More Than Just the Telephone: The Impact of Alexander Graham Bell

Unbeknownst to many, Alexander Graham Bell made outstanding contributions to aviation through his development of tetrahedral kites, the investigation of their application to personnel carrying aircraft, and his enlistment of talented associates who aided significantly in the progress toward accomplishing powered flight.

Expanding upon the design of the rectangular-celled box kite that Hargrave of Australia invented, Dr. Bell developed a three-sided triangular form of cell which he adapted to various multi-cellular shapes. This research led to a large kite in which on December 6th, 1907, his associate, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, flew to a height of over 160 feet.

Science Milestones: Alexander Graham Bell @EvaVarga.netAlthough his greatest scientific accomplishment was the invention of the telephone, Dr. Bell deserves wide recognition for his promotion of aeronautics. He was a member the Aerial Experiment Association that formed in 1907 who conducted flight experiments from his summer home at Baddeck, Nova Scotia.

“I have no doubt that a machine will be driven from the Earth’s surface at enormous velocities by a new method of propulsion – think of tremendous energies locked up in explosives – what if we could utilize these in projectile flight!” ~ Alexander Graham Bell

Believing that the substitution of an engine and propeller attached to the kite might permit free man-carrying flight, dispensing with the tethering line, Dr. Bell and Lt. Selfridge secured the services of Glenn H. Curtiss. Curtiss helped them to construct a proper engine, and they also engaged the assistance of J. A. D. McCurdy and F. W. Baldwin. These five men formed the Aerial Experiment Association for the stated purpose of “getting into the air” – which also put them in direct competition with the Wright brothers.

Biography

Science Milestones: Alexander Graham Bell @EvaVarga.netAlexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother was the daughter of a Royal Navy surgeon and was a skilled musician and portrait painter whose hearing loss when Bell was just twelve years old, brought deafness close to him.

Bell’s father, Alexander Melville, was the world world-famous inventor of “Visible Speech”, a code of symbols to guide the action of the throat, tongue and lips in the shaping of various sounds. It was devised as a key to the pronunciation of the words in all languages, but had become of most use in teaching the deaf to speak. His grandfather, Alexander, was a specialist in the correction of speech defects as well as a renowned public speaker, giving public readings from Shakespeare’s plays on London’s stages.

“Don’t keep forever on the public road, going only where others have gone. Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell

Bell had natural musical ability and turned toward a career as a pianist. By the time he was 25, he was assisting his father at Weston House, a boys’ school near Edinburgh, and trading music and elocution lessons for instruction in other subjects. He continued his formal education at the University of Edinburgh and later specialized in the anatomy of the vocal apparatus at University College in London. At 22, with his formal education behind him, he became a partner with his father.

He moved with family to Ontario in 1870 and a year later Sarah Fuller, the principal of a school for the deaf in Boston, asked him to teach her teachers. His success lead to a professor appointment at Boston University.

Bell’s patent for his telephone was filed just two hours before another experimenter, Elisha Gray, filed his claim in the U.S. Patent Office.

While in Boston, Bell met the two men who financed his pioneer work with the telephone. Thereafter, Bell spent the latter part of his life in Washington, D.C. and his summer home in Nova Scotia. He became a United State citizen in 1882.

He died on August 2, 1922 at which time 14,347,000 telephone were in operation across the country.

Bring it Home

➤ Research and discuss the invention of the telephone, its origin, its innovations, its advantages and disadvantages, and how it has shaped today’s society.

➤ Watch a video about Alexander Graham Bell.

➤ Create a poster to illustrate the changes the telephone has undergone since Bell’s original invention.

Build a tetrahedral kite of your own. Test the flight and refine your design to make improvements.

➤ Research his contemporaries (Glenn Curtiss, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, etc.) and put together a presentation (PowerPoint, brochure, poster, video, etc.) to share with others their impact on technology.

➤ Although Bell is best known for inventing the telephone, he invented many other things. He held patents for 18 other inventions on his own and 12 for which he collaborated with others. Learn more about each of these.

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Interested in learning about others who were born in the month of January? Hop over to Birthday Lessons in March to read posts by other iHomeschool Network bloggers.

Science Milestones: Pioneers of Flight

Interest in aviation (design, development, production, operation and flight of heavier-than-air machines) can be traced back as far as Leonardo da Vinci. However, real progress toward achieving flight in heavier-than-air machines only began in the middle of the 19th century. Follow in the footsteps of the pioneers of flight, Leonardo da Vinci and the Wright Brothers, with fun hands-on activities exploring aerodynamics.

“Its a dream of every human to fly and reach the sky; either in terms of glory or literally. This aspiration to be in the wind and above all gives thrill and when you cant do so, you resort to objects and make them fly.”

pioneers in flight

Leonardo da Vinci

Biography

leonardodavinciLeonardo da Vinci, whose intellectual range and capacity for action have been equalled by few, was born in Tuscany on April 15, 1452.  He is best remembered as the painter of the Mona Lisa (c. 1503) and The Last Supper (c. 1495). He is equally famous for his astonishing talents in architecture, sculpture, music, engineering, geology, hydraulics and the military arts, all with success, and in his spare time doodled sketches for working parachutes and flying machines like helicopters that resembled inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries.

He made detailed drawings of human anatomy which are still highly regarded today. Leonardo, cleverly, wrote notebook entries in mirror script, a trick which kept many of his observations from being widely known until decades after his death.

Though credit for the invention of the first practical parachute usually goes to Sebastien Lenormand in 1783, Leonardo da Vinci actually conceived the parachute idea a few hundred years earlier. His design consists of sealed linen cloth held open by a pyramid of wooden poles, about seven metres long. The original design was scribbled by da Vinci in a notebook in 1483.

“If a man have a tent made of linen of which the apertures (openings) have all been stopped up, and it be twelve braccia (about 23 feet) across and twelve in depth, he will be able to throw himself down from any great height without suffering any injury.”

Like many of da Vinci’s ideas, the invention was never actually built or tested by Leonardo himself. But, in 2000, daredevil Adrian Nichols constructed a prototype based on da Vinci’s design and tested it. Despite skepticism from experts, da Vinci’s design worked as intended and Nichols even noted that it had a smoother ride than the modern parachute.

Bring it Home – Experiments with Parachutes

  • Get a stopwatch and time how long it takes for an object to fall with and without a parachute. Do several drops and see if the time is always the same or if it varies somewhat.
  • Using the same object, compare the results with a small and a large parachute.
  • Using the same size parachute, compare results using two or more different objects.
  • Try lengthening or shortening the length of the suspension lines. Try changing the number of suspension lines.
  • Try different shapes for your parachute (round, oval, rectangular, square, etc.) and different fabric materials.
  • See Science Projects with Toy Parachutes for more information
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s Parachute Design – Power Point Presentation
  • If you want to explore da Vinci in more depth, you’ll love Joan’s A Birthday Celebration: Leonardo da Vinci, art and invention at Unschool Rules.

Wilbur Wright

Biography

wilburwright

The Wright brothers were two of seven children born to Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Koerner. Wilbur Wright was born near Millville, Indiana on April 16, 1867 and his brother Orville on August 19, 1871. Together, they are credited with inventing and building the world’s first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903.  But they didn’t start off with airplanes. The American brothers decided in 1899 to master gliding before attempting powered flight.

First, the Wrights built and flew several kites, testing and perfecting their new ideas about a flight control system. In 1900, they used this system on a man-carrying glider for the first time. Before they risked their own necks, they flew the glider as a kite, controlling it from the ground. They flew three biplane (has two wings, one above the other) gliders from the sand-hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and by 1902 had developed a fully practical biplane glider.

Their great innovation was that their glider could be  balanced and controlled in every direction, by combining the actions of warping (twisting) the wings and turning the rudder for lateral control, and by using a device called an elevator for up and down movements without any need for the pilot to swing his torso and legs in order to control the flight direction. All flight control today has been developed from this 1902 Wright glider.

Bring it Home ~ Experiments with Kites & Gliders

Science Milestones

Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

To find out about more people born in April hop on over to iHomeschool Network’s April birthdays page.