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Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone, ca. 1876.

[Detail] Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone

The large quantity of documents in Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers are a valuable resource for the development of historical thinking skills. Through the study of these papers, students can track the development of Bell's inventions over time and can gain an understanding of what life was like at the time of Bell's work. By reading the papers in the collection with a critical eye, students can discern the point of view of the variety of authors of these papers. In considering Bell's work with deaf people, students can investigate culture and expectations of assisting another person. In addition, students can use the materials as a launching point into researching other inventors and comparing the lives, inventions, and influences of these people to those of Bell.

Chronological Thinking

By using the Time Line in this collection, students can follow the chronology of Alexander Graham Bell's inventions and key scientific discoveries. In addition, the special presentation Alexander Graham Bell as Inventor and Scientist will assist students in understanding Bell's many inventions.

Students can also create a timeline to understand the development of a single invention. For example, they can search on telephone and construct a time line highlighting Bell's work, from his first notes on the concept to his first success on March 10, 1876. The time line can be used to show the slow, diligent work that resulted in the development of the telephone. Encourage students to illustrate the time line using Bell's sketches and blueprints to reflect the evolution of the invention. Students can be directed to the special presentation The Telephone and the Multiple Telegraph as a point of embarkation.

Students also can examine Bell's journals in order to reconstruct the chronological development of experiments with flight. Search Journal by Alexander Graham Bell 1901 to find the 1901 and 1902 journals which deal primarily with aeronautical subjects. Through an analysis of these journals students can see the steady progression of his experiments with kites. Given the proper tools, could someone reconstruct his experiments from his journals?

Students can find a good chronology of Bell's work in aeronautics by examining the 1909 article written by Mabel Hubbard Bell. The article traces Bell's experiments from the tetrahedral man-carrying kite through the flight of the Silver-Dart, the first successful powered flight in Canada in 1909--six years after the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

By searching on flying machine, students could be directed to the disposition given by Alexander Graham Bell in the 1914 patent case, The Aerial Experiment Association versus George Francis Myers (Interference case in the U. S. Patent Office N o 34455 regarding Flying Machines). In his disposition, Bell explains his long interest in heavier than air flight.

A Man-Carrying Kite

A: I found, upon increasing the dimensions of my compound tetrahedral structures, that the weight of the whole compound structure was not proportionally greater than the weight of the individual units of which they were composed. So I went on making larger and larger compound forms, until at last I constructed a kite known as the "Frost King", which successfully carried a man on the flying line. I then determined to build a still larger structure, put a man in the structure and propel it, if possible, by an engine. It was my intention to make it so large that it would fly as a kite carrying a man, an engine and all. Start the propeller while it was in the air, drive it against the wind, and when the towing line should become slack, drop the towing line and leave it to pursue its way through the air as a free flying machine, or aerodrome.

From The Aerial Experiment Association versus George Francis Myers, January 15, 1915.