Alexander Graham Bell

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ALEXANDER Graham Bell is one of two Scots inventors whose impact on our modern world is so widespread and all-pervasive that it is only in the most remote areas of the globe that their discoveries are not to be found in some form. One of those inventors is Logie Baird, responsible for the television. The other is Alexander Graham Bell, the man who is generally credited with inventing the telephone.

Bell was born in Edinburgh in 1847. He was educated at the Royal High School and at Edinburgh University. Like many others at the time, he and his family clearly thought that their prospects would be much improved by "going west", so the Bells emigrated to Canada in 1870 and then to the USA in 1871. Thus, he tends to be regarded as belonging to not only Scotland, but also the USA and Canada. He became a US citizen in 1882, but is buried in Nova Scotia, Canada, where a museum devoted to his work is situated.

It's obvious that Bell's involvement in the invention of telephone is clearly linked to his family’s interest in spoken language, acoustics and communication systems for the deaf (Bell's wife Mabel, was deaf). When he first began working in the US, he was employed in teaching deaf-mutes a system called "visible speech". This system, developed by his father, Alexander Melville Bell, was based around the way that lips, tongue and throat are shaped to produce sounds.

Eventually, he began his scientific experiments on what was to become the telephone. What Bell finally produced was a device that transformed the vibrations of speech into electrical impulses. These impulses could then be sent down a wire, before being recreated as audible speech at the other end.

After many years of research with his assistant, Thomas Watson, success was finally achieved on March 10, 1876. The first of innumerable telephone conversations around the world took place when Bell spoke the words "Watson, come here. I want you," to his assistant. There would be a host of demonstrations of the new device which would bring the telephone to public attention and would eventually lead to the foundation of the Bell Telephone Company in 1877.

Other inventors have a perfectly valid claim to have invented similar devices prior to this date (particularly the Italian Antonio Menucci, who was actually given credit by the US Congress in 2002) but Bell remains the one most often credited with producing the first fully functional version of the device.

Bell was also a pioneer of early aircraft. He designed and built the first Canadian aircraft "The Silver Dart". This was to lead to research on aerofoil technology for boats (hydrofoils, which raise the craft’s hull from the water thereby enabling it to reach much higher speeds than a normal submerged hull vessel). One vessel held the world speed record for nearly a decade, with speeds of 113khm/70mph.

A commonly used measure of sound, the "decibel" is named after Bell.