Who Invented the Telephone?
Credit for the invention of the electric telephone is frequently disputed, and new controversies over the issue have arisen from time-to-time. Charles Bourseul, Antonio Meucci, Johann Philipp Reis, Alexander Graham Bell, and Elisha Gray, amongst others, have all been credited with the telephone’s invention.
The early history of the telephone became and still remains a confusing morass of claims and counterclaims, which were not clarified by the huge mass of lawsuits to resolve the patent claims of many individuals and commercial competitors. The Bell and Edison patents, however, were commercially decisive, because they dominated telephone technology and were upheld by court decisions in the United States.
In the 1870’s, two inventors Elisha Gray, and Alexander Graham Bell both independently designed devices that could transmit speech electrically. Both men rushed their respective designs to the patent office within hours of each other. Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone first.
Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell entered into a famous legal battle over the invention of the telephone, which Bell won. The telegraph and telephone are both wire-based electrical systems, and Alexandar Graham Bell’s success with the telephone came as a direct result of his attempts to improve the telegraph.
When Bell began experimenting with electrical signals, the telegraph had been an established means of communication for some thirty years. Although a highly successful system, the telegraph, with its dot-and-dash Morse code was basically limited to receiving and sending one message at a time.
Bell’s extensive knowledge of the nature of sound and his understanding of music enabled him to conjecture the possibility of transmitting multiple messages over the same wire at the same time. Bell’s ‘harmonic telegraph’ was based on the principle that several notes could be sent simultaneously along the same wire if the notes or signals differed in pitch.
By October 1874, Bell informed Boston attorney Gardiner Greene Hubbard, about the possibility of a multiple telegraph. Hubbard, who resented the absolute control then exerted by the Western Union Telegraph Company, instantly saw the potential for breaking such a monopoly, and gave Bell the financial backing he needed.
Bell proceeded with his work on the multiple telegraph, but he did not tell Hubbard that he and Thomas Watson, a young electrician whose services he had enlisted, were also exploring an idea that had occurred to him that summer—of developing a device that would transmit speech electrically.