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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 documents included in the Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers span from 1862 to 1939, with the bulk of the papers being from the years 1865 to 1920. The central focus of the collection is on the Development of the Industrial United States (1876-1915) and the Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930). Working with documents in the collection, students have the opportunity to examine the impact of technological change and the indomitable spirit of one of the leading scientists and inventors of the era. The family correspondence provides insights into Bell's personality and perseverance, and into the social history of the time.

Bell: A Man of Broad Knowledge

Bell's journals and corespondence reveal his interest in an array of subjects. Although his paramount interest was in the sciences, Bell had a keen mind and sense of curiosity that prohibited him from focusing on only one subject. Have students browse the Subject Index to see the great array of topics about which Bell wrote. For example, in a letter to Miss Mabel Hubbard, Bell expressed his emotions, his poetic facility with language, and his love of nature.

Likewise, in a letter to his parents, Bell shows his concern over the intolerance of the general public regarding Charles Darwin's research, "I cannot understand the prejudice with which many people view an honest and hard-working investigator like Darwin."

Bell would often host discussions, inviting prominent individuals to present papers on a variety of topics. In his 1902 journal Bell wrote, "Last Wednesday, April 2, we had up for discussion the subject of the relation of capital and labor" and noted that 28 gentlemen and 4 ladies attended. He was so impressed by the paper presented by Mr. Friedman that he had it entered in its entirety as an appendix in his 1902 journal. The 1902 journal also includes topics as varied as Stonehenge and efforts to provide an early form of air-cooling for patrons attending the St. Louis World's Fair. Search Journal by Alexander Graham Bell 1901 to find the 1901 and 1902 journals.

  • How might Bell's interest in so many varied topics have influenced his study of science? How might his inventions have been influenced by his broad-based knowledge?
  • After reading Bell's thoughts, do you have the sense that he was open-minded? Was he on the "cutting edge" of modern thought?
  • Was Bell tolerant of other people's ideas and opinions?
  • What else can you infer about Bell based on his letters and journals?
  • How do the qualities and attitudes expressed in these writings relate to Bell's accomplishments and an inventor and scientist?