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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part V - Biographies
Alexander Graham Bell, LL.D. Ph.d., Se.D., M.D.


ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL was born March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the second son of Alexander Melville Bell (born 1819—died 1905), an eminent phonetician and lecturer on elocution and inventor of "Visible Speech" symbols, and Eliza Grace (Symonds) Bell (born 1809— died 1897), a daughter of Dr. Samuel Symonds, surgeon in the British Royal Navy.

Dr. Bell was taught at home by his parents, more especially by his mother, whose musical talent he inherited, and by August Benoit Bertini, a musical authority and composer. He afterwards entered MacLauren's Academy, Edinburgh, and a year later the Royal High. School, and was graduated shortly after his thirteenth birthday. He then went to London and received instruction in elocution and the mechanism of speech from his grandfather, Alexander Bell (born 1790—died 1865), a recognized authority on these sub-. jects. Returning home, he was further trained along the same lines by his father, with a view to following the family profession. He was employed for a year as a teacher at Weston-House Academy, Elgin, Scotland, after which he entered the University of Edinburgh and attended lectures upon Latin under Dr. Sellers, and upon Greek under Professor Blackie. He then returned to Elgin as a teacher of elocution and music and resident master, and remained two years; was instructor in Somersetshire College, Bath, England, for a year; then became assistant to his father, in London, who had removed there and received the appointment of lecturer on elocution in University College. In 1868, he taught several deaf-born children to speak, and from July to December had entire charge of his father's professional affairs, including the giving of lessons and lectures at the different schools, while the father was delivering lectures in America. Early the next year, he was taken into partnership with his father. During 1868 to 1870, he attended courses on anatomy and physiology at University College, joined the college medical society and matriculated, as an under-graduate at the London University.

The death of two of his sons from tuberculosis, and the threatened infection of his remaining son caused the father, in 1870, hurriedly to resign his lectureships and to abandon his practice in London and remove with his family to a country place at Tutelo Heights, near Brantford, Ontario, Canada. He continued his work successfully in Canada and the United States, and the son, Alexander Graham Bell, by living mostly out-of-doors, regained his health; one of his recreations at the time being the teaching of his father’s "Visible Speech" to a neighbouring tribe of Mohawk Indians.

April 1, 1871, Alexander Graham Bell, at the request of the Boston Board of Education, began the instruction of teachers of deaf children in the use of the physiological symbols. His success was immediate and the work extended to Northampton, Mass., Hartford, Conn., and other cities. In 1872, he opened in Boston a normal training school, known as the School of Vocal Physiology for teachers of the deaf, and for instruction in the mechanism of speech, faults of speech, etc. In 1873, he was appointed professor of vocal physiology in the School of Oratory of the Boston University. He remained in Boston until 1877, when he went to Britain and the Continent to lecture on the telephone.

While a young man, in Scotland and England, Alexander Graham Bell had shown an aptitude for invention and had experimented with speaking automatons and the telegraph. Shortly after arriving in Massachusetts, he was again able to take up, first in Salem and later in a little workshop at 109 Court Street, Boston, the work that led eventually to his invention of the telephone. He was a third-generation specialist in the nature of speech, ‘‘a teacher of acoustics and a student of electricity, possibly the only man in his generation who was able to focus a knowledge of both subjects upon the subject of the telephone." The experiments covered a period of five years and Gardiner G. Hubbard and Thomas Sanders helped to pay his expenses. Though for many months he had been certain of the underlying principle, it was not until June, 1875, that he succeeded in passing the first complete sound over a wire, and not until nearly forty weeks afterward, March 10, 1876, that he was able to talk complete words and sentences. His patent is dated March 3, 1876— "the most valuable single patent ever issued."

Then came the hurried trip to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, where in the presence of the Emperor of Brazil, Sir William Thomson, afterward Lord Kelvin, Professor Henry, and other savants, the value of the Bell speaking-telephone was made known to the world.

The long commercial and legal battles that followed in sustaining the legality of the patents also brought many hardships; but in these he and his little band of loyal suppoters were sustained by the strong men that had rallied around him, and did not demand the same sacrifice, determination, dogged perseverance and devotion to an ideal, which make the life of Alexander Graham Bell such a wonderful lesson to all.

Before he was seventeen years of age, Dr. Bell devised a method for removing the husks from wheat. His more important inventions are: the harmonic multiple telegraph (1874) ; the fundamental method that underlies the electric transmission of speech in any form in any part of the world (summer of 1874) ; the magneto-electric speaking-telephone (1876) ; the photo-phone, for transmitting speech and other sounds to a distance by means of a beam of light (1880) ; an induction balance with magneto-electric telephone for painlessly locating bullets or other metallic masses lodged in the human body (1881) ; the telephone to determine the position and depth of metallic masses in the human body (1881) ; joint invention, with C. A. Bell and Sumner Taintor of the graphophone-phonograph and flat disc records for recording and reproducing speech, music and other sounds, "the commercial origin of the sound-recording art" (1884-1886) ; tetrahedral kites and kite structures (1903); joint inventor in a number of improvements designed to promote aerial locomotion in connection with the Aerial Experiment Association (1903-1908) ; and the spectrophone for determining the range of audibility of different substances in the spectrum (1881).

Dr. Bell has been the recipient of many honours, and is a member and has held important offices in many learned societies in the United States and abroad. Among the honorary degrees conferred upon him are: LL.D., Illinois College (1881), Harvard (1896), Amherst (1901), St. Andrew’s University (1902), Edinburgh University (1906), Queen’s University, Canada (1908), George Washington University (1913), Dartmouth (1914) ; Ph.D., National Deaf-Mute College, now Gallaudet College (1880) ,~ Wurzburg University (1882); D.Sc., Oxford University (1906); and M.D., Heidelburg Germany), on the 500th anniversary of that University in 1886. He was awarded by the government of France, in 1880, the Volta Prize of 50,000 francs, for the electrical transmission of speech. He was also decorated and created an officer of the Legion of Honour of France (1881). Among the medals he has received are the following: Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia—gold medal for speaking-telephone, gold medal for Visible Speech (1876) ; Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society—the James Watt silver medal for the telephone (1877) ; Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association— gold medal for the telephone, gold medal for Visible Speech (1878) ; Society of Arts, London—Royal Albert silver medal, for his paper on the telephone (1878) ; Republique Francaise Exposition Universelle Internationale, Paris— gold medal for the telephone, and a silver medal (1878) ; Society of Arts, London—Royal Albert silver medal for his paper on the photophone (1881); the Karl Koenig von Wuerttenberg gold medal, Dem Verdienste; Society of Arts, London—Royal Albert gold medal, for his invention of the telephone (1902); John Fritz gold medal (1907); Franklin Institute of Philadelphia— Elliott Cresson gold medal for the electrical transmission of speech (1912) David Edward Hughes gold medal, and a silver medal (1913) ; American Institute of Electrical Engineers—Thomas Alva Edison gold medal (1914).

In 1887, Dr. Bell founded and endowed the Volta Bureau for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge Relating to the Deaf, Washington, D. C. In 1900, he assisted in the formation of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, and gave $25,000 to endow the association, and later gave large additional sums. As special agent of the Bureau of the Census he determined the scope of that part of the Twelfth Census relating to the deaf of the United States living on June 1, 1900, initiated the inquiry, specified the tabulations to be made from the data secured, conducted the correspondence and prepared the text of the special report of 200 pages that is valued highly by all who are investigating any phase of deafness. He was appointed by Congress a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution in 1898, and has been regularly reappointed since. In January, 1904, he brought the remains of James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian Institution, from Genoa, Italy, to New York, where they were received with national honours and conveyed to Washington.

Dr. Bell married, July, 1877, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, daughter of Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Their summer home is "Beinn Breagh," near Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada; their city residence, 1331 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D. C.


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