The Victorian period was a time of many new inventions. Earlier discoveries, such as the steam engine, the screw propeller, the power of electricity, and the possibility of sending messages along a wire, were now applied to everyday life. Inventors such as Thomas Edison and Nicholas Tesla explored new methods for harnessing electric power. Some of the greatest discoveries were made by Alexander Graham Bell.
Bell was born in Scotland in 1847. Both his father and grandfather taught speech methods and worked with deaf and dumb children. Alexander was also interested in this work, especially as his mother was almost deaf. Alexander’s two brothers died of tuberculosis, and he himself contracted the disease, so his parents decided to leave Scotland for a drier, healthier climate. They moved to Brantford, Ontario, Canada, and lived in a roomy, comfortable house overlooking the Grand River. Today, the Bell Homestead is an historical museum that attracts visitors from all over the world.
At that time, Canada did not have a lot of business opportunities, so Alexander found a job teaching speech in Boston, U.S.A. But he returned to Brantford every summer. In Boston, Bell married one of his deaf students. His father-in-law suggested that there were good business opportunities in inventing communication devices. Bell soon developed a method for sending more than one telegraph message at the same time. While working on improving the telegraph, Bell and his assistant, Thomas Watson, found a way to send the human voice over wires. On August 10, 1876, Bell sent the first telephone message over wires strung between Brantford and Paris, Ontario – eight miles away. The telephone caused an international sensation, with government leaders asking to have one. But Bell didn’t stop there. He worked on the recording properties of wax cylinders and other approaches to flat phonograph records. He also developed the photophone, which later led to the development of the motion picture sound track.
Bell worked on these inventions at his laboratory in Washington, D.C., but he didn’t like the hot humid summer weather there. So Bell began looking for a new place to spend his summers. He decided to build a summer home in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The Island reminded Bell of his native Scotland.
Now he had space during the summer to do experiments outside. He soon began to experiment with flying machines. Bell designed and tested huge kites, hoping to come up with a frame for a flying machine. Along with some enthusiastic friends, Bell also experimented with airplanes. On February 23, 1909, one of these planes flew through the air for half a mile. This was the first airplane flight in the British Empire. The Alexander Graham Bell Museum at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, displays many of these inventions.
Bell was also interested in making a faster boat. Since much of a boat stays under water, the water resistance slows the boat down. Bell thought that if you could raise the boat out of the water it would go much faster. Working on Cape Breton Island, Bell and his friends developed the hydrofoil, a boat that would skim the surface of the water at high speeds. Hydrofoils are in use in many places today.
Every time people use the telephone, listen to a recording, watch a movie or television, or ride on a hydrofoil, they owe a debt to that great inventor, Alexander Graham Bell.