Attributing the true inventor or inventors to a specific invention
can be tricky business. Often credit goes to the inventor of the
most practical or best working invention rather than to the original
inventor(s). This happens to be the case of the invention of the
There is a lot of controversy
and intrigue surrounding the invention of the telephone. There have
been court cases, books, and articles generated about the subject.
Of course, Alexander Graham Bell is the father of the telephone.
After all it was his design that was first patented, however, he
was not the first inventor to come up with the idea of a telephone.
Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant, began developing the design
of a talking telegraph or telephone in 1849. In 1871, he filed
caveat (an announcement of an invention) for his design of a talking
telegraph. Due to hardships, Meucci could not renew his caveat.
His role in the invention of the telephone was overlooked until
the United States House of Representatives passed a Resolution
11, 2002, honoring Meucci's contributions and work. You can read the resolution (107th Congress, H Res 269) on Congress.gov.
To make matters even more interesting some researchers suggest that Elisha Gray, a professor at Oberlin College, applied for a caveat of the telephone on the same day Bell applied for his patent of the telephone- these gentlemen didnít actually visit the Patent Office, their lawyers did on their behalf. In Historical First Patents: The First United States Patent for Many Everyday Things (Scarecrow Press, 1994), Travis Brown, reports that Bellís lawyer got to the patent office first. The date was February 14, 1876. He was the fifth entry of that day, while Grayís lawyer was 39th. Therefore, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Bell with the first patent for a telephone, US Patent Number 174,465 rather than honor Gray's caveat. However, some authors dispute this story and suggest that there was malfeasance by certain individuals at Patent Office, and possibly Bell himself.
If someone asks who is credited with inventing the telephone, you can explain the controversy that still surrounds this question.
Graham Bell's Family Papers From the Library of Congress
American Memory Web site, the collection includes "correspondence,
scientific notebooks, journals, blueprints, articles, and
photographs documenting Bell's invention of the telephone
and his involvement in the first telephone company, his
family life, his interest in the education of the deaf,
and his aeronautical and other scientific research. Dates
span from 1862 to 1939, but the bulk of the materials are
from 1865 to 1920."
Meucci A short history of Antonio Meucci from the Italian
Historical Society of America.
Meucci Revisited This Web page provides details of Antonio
Meucci's telephone which includes drawings.
Gray This Web page from the Electronic Oberlin Group,
provides a brief history of Elisha Gray along with related
Web links for more information.
The Telephone - PBS provides the transcript to the film
"The Telephone," a gallery, people & events,
and a teacher's guide. The Special Feature section also
provides information about forgotten inventions such as
the can opener.
- Baker, Burton
H. The gray matter: the forgotten story of the telephone. St.
Joseph, MI, Telepress, 2000. 140 p.
- Grosvenor, Edwin & Morgan Wesson. Alexander Graham Bell: the
life and times of the man who invented the telephone. New York,
Harry Abrams, 1997. 304 p.
- Schiavo, Giovanni Ermenegildo. Antonio Meucci, inventor of the
telephone. New York, Vigo Press, c1958. 288 p.
- Stwerka, Eve & Albert. Hello! Hello! A look inside the telephone.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ., Messner, c1991. 40 p. (Juvenile)
- Hounshell, D.A. Two paths to the telephone. Scientific American,
v. 244, January 1981: 156-163.
more print resources...
Search on "Alexander
Graham Bell," "Elisha Grey," or "Antonio Meucci"
in the Library of Congress Online
Bell, three-quarter length portrait, standing, facing right, by
window]. 1902. Prints
and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Elisha Gray, from The Electronic Oberlin Groups Web site.
Antonio Meucci, from the Italian Historical Society of America