelterie and several others, was to become a standard component on all airplanes. The White Wing and June Bug were to follow and by the end of 1908, over 150 flights without mishap had been accomplished. However, the AEA had depleted its initial reserves and only a $15,000 grant from Mrs. Bell allowed it to continue with experiments.Phillips 1977, p. 96.

Their final aircraft design, the Silver Dart embodied all of the advancements found in the earlier machines. On February 23, 1909, Bell was present as the Silver Dart flown by J.A.D. McCurdy from the frozen ice of Bras d’Or, made the first aircraft flight in Canada. Bell had worried that the flight was too dangerous and had arranged for a doctor to be on hand. With the successful flight, the AEA disbanded and the Silver Dart would revert to Baldwin and McCurdy who began the Canadian Aerodrome Company and would later demonstrate the aircraft to the Canadian Army.Phillips 1977, pp. 96–97.


In 1870, at age 23, Bell, his brother’s widow, Caroline (Margaret Ottaway),Mackay 1997, p. 50. and his parents travelled on the SS Nestorian to Canada.Petrie 1975, p. 10. After landing at Quebec City, the Bells boarded a train to Montreal and later to Paris, Ontario, to stay with the Reverend Thomas Henderson, a family friend. After a brief stay with the Hendersons, the Bell family purchased a farm of at Tutelo Heights (now called Tutela Heights), near Brantford, Ontario. The property consisted of an orchard, large farm house, stable, pigsty, hen-house and a carriage house, which bordered the Grand River.Mackay 1997, p. 61.

At the homestead, Bell set up his own workshop in the converted carriage house near to what he called his "dreaming place", a large hollow nestled in trees at the back of the property above the river.Groundwater 2005, p. 34. Despite his frail condition upon arriving in Canada, Bell found the climate and environs to his liking, and rapidly improved.Mackay 1997, p. 62. He continued his interest in the study of the human voice and when he discovered the Six Nations Reserve across the river at Onondaga, he learned the Mohawk language and translated its unwritten vocabulary into Visible Speech symbols. For his work, Bell was awarded the title of Honorary Chief and participated in a ceremony where he donned a Mohawk headdress and danced traditional dances.Groundwater 2005, p. 35.

After setting up his workshop, Bell continued experiments based on Helmholtz’s work with electricity and sound.Wing 1980, p. 10. He designed a piano, which, by means of electricity, could transmit its music at a distance. Once the family was settled in, both Bell and his father made plans to establish a teaching practice and in 1871, he accompanied his father to Montreal, where Melville was offered a position to teach his System of Visible Speech.


Bell died of complications arising from diabetes on August 2, 1922, at his private estate, Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, at age 75.Gray 2006, p. 419. Bell had also been afflicted with pernicious anemia.Gray 2006, p. 418. His last view of the land he had inhabited was by moonlight on his mountain estate at 2:00 A.M.Bethune, 2009, p. 119. While tending to her husband after his long illness, Mabel whispered, "Don’t leave me." By way of reply, Bell traced the sign for no—and then he expired. The New York Times, August 3, 1922. Retrieved: March 3, 2009.Bruce 1990, p. 491.