Alexander Graham Bell


Photograph of Alexander Graham BellAlexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh Scotland in 1847. His grandfather, for whom he was named, was an actor, orator, and elocutionist. The elder Alexander Bell wrote two well-recognized books “The Practical Elocutionist,” and “Stammering and Other Impediments of Speech.” The title of the second illustrates his emphasis on communication disabilities.

Alexander Bell’s sons, David and Alexander Melville Bell, followed in their father’s footsteps. David became a professor of speech in Dublin, Ireland and Alexander Melville became an elocutionist. Melville’s claim to fame, besides having a son who invented the telephone, was the invention of a phonetic alphabet, based on the position of the articulators during the production of different speech and non-speech (e.g. yawns) sounds. Bell named his notation system Visible Speech.

Melville Bell married Eliza Grace Symonds, a painter of miniatures and a pianist. Eliza Bell had a severe hearing loss, which strongly affected the interest that Melville had in designing methods for teaching the deaf and others with communication difficulties. The couple had three sons, Edward (Ted), Alexander (Aleck), and Melville (Melly). Both Ted and Melly died of tuberculosis, Ted at age 19 and Melly when he was 25. Aleck contracted the disease, so in 1870 his parents decided to emigrate to Brantford Ontario, where they had friends, so that he could recuperate. Aleck was 23 at the time.

In 1871 Aleck was accepted a teaching position in Boston Massachusetts at the Sarah Fuller’s Boston Day School for the Deaf (later to be called the Horace Mann School). In the next year he taught at Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton Massachusetts and the American Asylum for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. At this time, Alex also took private clients, one of whom was Mabel Hubbard, a woman whom he later married.

Learning the letter “n”, circa 1890

In 1872 Alexander Graham Bell, with the financial backing of Gardner Hubbard, his father-in-law, opened a school in Boston MA for improving speech of those who are deaf, who stutter and who had articulation problems. He called it the School of Vocal Physiology and used his father’s visible speech system to teach all his pupils, regardless of their specific type of difficulty. His particular specialty, besides being an inventor, was to teach with those who were deaf to develop oral communication.

Alexander Graham Bell’s Inventions

1874 Created an improved phonautograph which captures "voice prints" photographically.

1874 Invented the telautograph, a rudimentary a fax machine which transmitted writing.

1875 Invented the telephone in 1875-76.

1879 Invented the audiometer to measure hearing ability, which led to Bell ’s name being used in the unit of sound measurement -- the "decibel."

1880 With Sumner Tainter, transmited the human voice over light waves--the forerunner of fiber optics-- with a photophone in 1880, a wireless transmission using electromagnetic waves sixteen years before Marconi invented the radio.

1881 Invented the metal detector in 1881, which Bell called the "bullet probe," in an attempt to save the life of President James Garfield. The device was used to save many lives before X-ray machines were available.

1881 Invented the first iron lung or respirator, which Bell called the "vacuum jacket," after his newborn son died because he couldn’t breathe without assistance.

1882-6 Developed the "graphophone" in 1882 with his Volta Lab associates, Sumner Tainter and cousin Chichester Bell, which led to the first practical phonograph, the dictating machine, and the founding of the Dictaphone Co.

1890 Invented the flat record, which records voices on a disk made of hard wax.

1890s Invented the electric heater, which Bell hoped would reduce atmospheric pollution from coal in large cities.

1903 Patents the tetrahedral design.

1903 Makes the first suggestion in the United States of using radium implants to treat tumors.

1908 His company made the first airplane in the United States to incorporate ailerons and three-wheeled undercarriage for landing and take-off. (The Wright brothers took off from railings and landed on sleds.)

1919 With Casey Baldwin, developed a 71 mile-per-hour hydrofoil, the fastest ship in the world at the time.

Developed various devices to recycle heat energy.

Designed solar heaters

(See A. G. Bell’s papers on web at

Writings of Alexander Graham Bell, Arranged Chronologically

Bell, A. G. (1872). Visible speech as a means of communication articulation to deaf-mutes. American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, 17, 1-21.

Bell, A. G. (1872). Establishment for the study of vocal physiology: for the correction of stammering, etc., and for the practical instruction in “Visible speech.” Boston: Rand Avery & Co. (16pp.).

Bell, A. G. (1872/1873). The Sanders Reader. Excerpts reprinted in Volta Review, 1964, 66, 122-123.

Bell, A. G. (1879). Vowel theories. NY: William Wood & Co. (20pp). Survey of experimental research. Special attention is given to the harmonic fixed-pitch theory. Reprinted in American Journal of Otology, 1879, 1 and in Appendix of Bell’s Lectures upon the mechanism of speech, 1906 (see below).

Bell, A. G. (1883). Memoir upon the formation of a deaf variety of the human race. New Haven CT: National Academy of Science.

Bell, A. G. (1883). Upon a method of teaching language to a very young congenitally deaf child. American Annals of the Deaf, 28, 124-139. Reprinted in Education of Deaf Children—Royal Commission Report.

Bell, A. G. (1884). Fallacies concerning the deaf. American Annals of the Deaf, 29, 32-60. Reprinted in Education of Deaf Children—Royal Commission Report.

Bell, A. G. (1884). Upon the formation of a deaf variety of the human race. National Academy of Sciences, Memoirs, 2, 177-262. Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office.

Bell, A. G. (1884). Utility of action and gesture. The Educator, 5, 41-45.

Bell. A. G. & Gillett, Philip G. (1884). Deaf classes in the public schools. American Annals of the Deaf, 19, 312-325.

Bell, A. G. (1885). Is there a correlation between defects of the senses? Science, 5, 127-129.

Bell, A. G. (1888). Facts and opinions relating to the deaf from America. London: Spottiswoode & Co.

Bell, A. G. (1890). Professor A. Graham Bell's studies of the deaf. Science, 135-136.

Bell, A. G. (1890). Deaf mutes, Science 16, 358-359.

Bell, A. G. (1891). Reading before writing, American Annals of the Deaf, 36, 141-142.

Bell, A. G. (1891). Marriage, Science, 17, 160-163.

Bell, Alexander Graham (1892) Testimony of Alexander Graham Bell. In: Gordon, J.C. (Ed): The education of deaf children, Evidence of E.M. Gallaudet and A.G. Bell presented to the Royal Commission of the United Kingdom on the condition of the blind, the deaf and dumb, etc. with accompanying papers, postscripts, and an index. Washington, DC: Volta Bureau.

Bell, A. G. (1893). Upon the classification of methods of instructing the deaf. American Annals of the Deaf, 38, 295-305.

Bell, A. G. (1893). Address upon the conditions of articulation teaching in American schools for the deaf. Boston: Nathan Sawyer and son.

Bell, A. G. (1894). Utility of signs. Educator, 5, 3-23.

Bell, A. G. (1896). Growth of the oral method of instructing the deaf. Boston: Press of Rockwell and Churchill. (An address given on November 10, 1894, on the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Horace Mann School, Boston, MA (23 pp.)

Bell, A. G. (1897). A few thoughts concerning parents’ associations. Washington: Sanders Printing Office.

Bell, A. G. (1897). The mystic oral school, an argument in its favor. Washington D. C.: Gibson Bros.

Bell, A. G. (1898). Marriage: An address to the deaf. Washington D. C.: Sanders Printing office.

Bell, A. G. (1898). The question of sign language and the utility of signs in the instruction of the deaf. Washington D. C.: Sanders Printing Office.

Bell, A. G. (1899). Address of the president. Volta Review, 1, 67-82.

Bell, A. G. (1900). A philanthropist of the last century identified as a Boston man. Worchester, MA: Charles Hamilton.

Bell, A. G. (1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1905). Historical notes concerning the teaching of speech to the deaf, Volta Review, 2, 36-68; 113-115; 257-272; 385-409; 489-519; 1901, 3, 131-141; 329-357; 428-452; 1902, 4, 19-41; 139-151; 438-454; 1903, 5, 369-378; 1905, 7, 49-70.

Bell, A. G. (1906, 1911). Lectures on the mechanism of speech. NY: Funk & Wagnalls. (First delivered as lectures to a meeting of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. Contains treatment of vocal structures; descriptive analyses of sounds, Melville Bell’s Visible speech symbols and an appended paper on vowel theories.

Bell, A. G. (1906). Lectures upon the mechanism of speech: Review. Nature, 75: 196.

Bell, A. G. (1906-1908) Special report upon the deaf, based on the returns of the twelfth census. Volta Review, 1906, 8, 351-370; 442-469; 1907, 9, 336-356; 427-444; 533-545; 1908, 10, 36-47; 138-147; 240-255; 349-364; 455-464.

Bell, A. G. (1907). Speech-reading for the partially deaf. American Annals of the Deaf. 52: 579-581.

Bell, A. G. (1907). The mechanism of speech. NY: funk and Wagnalls Co.

ell, A. G. (1908). A few thoughts concerning eugenics. National Geographic, 19, 119-132.

Bell, A. G. (1909). French pronunciation in the Melville Bell symbols, Volta Review, 11, 537-542.

Bell, A. G. (1910). Notes of early life. Volta Review, 12, 155-160.

Bell, A. G. (1910). A census of the able-bodied. Volta Review, 12, 403-406.

Bell, A. G. (1912). Reminiscences of early days of speech teaching. Volta Review, 14, 579-581.

Bell, A. G. (1913). Graphical studies of marriages of the deaf, Volta Review, 15, 146-152; 196-203; 230-238; 280-287; 322-329; 366-373, 408-415.

Bell, A. G. (1914). The Melville Bell symbols; line-writing form. Volta Review, 16, 266-270, 477-485, 569-576, 723, 730.

Bell, A. G. (1914). Suggestions concerning the formation of a local association of parents of deaf children, Volta Review, 16, 750-751.

Bell, A. G. (1914) Vocal physiology, the principles of speech, etc. Volta Review, 16, 66-78.

Bell, A. G. (1914, 1915). Principles of speech and dictionary of sounds. Volta Review, 16, 65-78; 128-142, 217-227; 303-308; 403-408; 486-488; 555-558; 667-670;731-735; 830-838; 1915, 17, 31-40; 79-80; 116-118; 161-163; 204-206; 248-249; 283-292; 335-336; 405-420; 494-504.

Bell, A. G. (1915). Utility of action and gesture. Volta Review, 17, 13-18. (reprinted from The Educator, Vol 5, 41-44, May 1884).

Bell, A. G. (1915). Phonetic syllabification, Volta Review, 17, 155-158.

Bell, A. G. (1916). Auto-education continued in the primary school, Volta Review, 18, 135-142.

Bell, A. G. (1917). The growth of the oral method in America. Boston, MA. (33 pp.) This is from a paper delivered on October 10, 1917 at Clarke School in Northampton, MA, on their 50th anniversary.

Bell, A. G. (1920). Is race suicide possible? The Journal of Heredity, 11, 340.

Bell, A. G. (1929). On reading as a means of teaching language to the deaf, Volta Review, 31, 191-195.

Bell, A. G. (1932). English visible speech in twelve lessons. 4th edition. Revised by Caroline A. Yale. Washington, D. C.: Volta Bureau.


Writings about Alexander Graham Bell, Arranged Alphabetically

Andrews, Harriet U. (1916). The Melville Bell symbols, tried and true, Volta Review, 18, 311-312.

Andrews, Harriet U. (1918). The Melville Bell symbols, Volta Review, 20: 65; 71; 88; 498; 582.

Bell, Mrs. Alexander G. (1908). What the Melville Bell symbols mean to me. Volta Review, 10, 308-311.

Bentley, Keilor (1965). Monument to a genius—the Alexander Graham Bell Museum at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Volta Review, 67, 188-190.

Bentley, Keilor (1969). Dr. Bell’s legacy to parents of deaf children. Volta Review, 71, 145-147.

Bentley, Keilor (1970). Alexander Graham Bell and the Volta Bureau. Volta Review, 72, 144-152.

Bruce, R. V. (1973). Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the conquest of solitude. Boston: Little Brown.

Bruce, Robert V. (1973). Excerpts from Alexander Graham Bell and the conquest of solitude. Volta Review, 75, 146-154.

Convention of teachers of visible speech (1874). American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, 19, 90-100.

Crouch, Barry A.: Review article: Gallaudet, Bell & the sign language controversy. (Winefield, Never the twain shall meet.). In: Sign Language Studies 18: 62 (1989) - pp. 71-80.

Deland, Fred (1905). World benefactions of Alexander Graham Bell. Volta Review, 7, 167-171.

Deland, Fred (1908). Dumb no longer. Washington, Volta Bureau.

Deland, Fred (1915). An early use of the Melville Bell symbols with the deaf. Volta Review, 17, 487-489.

Deland, Fred (1918). The Bell Telephone memorial. Volta Review, 20: 231-236.

Deland, Fred (1922). In memoriam: Alexander Graham Bell, Volta Review, 24, 307.

Deland, Fred, (1922/1923). An ever-continuing memorial, Volta Review, 1922, 24, 351-363; 413-422; 465-471; 1923, 25, 34-39; 90-99; 145-152; 190-197.

Deland, Fred (1924). The telephone, the radiophone, the graphophone, the music record, and modern lip reading, Volta Review, 26, 251-253.

Deland, Fred (1928). Alexander Graham Bell’s benefactions to aid the hard of hearing adult. Volta Review, 30, 440-442.

Deland, Fred (1972). Dr. Bell’s private school. Volta Bureau, 74, 145-149.

Eber, D. H. (1982). Genius at work: Images of Alexander Graham Bell. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart.

Fellendorf, G. W. (1976). 75 years of excitement. Volta Review, 78, 100-103.

Fitzgerald Studio (1996). Alexander Graham Bell: An interactive multimedia CD Rom. Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Gordon, J.C. (ed): The education of deaf children: Evidence of E.M. Gallaudet and A.G. Bell presented to the Royal Commission of the United Kingdom on the condition of the blind, the deaf and dumb, etc. Washington,DC: Volta Bureau 1892.

Greenberger, D. (1874). Visible speech as a means of communicating articulation to deaf mutes, American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, 19, 65-74. (A critique of Bell ’s visible speech system.)

Grosvenor, Melville B. (1940). Memories of my grandfather. Volta Review, 42, 621-622.

Grosvenor, Elsie B. (1950). My father, the Volta Bureau, and the association, Volta Review 52, 112-114.

Grosvenor, Elsie M. (1951). My father, Alexander Graham Bell, Volta Review 53, 349; 386-388.

Grosvenor, Elsie, M. (1954). Monument erected honoring Alexander Graham Bell, Volta Review, 56, 9-10.

Grosvenor, Mrs. Gilbert. (1957). Mrs Alexander Graham Bell, a reminiscence. Volta Review, 59, 299-305.

Grosvenor, Mrs. Gilbert (1958). Dr. Bell, pioneer of a new era. Volta Review. 60, 110-111; 141.

Grosvenor, Mrs. Gilbert (1960). A Bell bibliography, Volta Review, 62, 111-112, 139.

Grosvenor, Lillian (1950). My grandfather Bel, New Yorker, 26, November 11, 1050, 44-48.

Hitz, John (1898). A. Graham Bell’s private experimental school. Washington D. C.: Sanders Printing Office.

Lang, Harry G.: A phone of our own: The deaf insurrection against Ma Bell. Washington, DC: Gallaudet Univ. Press 2000 - xv, 242 p.

Langdon, W. C. (1929). Bell, Alexander Graham. In A. Johnson (ed). Dictionary of American Biography (pp. 148-152). NY: Charles Scribner’s sons.

Lepore, Jill: A is for American: Letters and other characters in the newly United States. New York, NY: Knopf 2002 - 241 p.

MacKenzie, Catherine (1928/1977/2003). Alexander Graham Bell: The man who contracted space. Houghton Mifflin (1928), Ayer Publishing Company (1977) and Kessinger Publishing Co (2003). (This author was Bell ’s personal secretary and had access to his family papers.)

Marcus, Benjamin (1903). Alexander Graham Bell, American, 88, 264.

Mayne, Richard (1929). The Bell family and English speech, Volta Review 31, 453-456.

Mitchell, Sue H. (1971). The haunting influence of Alexander Graham Bell, American Annals of the Deaf, 116, 349-366.

Montague, Harriet (1938). A man who loved deaf children. Volta Review, 40, 74-77.

Montague, Harriet (1940). Mr Bell’s private school. Volta Review, 42, 324-326.

Mr. Bell’s school (1885). American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, 30, 69.

Taylor, Harris (1922). Dr. Bell, the great, the good, the lovable. Volta Review 24, 345-346.

Murphy, Albert (1954). Dr. Bell and Boston University. Volta Review, 56, 249-250.

Rée, Jonathan (1999). I see a voice: Language, deafness and the sences: A philosophical history. London: HarperCollins Publisher - xvi, 399 p.

Silverman, S. Richard. (1957). The legacy of Mr. Bell. Volta Review, 59, 103-104.

Taylor, Harris, et al. (1925). Alexander Graham Bell memorial session, Volta Review 27, 61-65.

Valentine, Phyllis / Winzer, Margret A.: T.H. Gallaudet and A.G. Bell: T.H. Gallaudet: Benevolent paternalism and the origins of the American asylum. / Visible speech and the oral revolution: From intent to imperative. Burtonsville, MD: SMI 1993 (Video)

Yale, Caroline A. (1922). Dr Bell’s connection with Clarke School. Volta Review, 24, 364-365.

Yale, Caroline A. (1923) Mabel Hubbard Bell, 1859-1923. Volta Review, 25, 1-5-110.

Winefield, R. (1987). Never the twain shall meet: The communications debate. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Winefield, Richard (1981) Bell, Gallaudet, and the sign language debate: A historical analysis of the communication controversy in education of the deaf. Ann Arbor: U.M.I. Harvard Univ. Dissertation

Winefield, Richard (1987). Alexander Graham Bell. (1847-1922). In: Cleve, John V. van (ed): Gallaudet encyclopedia of deaf people and deafness. Vol. 1. A-G. New York, NY [u.a.]: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. - pp. 135-141.

Zimmerman, C. D. (1962). The contributions of Alexander Graham Bell of the fields of speech pathology and audiology. Master of Science thesis. University of Oregon.