Alexander Graham Bell


Alexander Graham Bell : biography

March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922

Family life

On July 11, 1877, a few days after the Bell Telephone Company was established, Bell married Mabel Hubbard (1857–1923) at the Hubbard estate in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His wedding present to his bride was to turn over 1,487 of his 1,497 shares in the newly formed Bell Telephone Company.Eber 1982, p. 44. Shortly thereafter, the newlyweds embarked on a year-long honeymoon in Europe. During that excursion, Alec took a handmade model of his telephone with him, making it a "working holiday". The courtship had begun years earlier; however, Alexander waited until he was more financially secure before marrying. Although the telephone appeared to be an "instant" success, it was not initially a profitable venture and Bell’s main sources of income were from lectures until after 1897.Dunn 1990, p. 28. One unusual request exacted by his fiancée was that he use "Alec" rather than the family’s earlier familiar name of "Aleck". From 1876, he would sign his name "Alec Bell".Mackay 1997, p. 120. They had four children: Elsie May Bell (1878–1964) who married Gilbert Grosvenor of National Geographic fame, Marian Hubbard Bell (1880–1962) who was referred to as "Daisy", and two sons who died in infancy (Edward in 1881 and Robert in 1883). The Bell family home was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until 1880 when Bell’s father-in-law bought a house in Washington, D.C., and later in 1882 bought a home in the same city for Bell’s family, so that they could be with him while he attended to the numerous court cases involving patent disputes.Gray 2006, pp. 202–205.

Bell was a British subject throughout his early life in Scotland and later in Canada until 1882, when he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1915, he characterized his status as: "I am not one of those hyphenated Americans who claim allegiance to two countries."Bruce 1990, p. 90. Despite this declaration, Bell has been proudly claimed as a "native son" by all three countries he resided in: the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.Bruce 1990, pp. 471–472.

By 1885, a new summer retreat was contemplated. That summer, the Bells had a vacation on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, spending time at the small village of Baddeck.Bethune 2009, p. 2. Returning in 1886, Bell started building an estate on a point across from Baddeck, overlooking Bras d’Or Lake.Bethune 2009, p. 92. By 1889, a large house, christened The Lodge was completed and two years later, a larger complex of buildings, including a new laboratory, were begun that the Bells would name Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic: beautiful mountain) after Alec’s ancestral Scottish highlands.Tulloch 2006, pp. 25–27. Bell would spend his final, and some of his most productive, years in residence in both Washington, D.C., where he and his family initially resided for most of the year, and at Beinn Bhreagh.MacLeod 1999, p. 22.

Until the end of his life, Bell and his family would alternate between the two homes, but Beinn Bhreagh would, over the next 30 years, become more than a summer home as Bell became so absorbed in his experiments that his annual stays lengthened. Both Mabel and Alec became immersed in the Baddeck community and were accepted by the villagers as "their own". The Bells were still in residence at Beinn Bhreagh when the Halifax Explosion occurred on December 6, 1917. Mabel and Alec mobilized the community to help victims in Halifax.Tulloch 2006, p. 42.

Later inventions

Although Alexander Graham Bell is most often associated with the invention of the telephone, his interests were extremely varied. According to one of his biographers, Charlotte Gray, Bell’s work ranged "unfettered across the scientific landscape" and he often went to bed voraciously reading the Encyclopædia Britannica, scouring it for new areas of interest.Gray 2006, p. 219. The range of Bell’s inventive genius is represented only in part by the 18 patents granted in his name alone and the 12 he shared with his collaborators. These included 14 for the telephone and telegraph, four for the photophone, one for the phonograph, five for aerial vehicles, four for "hydroairplanes" and two for selenium cells. Bell’s inventions spanned a wide range of interests and included a metal jacket to assist in breathing, the audiometer to detect minor hearing problems, a device to locate icebergs, investigations on how to separate salt from seawater, and work on finding alternative fuels.