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.