Playing it by ear

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Alexander Graham Bell was highly interested in hearing and speech, a passion which led to his invention of the telephone. Source: Library and Archives Canada. Author: Moffett Studio.

Molly Gatt

Algonquin College Journalism Program

Alexander Graham Bell was interested in both speech and hearing, a pursuit which was likely spurred by the fact that both his mother and wife suffered from hearing loss. Bell first worked with his father, who was a speech therapist, and then took a position in Boston teaching deaf children to speak. One of his methods was to hold a balloon to the chest of his patients so they could hear sound. It was these experiments that led to the invention of the telephone, which was a product of his work with the deaf. With the help of his assistant, engineer Thomas Watson, Bell made the first phone call on March 10, 1876.

Born in Scotland in 1847, Bell moved with his parents to Brantford, Ontario in 1870. He worked in several fields, such as eugenics, aeronautics, and hydrofoils to name a few, and was always looking for new projects and interests. Bell created other electronic gadgets such as the metal detector and the photophone, which would later be called a radiophone, but he continued working with the deaf even after becoming a famous inventor. He also worked with Helen Keller, who went deaf and blind as a result of a fever, and later became a well-known activist. Keller was grateful to Bell for his focus on educating the deaf and for helping her make the most of her life despite her condition.

Bell died in 1922 at the age of 75 in Nova Scotia. He was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1992.

Plucked from the Smithsonian archives, the liberated recording features Bell, through must and static, saying "Hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell."

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