Alexander Graham Bell


Alexander Graham Bell : biography

March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922

In January 1915, Bell made the first ceremonial transcontinental telephone call. Calling from the AT&T head office at 15 Dey Street in New York City, Bell was heard by Thomas Watson at 333 Grant Avenue in San Francisco. The New York Times reported:


As is sometimes common in scientific discoveries, simultaneous developments can occur, as evidenced by a number of inventors who were at work on the telephone. Over a period of 18 years, the Bell Telephone Company faced 587 court challenges to its patents, including five that went to the U.S. Supreme Court,Australasian Telephone Collecting Society. ATCS, Moorebank, NSW, Australia. Retrieved from on April 22, 2011. but none was successful in establishing priority over the original Bell patentBlack 1997, p. 19. and the Bell Telephone Company never lost a case that had proceeded to a final trial stage. Bell’s laboratory notes and family letters were the key to establishing a long lineage to his experiments.Groundwater 2005, p. 95. The Bell company lawyers successfully fought off myriad lawsuits generated initially around the challenges by Elisha Gray and Amos Dolbear. In personal correspondence to Bell, both Gray and Dolbear had acknowledged his prior work, which considerably weakened their later claims.Mackay 1997, p. 179.

On January 13, 1887, the US Government moved to annul the patent issued to Bell on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation. After a series of decisions and reversals, the Bell company won a decision in the Supreme Court, though a couple of the original claims from the lower court cases were left undecided. caselaw.lp. Retrieved: July 28, 2010. Retrieved: July 28, 2010. By the time that the trial wound its way through nine years of legal battles, the U.S. prosecuting attorney had died and the two Bell patents (No. 174,465 and dated March 7, 1876 and No. 186,787 dated January 30, 1877) were no longer in effect, although the presiding judges agreed to continue the proceedings due to the case’s importance as a "precedent". With a change in administration and charges of conflict of interest (on both sides) arising from the original trial, the US Attorney General dropped the lawsuit on November 30, 1897 leaving several issues undecided on the merits. Bulletin of Science Technology Society, 22, 2002, pp. 426–442. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.

During a deposition filed for the 1887 trial, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci also claimed to have created the first working model of a telephone in Italy in 1834. In 1886, in the first of three cases in which he was involved, Meucci took the stand as a witness in the hopes of establishing his invention’s priority. Meucci’s evidence in this case was disputed due to a lack of material evidence for his inventions as his working models were purportedly lost at the laboratory of American District Telegraph (ADT) of New York, which was later incorporated as a subsidiary of Western Union in 1901.Catania, Basilio Retrieved: July 8, 2009. website. Retrieved: July 8, 2009. Meucci’s work, like many other inventors of the period, was based on earlier acoustic principles and despite evidence of earlier experiments, the final case involving Meucci was eventually dropped upon Meucci’s death.Bruce 1990, pp. 271–272. However, due to the efforts of Congressman Vito Fossella, the U.S. House of Representatives on June 11, 2002 stated that Meucci’s "work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged", even though this did not put an end to a still contentious issue. Retrieved: July 28, 2010. Retrieved: December 29, 2009. Italian Historical Society. Retrieved: July 28, 2010. Some modern scholars do not agree with the claims that Bell’s work on the telephone was influenced by Meucci’s inventions. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.

The value of the Bell patent was acknowledged throughout the world, and patent applications were made in most major countries, but when Bell had delayed the German patent application, the electrical firm of Siemens & Halske (S&H) managed to set up a rival manufacturer of Bell telephones under their own patent. The Siemens company produced near-identical copies of the Bell telephone without having to pay royalties.Mackay 1997, p. 178. The establishment of the International Bell Telephone Company in Brussels, Belgium in 1880, as well as a series of agreements in other countries eventually consolidated a global telephone operation. The strain put on Bell by his constant appearances in court, necessitated by the legal battles, eventually resulted in his resignation from the company.Parker 1995, p. 23.