Early in 1874, Bell met Thomas A. Watson (1854-1934), a young machinist at a Boston electrical shop. Watson became Bell’s indispensable assistant, bringing to Bell’s experiments the crucial ingredient that had been lacking—’ his technical expertise in electrical engineering. Together the two men spent endless hours experimenting. Although Bell formed the basic concept of the telephone—usingvarying but unbroken electric current to transmit the varying sound waves of human speech—in the summer of 1874? Hubbard insisted that the young inventor focus his effort on the harmonic telegraph instead. Bell complied, but when he patented one of his telegraph designs in February 1875, he found that Elisha Gray had patented a multiple telegraph two days earlier.
Greatly discouraged, Bell consulted in Washington with the elderly Joseph Henry, who urged Bell to pursue his germ of a great invention —speech transmission. Back in Boston, Bell and Watson continued to work on the harmonic telegraph, but still with the telephone in mind. By accident on a June day in 1875, an intermittent transmitter produced a steady current and transmitted sound. Bell had proof of his 1874 idea; he quickly sketched a design for an electric telephone, and Watson built it. The partners experimented all summer, but failed actually to transmit voice sounds. Bell began to write the patent specifications, but delayed application; Hubbard finally filed for the patent on February 14, 1876, just hours before Gray appeared at the same patent office to file an intent to patent his telephone design.
Bell’s patent was granted on March 7, 1876, and on March 10, the first message transmitted by telephone passed from Bell to Watson in their workshop: Mr. Watson, come here, I want you! After a year of refining the new device, Watson and Bell, along with Hubbard and Sanders, formed the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. Bell immediately married Mabel Hubbard, daughter of his new partner, and sailed t0England to promote his telephone. The phone company grew rapidly, and Bell became a wealthy man. He turned to other interests on his return to the United States in 1879, while also defending his patents (which were upheld in 1888) against numerous lawsuits. With money from the Volta Prize, awarded to him in 1880 by the French government, Bell established the Volta Laboratory.
Among the new devices, he invented there were the graphophone for recording sound on wax cylinders or disks; the photophone, for transmitting speech on a beam of light; an audiometer; a telephone probe, used in surgery until the discovery of the X-ray; and an induction balance for detecting metal within the human body. Bell founded several organisations to support teaching of die deaf. He helped to establish Science magazine and the National Geographic Society.
He also worked on air conditioning, an improved strain of sheep (to bear multiple lambs), an early iron lung, solar distillation of water, and solar detection of icebergs. The possibility of flight fascinated Bell. He built tetrahedral kites capable of carrying a human being. He supported Samuel Langley’s pioneering experiments in aviation, and helped found the Aerial Experiment Association in 1907. He also designed a hydrofoil boat that set the world water- speed record in 1918.
Alexander Graham Bell was a man of warmth and hum^ frailty, loved by his wife, children, and grandchildren. His life did seem to demonstrate the oneness of the world. He was lionized in society, cheered at exhibitions, applauded at scientific meetings, and sought out by reporters. He and his wife united two numerous and close-knit families. Children, especially those of his own extended family, loved him. His marriage was a model of devotion throughout its forty-five years. He was nominally a member of more clubs and other organisations than he could recall at any given moment, and he was active in a number of them. In addition, for many years he presided over brilliant salon of Washington scientist and men affairs. Yet his son-in- law David Fairchild said of him, “Mr. Bell led a particularly isolated life; I have never known anyone who spent so much of his time alone.”