BECK index

Edison, Bell & Inventions 1869-97

by Sanderson Beck

Edison’s Improved Telegraph & Telephone
Edison’s Electric Light & Phonograph
Alexander Graham Bell
Other Inventions 1869-97

Edison’s Improved Telegraph & Telephone

      Thomas Alva Edison was born on 11 February 1847 in Ohio, and his poor family moved to Michigan in 1854. He was the seventh and youngest child. His mother read to him from women’s magazines and children’s books. She learned that he preferred books such as Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and David Hume’s History of England. He also liked works by Shakespeare and Dickens. His interest in science persuaded her to get a Dictionary of Science, and he was especially influenced by Richard Green Parker’s Natural Philosophy. At the age of ten Alva began studying and experimenting with chemicals. He read what Ben Franklin wrote about electricity, and he made his own telegraph. At the age of 12 he had scarlet fever, and he became deaf in one ear and barely could hear in the other ear. His father urged him to read The Age of Reason by Tom Paine, and he found it enlightening. He connected a wire through the woods to a friend, and they telegraphed each other. He and his friend tended a garden to sell vegetables. They lived in Port Huron which got a railroad connection to Detroit in 1859, and Alva got a job working on the railroad. Later he said that he was happiest at the age of 12, the last time he could hear birds sing.
      Young Edison began educating himself further by using the Detroit Free Library which opened in 1862. He read The Penny Library Encyclopedia, Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Then he turned to Isaac Newton’s Principles. At 13 after saving a 3-year-old from being hit by a runaway train, Edison got a job as a telegraph operator. He was allowed to sell newspapers on the train and the road. He read Chemical Analysis by Karl Fresenius. When news came of the Battle of Shiloh on April 10, he got a thousand newspapers instead of 200 and sold them for a higher price to eager customers. This enabled him to buy a second-hand press. He began traveling to the Midwest, the South, and the East. On 3 December 1866 he transcribed the 7,126 words of President Johnson’s Second Annual Message to Congress and then on 7 January 1867 the 6,111 words of the President’s veto of the District of Columbia franchise bill.
      In early 1867 Edison went with friends to New Orleans, but riots and martial law there discouraged him from going on to South America. He returned to his parents’ home in the fall with no money. He got a job and studied Michael Faraday’s Experimental Researches in Electricity. He paid $2 for 20 volumes of the North American Review that he read and kept for the rest of his life. He worked on multiplex telegraphy, and he moved to Boston and was allowed to use advanced electrical instruments in the shop of Charles Williams. In June 1868 The Journal of the Telegraph reported that Thomas A. Edison of the Western Union Office had invented “transmission both ways on a single wire.” In October he applied for a patent for his telegraphic vote-recording machine, and it was granted in June 1869. He connected wires to the seats of legislators so that votes could be counted instantaneously by the Speaker of the House. Edison went to Washington and demonstrated his machine for the US Congress; but he learned that the minority did not want fast voting, and the majority, which feared becoming the minority, also rejected his device.
      By June 1869 Edison was in New York City where the electrical engineer Franklin L. Pope hired him to work at the Gold Indicator Company. Dr. S. S. Laws had a telegraph with an electrical indicator to show price changes in the Gold Room on the Stock Exchange. When the machine broke down, Laws shouted at Edison to fix it quickly. Edison did so in two hours, and Laws, who had an annual revenue of $300,000, in July replaced the resigning Pope, and Laws paid Edison $300 a month. In the next two months he applied for two more patents for an improved printing telegraph. September 24 was the Black Friday when Jay Gould and James Fisk were trying to manipulate the price of gold which went up so fast from 150 to 165 that Edison’s machine could not keep up. Later that day the United States Treasury acted, and the price of gold went back down to 132. On October 1 Pope, Edison & Company announced their forming in The Telegrapher. In the spring of 1870 the powerful Western Union Telegraph Company bought their company for $15,000, and Edison got $5,000. General Marshall Lefferts believed that Edison was “a genius and a very fiend for work,” and he hired him to work for Western Union for $30,000. Edison did not read the contract and had sold away his rights. Within a month he had spent the money on new equipment, but Western Electric ordered 1,200 stock tickers over several years for nearly $500,000.
      In 1871 Western Union owned 25,000 miles of telegraph wires. Edison was in Newark, New Jersey, and Lefferts persuaded him to take on William Unger as his partner. They formed Edison & Unger and hired about fifty stock tickers. Edison often worked long hours and made his workers do so also, but after successes he declared a holiday and went fishing with them. The Edison Universal Stock Printer incorporated other patents over the years and was used by most of the financial offices and security exchanges in America and Europe. On April 24 Edison got a contract with the Automatic Telegraph Company, and he formed a partnership with Joseph T. Murray in Newark. Tests in early 1872 showed they could transmit 1,000 words a minute by Morse code signals. Jay Gould hired Edison and bought rights to his automatic patents. Edison fell in love with the 16-year-old employee Mary Stilwell, and they married on Christmas Day in 1871. He founded the Domestic Telegraphy Company which manufactured and rented signal boxes that he designed. They protected against fires, burglaries, and illness.
      In 1873 Western Union’s president William Orton invited Edison to come to 145 Broadway in New York City where he worked in the basement on various devices. That year Jay Gould and Western Union competed in the “great telegraphic war.” In 1874 he invented the Edison Electric Pen with a little electric motor and a battery. Using punched holes and ink these enabled offices to copy documents quickly. Using the Stearns system Edison figured out how to send two messages at the same time in both directions, and he called it the “Multiplex” or “Quadraplex” telegraph. On July 9 Edison recognized George Prescott in the patent as the coinventor. He needed $10,000 to pay for his home in Newark, and Jay Gould provided the money. Litigation gave Charles G. Page’s relay invention to Western Union, but Gould got Edison to invent a substitute which saved Gould’s telegraphic empire. Edison got the quadraplex working for Western Union by October, and Orton paid him $5,000 for having multiplied the use of their 25,000 miles of wire. Orton refused to give Edison and Prescott $25,000 each, and in 1875 Edison went to Gould’s office where he got a $30,000 check. Gould merged his telegraph companies, and Edison left him that summer. By the end of 1875 he had invented the Mimeograph for multiplying copies of pages.
      In the spring of 1876 Edison’s father helped him build a large research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey which was one of the first research laboratories in the world. Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell were working on a “speaking telegraph,” and Western Union paid Edison $500 a month for a similar effort. He bought a farmhouse nearby for his wife and two children. Bell had come to New York in early 1875 to test his harmonic telegraph on Western Union wires, but Gray already had a patent for Western Union. Bell then worked secretly on his “speaking telephone.” When he applied for a patent on 14 February 1876, Gray came to the patent office to ask for a caveat for the same invention.
      Bell got a patent for his telephone in March 1876, and he demonstrated the lucrative invention at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in July. Western Union asked Edison to work on this, and by July 17 he invented a better telephone with a carbon transmitter that was the first microphone. Edison also used an induction coil so that messages could travel hundreds of miles on a telephone line.
      In the fall of 1877 a primitive incandescent lamp had shown for a few moments before burning out. Edison worked hard for long hours trying many things and is famous for defining genius as “99 per cent perspiration and one per cent inspiration.”1 On November 29 while turning a handle to rotate a cylinder covered in tin foil he spoke,

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.2

Then he played it back and heard his voice. He applied for a patent in December.
      In March 1878 he transmitted speech loudly 107 miles between New York and Philadelphia. Western Union in November organized the American Speaking Telephone Company with $300,000, and they installed a switchboard at their headquarters in New York. The immigrant Emile Berliner had also invented a telephone and had applied for a patent in July 1877, and litigation did not give Edison full rights until 1892. The patent Bell received was recognized in October 1879, and Western Union sold its lines to Bell for 20% of the telephone rentals on them. Edison’s patent went to Bell Telephone, and Orton agreed to pay him $6,000 a year for 17 years. Edison in July 1877 had obtained the first carbon transmitter patent in England, and they formed the Edison Telephone Company of Great Britain, Ltd. He invented a better receiver than Bell’s by the end of 1878, and for improving Bell’s telephone Edison made about $250,000.
      On December 8 Scientific American reported that Thomas A. Edison had invented “The Talking Phonograph.” He filed for a patent one week later; because no record of any such invention was found, it was granted on 10 February 1878. In April he visited Washington with his new machine and demonstrated it to Congressmen at the home of Miss Gail Hamilton and for President Hayes and others at the White House. The words were not easily discerned, and the tin-foil record could only be played for about a minute a few times. For a while Edison put aside this invention as a curiosity.

Edison’s Electric Light & Phonograph

      In the summer of 1878 the physics professor George F. Barker invited scientists to go to the Rockies to observe a total eclipse of the sun. Thomas Edison went to test the “tasimeter” he had invented to measure minute changes in temperature. While on the train Barker enthusiastically told him about the possibilities of using electricity for lighting. A dynamo could supply the energy. Edison had recently learned that the Russian engineer Paul Jablochkoff was lighting street lamps in Paris. Charles Brush and Moses Farmer were using arc lights as street lamps. Edison went with Barker in September to Connecticut to see eight arc lights of 500 candlepower connected to the 8-horsepower dynamo of Farmer and his partner William Wallace.
      Edison improved the transmission of electrical current to make it useful for households, causing gas company stock to go down on Wall Street. He developed a lamp filament that could burn for a long time and began the Edison Electric Light Company on October 15 raising $50,000 for his experiments. Drexel and Morgan began financing the company.
      Edison realized that a central station could produce light for an entire city, and he decided to work on the project at Menlo Park. He gave interviews to New York newspapers predicting that the age of electric lighting was about to begin. He started experimenting with platinum wire, and the lawyer Grosvenor Lowrey helped him get a check for $30,000 on October 12. Lowrey contacted W. H. Vanderbilt and Hamilton W. Twombly who were joined by Western Union’s president Norvin Green, J. P. Morgan’s partner Eggisto Fabbri, and two other capitalists related to Western Union. On October 15 they formed the Edison Electric Light Company with $300,000 capital stock, giving most of the shares to Edison.
      The mathematician Francis R. Upton came to work for Edison. In the next three years he would hire many more well-educated scientists and engineers to work with him at Menlo Park. Intuition told the inventor that he needed to have high resistance in order to use small quantities of electric current, and he estimated that this would reduce the amount of copper used by a factor of one hundred. By January 1879 Edison had invented the first high-resistance lamp using platinum wire and an incandescent bulb containing a vacuum formed by an air pump. An improved model had lamps burning for one or two hours, and on April 12 Edison applied for a patent. He told reporters he was sending prospectors to find more platinum in the Rocky Mountains.
      Upton helped Edison develop a new dynamo, and he ordered a Porter-Allen steam engine that did not arrive until December 1880. Edison’s team removed all but one 10,000th of the atmosphere in the glass globe by August 1879, and Upton wrote an anonymous article that Scientific American printed in its October 19 issue. Edison persisted and created a vacuum that was only one-millionth part of an atmosphere. He went back to experimenting with a carbon filament because its melting point was extremely high. They created a 100-volt multiple-circuit system and increased resistance to 200 ohms. The diameter of the filament was reduced to one-64th of an inch which used eight times less current. Edison often worked 18 hours a day, and he slept only 3 or 4 hours per day in short cat naps on a bench or under a table. Throughout his life he found solutions to problems in his dreams. He finally discovered a kind of paper he could use for the filament. On the night of October 21-22 their No. 9 lamp shined for 13 and a half hours. Edison requested a patent on November 1, and he used a metal alloy to replace the expensive platinum. In 13 months he had spent $42,869. The electric light and power industry he was starting would be valued at about $15 billion by the time he died in 1931. On Sunday December 21 the New York Herald had a front-page story with the headline:


The Edison Company directors provided $57,568 to Edison to extend his work in 1880. He was waiting for the new generator, but he demonstrated multiple lighting in Menlo Park on New Year’s Eve. He said he would light towns and even cities like Newark and New York, selling lamps for 25 cents each that will run for a few pennies a day. Cleveland and San Francisco installed streetlighting using arc-lamps invented by Charles Francis Brush.
      Edison planned a system to provide power for light, heat, and electrical devices. While waiting for the Porter-Allen steam engine to arrive in January 1881, he built a larger dynamo using field magnets. On 27 January 1880 he got a patent for his Electric Lamp and the next day another for his “multiple-arc distribution” system using numerous generators with a circuit using metal wire. On the 28th he demonstrated his electric current supply to the directors of the Edison Electric Light Company. In the first year he employed 133 men, and they produced 1,000 lamps per day.
      Henry Villard invested in Edison Electric Light, and by summer his Northern Pacific Railroad had control over a second transcontinental railway system. He urged Edison to invent an electric locomotive, and in the spring workers began laying track at Menlo Park near the laboratory. On May 18 a crowd gathered to see the testing of the first electric train that carried at least a dozen people. The train went forward, but it was disabled going in reverse. In June the Edison Express attained a speed of 40 miles per hour. That summer Villard advanced Edison $40,000 to improve the engine, and he invented electric braking.
      Edison was using bamboo for filaments. When he learned that more than a thousand species of the Bambusca phyllostachys were in the world, he hired six explorers to search for one that could last longer during incandescence, spending $100,000 on this in the next few years. William H. Moore in December found the Yawata madake in Japan’s Kansai forest, and its fibers could be electrified for 2,450 hours. On December 17 J. P. Morgan financed the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York with Grosvenor Lowrey as chairman of the board. Their job was to expand operations to Manhattan.
      In 5 February 1881 Edison sent his right-hand man Charles Batchelor to Paris to prepare for the Exposition Internationale d’Electricité later that year. Edison and his family moved to the Chipman Boarding House on Fifth Street in New York City on March 1, the day that Samuel Insull arrived from England to be Edison’s private secretary and to help with business issues. Insull had studied self-help books by Samuel Smiles. They planned a small lighting project by Pearl Street and purchased 5,000 square feet in August. Previous lighting had used wires in the air, and some workers on poles had been electrocuted. Edison chose to use the earth by digging trenches for underground conduits. Their first Jumbo dynamo generator arrived in Paris on September 23, and Edison’s inventions won five medals at the Paris exhibition.
      On 6 July 1881 Edison had tested the first Jumbo dynamo and added a second one three days later. They found that the Porter-Allen engines had faulty governors. Steam was added to the Jumbo dynamo on September 1. They turned on the lights; but they were not very conspicuous until it was dark. So far the Pearl Street project had cost some $600,000. The capitalist Morgan partners and Western Union directors were cautious, and the Edison Electric Light Company grew slowly. On September 4 Edison provided electricity to turn on 400 lamps for 85 customers in the Lower East Side of New York.
      Edward Johnson ordered the second Jumbo for the Crystal Palace exhibition at London in January 1882. That year Edison applied for 141 patents. Lewis Howard Latimer was the son of freed slaves. In January 1882 he got a patent for an incandescent light bulb, and in 1884 he began working for the Edison Electric Light Company. In September 1882 Edison and the financier J. P. Morgan founded the Edison Illuminating Co in New York, and on 19 January 1883 they provided the first standardized incandescent electric lighting system for Roselle, New Jersey. That year a small station illuminated the New York Stock Exchange.
      In 1883 Edison’s two-element vacuum tube would lead to a radio tube invented by Lee De Forest in 1906. Also in 1883 the Directors’ annual report declared that they intended “to maintain a practical business monopoly” with their many patents. Villard’s overextended Northern Pacific Railroad went into receivership in January 1884. By then there were 150,000 of their lamps in the United States, and they had about 200 lighting plants being used by factories, stores, and hotels. Edison’s first wife Mary suffered from neuralgia and was given morphine to ease the pain. During severe pain she was given an overdose and died on August 9.
      Edison discovered what in 1885 the Welsh engineer William H. Preece called the “Edison effect” which he used in the first electronic instrument. Edison then experimented with wireless telegraphy between moving trains and wires on poles near the tracks which he called the “grasshopper telegraph,” and he applied for the patent on May 14.
       The wholesale price of their lamps began at $1.21 each in 1880 but was reduced to 30 cents in 1885 and to 22 cents in the late 1880s. In 1886 the Edison Machine Works was moved from New York City to Schenectady. Two more New York City stations were completed at 26th Street in 1886 and 39th Street in 1887. Most of the textile mills in New England bought lighting plants. By October 1886 the Edison organization had over 500 lighting plants in the United States using more than 330,000 lamps. Edison’s practical inventions and industrial enterprise made him a millionaire, and his lifestyle changed.
      After getting her father’s permission Edison on 24 February 1886 married 20-year-old Mina Miller of Akron, Ohio. Because of his poor hearing they often communicated privately using Morse code signals tapped on each other’s hands. Edison had a winter home built in Fort Myers, Florida, and he bought the fabulous Glenmont house in a West Orange suburb in New Jersey. He had a very large laboratory built a half-mile away that took a year to complete. The library had 10,000 volumes, and the laboratory was stocked with 8,000 different chemicals. Edison was assisted by a staff of about fifty persons that increased.
      Zipernowski, Blathy, and Déri of Budapest got a patent on November 2 for an induction coil transformer that could produce high voltage to distribute alternating current (AC) electricity over longer distances than Edison’s direct current (DC). Their ZBD transformer was used by George Westinghouse, and Nicola Tesla would invent things for him using direct current. Edison knew that he needed AC for larger areas; but he was concerned about the safety because he observed that AC was much more lethal in accidents than DC. Sprague advised the Edison Company president Edward Johnson that AC was made more reliable, and Johnson purchased the American rights to the ZBD transformer. Edison applied for about ten patents related to AC. Although DC was safer, Westinghouse was getting more orders in one month than Edison got in a year. The thin wire for AC was easier to install and operate and could be extended farther.
      In November 1888 the Medico-Legal Society reported to the New York legislature that the quickest way to execute a person for a capital crime was to use 3,000 volts of alternating current. Harold Brown, who worked for Edison, argued that no AC over 300 volts should be distributed, and he published the pamphlet, The Comparative Danger to Life of the Alternating and Continuous Currents.
      The Sing Sing prison ordered three Westinghouse dynamos to replace the less humane hanging in December, and on August 6 they executed William Kemmler for murder in an electric chair; he had to be shocked several times before he died.
      On a cold day outside the East Newark facility Edison caught pleurisy and perhaps pneumonia. He was very ill for several weeks but recovered in February 1887. In the spring he went back to working on his phonograph, and he found himself in competition with the Bell laboratory in Washington DC where Alexander Bell and his cousin Chichester Bell were working with the technician Charles Sumner Tainter on a talking machine they called a “graphophone.” They proposed a partnership with Edison, but he thought they were stealing his invention and rejected any deal. He organized the Edison Phonograph Company on October 10 with $1.2 million to market their motor-driven phonograph, and he opened a much larger laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. Emile Berliner got a patent in November for a gramophone that played disks instead of a cylinder. Edison had already sold his patent for a microphone to Bell Telephone.
      After six months of hard work Edison notified the press of his progress, and he predicted a new phonograph in two weeks. In April 1888 he learned that Bell and Tainter sold their patent rights to the millionaire Jesse Lippincott. The Edison organization accused Lippincott’s American Graphophone Company of infringing on their patents. Edison in June 1888 worked for five days straight during which he stayed up for a “stretch of 72 hours.” They used the wax on their cylinders; but they only played for two minutes, and recording could not be stopped or altered.
      Edison’s trusted friend, Ezra Gilliland, conspired with his lawyer John Tomlinson and reorganized the phonograph company and sold shares in a new company. Edward Johnson and others opposed selling their shares, but Edison paid them to do so. Lippincott organized the North American Phonograph Company on July 14 that joined the efforts of Edison with those of Bell and Tainter. Tomlinson arranged the contracts between Edison and Lippincott so that the sales agency went to himself, Lippincott, and Gilliland on August 31. The next day Gilliland and Tomlinson with their families left for Europe to negotiate Edison’s phonograph rights. Tomlinson asked for some money, and Edison gave him $7,000. Gilliland got a $250,000 bonus. Lippincott went to Edison and told him that Gilliland and Tomlinson had tricked him and offered to let Lippincott buy Edison’s patents at half their value. Edison sent a cablegram to Gilliland abrogating his contract and demanding that he refund all the money paid him and telling him not to exhibit his phonographs in Europe. Edison built a large factory to supply thousands of phonographs to the North American Phonograph Company.
      Johnson and Frank J. Sprague set up the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company in 1884, and the Edison Machine Works manufactured the Sprague motors. Sprague invented a motor for streetcars, and his company in the fall of 1887 installed an electric streetcar line in Richmond, Virginia. The Edison organization would purchase the Sprague company in 1889.
      On 8 October 1888 Edison began working on a camera that could take microphotographs that could be seen at the rate of 25 per second, providing the first motion pictures that he called a “Kinetograph” or a “Kinetoscope.” In 1889 he invented the Kinetoscope for viewing strips of film showing 40 photographs per second as a moving picture. On 23 April 1896 his Vitascope projector was used in New York to show the public motion pictures that people called “movies” or “flickers.”
      Harry Ward Leonard had worked with Edison on an electrical system for the central station, and he got a patent for the first electric train lighting system. The I. M. Singer Co. introduced electric sewing machines and sold a million of them in a year.
      Nikola Tesla had worked for Edison at the West Orange lab, and he developed an alternating-current electric motor that with induction, synchronous and split-phase motors could transmit power over longer distances than direct current, but his Tesla Electric Company was failing.
      In 1892 New York financier J. P. Morgan combined the Edison General Electric Company with the Thomson-Houston Electric into the General Electric Company with Charles A. Coffin as the first chief executive officer.
      On 23 April 1896 Edison’s Vitascope projector was used in New York to show the public motion pictures people called “movies” or “flickers.”

Alexander Graham Bell

      Alexander Bell was born on 3 March 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother Eliza Grace Bell was deaf; but she could play a piano by attaching her ear tube to the sounding board, and she taught her three sons to play piano. Aleck played the best, and in 1857 he went to the Hamilton Place Academy. On his 11th birthday his father Alexander Melville Bell allowed Aleck to choose the middle name Graham. Aleck liked to collect botanical specimens, and he made a machine with rotating paddles to clean the husks off wheat. In high school he was taught Latin and Greek. In the fall of 1862 Aleck moved to London to live with his grandfather Bell who had published his play, The Bride, in 1847. He taught Aleck elocution using Shakespeare’s plays. Melville studied phonetics and taught his sons how organs make speech, and in 1864 he created a phonetic alphabet.
      In 1863 Aleck attended the Weston House Academy in Moray, Scotland, and he became a student teacher of elocution and music. He experimented with a tuning fork and vowel sounds and learned from his friend Alex Ellis that he was verifying the discoveries of Hermann von Helmholtz. Ellis loaned him Helmholtz’s The Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music. In 1867 his father Melville published his Visible Speech: The Science of Universal Alphabetics, and the next year he had printed a 16-page pamphlet, English Visible Speech for the Million.
      Aleck assisted his father at a private school for the deaf at Kensington in London. When Melville went back to Boston to continue his Lowell lectures, Aleck Bell filled in teaching the deaf. In October 1868 Aleck went to university classes on physiology and anatomy, and he joined the College Medical Society and watched surgical operations. In May 1870 his brother Melly died of tuberculosis. In August the Bell family moved to Brantford, Ontario in Canada. Melville in March 1871 got his son Aleck a job teaching at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Boston, and Aleck moved there in April. He taught thirty children at the School for Deaf Mutes. In September only four students appeared, but Theresa Dudley’s $100 fee paid most of his expenses.
      The Clarke School president Gardiner Greene Hubbard toured European articulation schools for two years and returned to Clarke on 8 April 1872. Hubbard was also a patent lawyer and was interested in telegraphy. His daughter Mabel had scarlet fever at the age of five in 1862 and became completely deaf. Hubbard and Mabel learned sign language, but he wanted to teach her how to speak. He learned that Samuel Gridley Howe had developed an oral method, and he and Hubbard had some success with it in 1867. That year the legislature endowed the Clarke school with $50,000.
      Bell’s father had studied phonetics and invented a system of visible speech, and his son Aleck began using it at Boston in April 1871 to teach the deaf. In May 1872 he moved to Hartford where the American Asylum used sign language and started experimenting with articulation. The Old and New magazine published Aleck’s article on “Visible Speech” in July, and in August he attended in Flint, Michigan the annual convention of deaf-school principals.
      On October 18 the Boston Transcript reported that the Western Union Telegraph Company had acquired the “duplex telegraph” invented by Joseph B. Stearns. Young Bell began attending free Lowell lectures on scientific topics. He went to Clarke in December 1873 and organized a convention for visible speech teachers in January 1874 at Worcester. He presented the principal paper to sixty teachers, and some founded the Visible Speech Pioneer periodical. In April the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Society of Arts sponsored Bell’s lecture to 40 people. He was given access to MIT and was allowed to use the Helmholtz apparatus for experiments. That summer Bell spent more time with the 16-year-old Mabel Hubbard. She had learned German while in Europe but still had difficulty speaking. On November 23 in a letter to his parents Bell explained his harp apparatus using a diaphragm to create “electric speech.” In July the New York Times had reported that Elisha Gray had a similar invention. Hubbard’s lawyer persuaded Bell to withdraw his caveat so that Gray would not be aware of Bell’s progress. Hubbard also advised Bell to let Professor Lovering examine his telegraph theories, and he could find no flaws.
      Thomas A. Watson worked in the electrical laboratory of Charles Williams, and in January 1875 Watson was allowed to work with Bell. His multiple telegraph was successfully tested at the home of Thomas Sanders, and on February 19 Bell and Sanders took a train to Washington where his apparatus was installed in Hubbard’s house for exhibition. Western Union president Orton arrived and was impressed enough to stay an hour. On the 27th Bell, Sanders, and Hubbard signed an agreement to share Bell’s telegraphic inventions. On March 11 Bell used an induced current on his instruments. In June he heard a timbre of sound coming through wires from his assistant Watson, and on July 1 he heard vocal sounds for the first time and called it a “grand telegraphic discovery.” His autograph telegraph was completed by the end of the month.
      After delays by her parents, on Thanksgiving Day November 25, which was Mabel’s 18th birthday, she agreed to be engaged to Bell.
      On 16 February 1876 the Patent Office declared Bell’s application for a harmonic multiple telegraph to be interfering with applications by Elisha Gray and Paul La Cour. On March 7 Bell received the telephone patent which would prove to be one of the most lucrative. He explained his telephone on May 10 at the Boston Athenaeum to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his telephone was displayed at the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in June and July. In January 1877 Bell applied for and received a patent for his final specifications that included the phone box for the transmitter and receiver with the metallic diaphragm-armature and the permanent magnet with a coil. On April 4 Charles Williams connected a telephone line from this Boston shop to his Somerville home, and that day he talked to his wife on that line. The first Bell telephone was sold in May, and on the 17th the first telephone switchboard was connected in a Boston office. That spring Bell, Sanders, Hubbard, and Watson formed a Patent Association. They began the Bell Telephone Company in Boston on July 9, and the first telephone exchange was installed in Lowell, Massachusetts. Two days later Bell married Mabel at the Hubbard home in Cambridge where they had first met.
      On 28 January 1878 the first commercial telephone exchange began in New Haven, Connecticut, and by March it was operating at night too. In February their company’s directory listed 50 subscribers. Some lawsuits over the telephone continued for a while, and the company came close to bankruptcy; but in March 1879 they merged with the New England Telephone Company to become the National Bell Telephone Company with more capitalization. Bell remained as director and wrote that he would not make any arrangement with Western Union until his reputation was cleared.
      On 17 January 1882 Leroy Firman received a patent for the telephone switchboard which helped increase greatly the number of telephone subscribers. New York merchants persuaded Bell Telephone to open its exchange at 5 a.m. instead of 8 and to stay open past 6 p.m.
      On June 3 Alexander Graham Bell transmitted a wireless telephone message on a photophone.
      Alexander Graham Bell and his father-in-law founded Science magazine and associated it with the 35-year-old American Association for the Advancement of Science.
      In Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory the engineer Charles Tainter invented the graphophone which gained a patent in January 1886 and was an early form of the dictaphone. They improved the sound quality by using cylinders shifting covered with wax instead of tinfoil. By the end of 1887 the United States had 200,000 telephone listings including 5,767 in the Boston area.
      Early in 1887 Captain Arthur H. Keller sent his deaf and blind daughter Helen to Washington to be tutored by Bell. He contacted the Perkins Institution director Michael Anagnos who sent Anne Mansfield Sullivan to teach 6-year-old Helen by spelling out words for her with her fingers. Annie arrived on March 3, a day that Helen would remember as her “soul’s birthday.” In the next 17 days Annie transformed “a wild little creature” into “a gentle child.” On April 5 Helen learned that things had names, and three months later she began writing letters. 
      On 27 March 1893 branch managers of the Bell Telephone Company talked easily on the phone line from New York to Boston in the first long-distance call. That year Bell’s monopoly ended with the expiration of his telephone patent after defeating more than 600 lawsuits. This change enabled dozens of independent telephone companies to develop.

Other Inventions 1869-97

      John Wesley Hyatt invented the first industrial plastic from cellulose, and he patented celluloid in 1869. He won a $10,000 reward by using it to make billiard balls which had been made from ivory. It could also be used for piano keys, buttons, dental plates, combs, and many other things.
      In 1869 the sisters Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe began publishing The American Women’s Home and suggested kitchen innovations such as the kerosene lamp for the best light.
      In 1871 William Heston at Ravenna, Ohio patented a process of making oatmeal for the Quaker Mill Co.
      Young Luther Burbank (1849-1926) in Massachusetts studied botany, and guided by Charles Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication in 1872 he selected the best potatoes and planted their seeds instead of the tubers in order to evolve better “Idaho” potatoes. Burbank would go on to improve tomatoes, corn, peas, squash, asparagus, apples, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, prunes, berries, and flowers.
      Philip Armour got rich buying and selling meat during the Civil War, and he and his brothers founded the Armour and Company in 1867 for meatpacking and other products in Illinois. They began supervising grain warehouses, and the US Supreme Court would approve such regulation for the first time in 1877. Armour & Co. built a large chill room next to Chicago’s Union Stock Yard to preserve meat by cold instead of with salt, and they started the Armour Refrigerator Line in 1883. Armour donated $1 million to found the Armour Institute of Technology in 1893.
      In 1878 the Remington Arms Co. developed a shift-key system for its typewriters, and the Remington Typewriter Company was founded. That year Albert Augustus Pope converted his air-pistol factory in Hartford, Connecticut to making bicycles with a high front wheel.
      In 1879 the Echo Farms Dairy began delivering milk in glass bottles instead of measuring it in pitchers. Chemist Ira Remsen and Constantine Fahlberg at John Hopkins University discovered saccharin which is over 300 times sweeter than sugar.
      Parke, Davis & Company in Detroit promised physicians that they could assure the specifications of drug dosages by chemical testing.
      Robert Gair discovered a way to make practical paper bags and cardboard boxes.
      On 7 November 1879 Jake Ritter of Dayton, Ohio got a patent for a cash register that displayed and recorded the amounts of purchases.
      In 1880 about 539,000 Singer sewing machines were sold. The first electric Singer sewing machine was demonstrated at the Philadelphia electric exhibition in 1889.
      Also in 1880 Gustavus Swift began shipping beef in refrigerated railway cars from Chicago to Boston.
      On February 19 Gail Borden, who had invented a way to make sweetened condensed milk in 1853, began publishing the Houston Post.
      On March 4 the New York Daily Graphic newspaper produced a half-tone photograph using a fine screen.
      On September 30 the first American hydroelectric power plant began operating by the Fox River at Appleton, Wisconsin.
      On December 11 the first electrically lit production used 650 bulbs at the Bijou Theater in Boston for a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta Iolanthe.
      New electrical devices included a fan, flatiron, cable cars in Chicago, and a Christmas tree.
      The Boston Symphony Orchestra was founded on 22 October 1881 with a program that included works by Beethoven, Franz Joseph Haydn, Gluck, Schubert, and Weber.
      George Westinghouse had invented a railroad braking system with compressed air in 1869, and he formed the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. In 1883 he developed natural gas pipelines for towns. In 1884 he hired physicist William Stanley to design an electric lighting system for Washington DC. In 1885 he learned of alternate current systems in Europe, and he imported Gaulard–Gibbs transformers and a Siemens generator for Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
      On 24 May 1883 the Brooklyn Bridge, costing $15.5 million and taking 13 years to build, was completed with the longest span of 1,595 feet.
      US telegraph service was extended to Brazil.
      The 18-year-old German immigrant Julius Schmid was the first to provide condoms made with lamb guts for contraception.
      On 22 October 1883 the Metropolitan Opera House, which cost $1,750,000 and could seat 1,989 people, opened in New York City with a performance of Gounod’s Faust.
      On 21 August 1883 a tornado destroyed much of Rochester, Minnesota, and the Mayo Clinic began hiring Sisters of Saint Francis to help with intensive care. Mary Alfred Moes founded St. Mary’s Hospital in 1889, and it became part of the Mayo Clinic.
      George Swinton Parker in 1883 at the age of 16 invented a board game called Banking in which the goal is to gather the most wealth. By 1885 he had created four more card games called The Dickens Game, Ivanhoe, Speculation, and Great Battlefields. In 1888 his family started Parker Brothers.
      In 1884 the cardboard cannisters of Quaker Oats were the first packaging of a food product.
      Industrialist John Henry Patterson and his brother developed the National Cash Register Company that added a cash drawer with a bell. They paid high commissions to salesmen and gave them exclusive territories.
      George Eastman patented film rolls that were less expensive and easier to use, and in 1888 he would introduce the Kodak camera.
      Montgomery Ward began selling products in a catalog in 1872, and by 1884 they sold about 10,000 products and paid for transporting the return of unsatisfactory items.
      Ottmar Mergenthaler got a patent for his Linotype machine that greatly advanced the composing of newspapers.
      California banned hydraulic mining because of the environmental damage it had been causing since 1852.
      William Le Baron Jenney was the first to use steel in building the Home Life Insurance Building in Chicago which was ten stories high and was considered the world’s first skyscraper.
      Physician Edward Livingston Trudeau opened the Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium to treat tuberculosis with open air. The surgeon William Stewart Halsted in 1882 had been the first to perform a radical mastectomy for breast cancer. In 1884 he injected cocaine as a local anesthetic and became addicted to the drug. After a few years he recovered but had to use morphine. He was one of the first to use rubber gloves in surgery in 1889.
      On 4 January 1885 Dr. William West Grant performed the first successful appendectomy on Mary Gartside.
      On February 21 the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia was finally completed, standing 585 feet high and weighing 81,120 tons. Three years later it would have an elevator and would be open to visitors.
      On September 4 the Exchange Buffet opened the first self-service restaurant across the street from the New York Stock Exchange.
      Sylvanus Bowser invented a kerosene fuel pump, patented it, and began selling it. Later it would be used for automobiles.
      The first paper mill using ground-up wood was established at Camus in the Washington Territory.
      Leo Daft was English and came to New York in 1866. In 1885 he installed the first electric trolley in Baltimore using overhead wires for electricity.
      Charles Martin Hall studied chemistry at Oberlin College, and he produced aluminum electrolytically from aluminum oxide. He applied for a patent on 9 July 1886, and he started the Pittsburgh Reduction Company.
      Three Johnson brothers founded Johnson & Johnson with 14 employees including eight women. They had learned about Joseph Lister’s discovery of antiseptic methods in 1885, and they produced sterile supplies for surgery and other medical treatments.
      J. W. Mackay started the Commercial Cable Company in 1884 with the New York Herald publisher James G. Bennett, and in 1886 Mackay’s Postal Telegraph Company began providing competition for Western Union. The New York Tribune was the first to install linotype machines.
      Dorr Eugene Felt in January 1887 invented his accurate Comptometer calculating machine with keys.
      On 2 February 1888 Frank Julian Sprague invented the first successful electric trolley car service at Richmond, Virginia with 12 miles of track. The cars could move at 15 miles per hour and were lit with incandescent bulbs.
      Washington B. Duke in his factories at Durham, North Carolina and New York City produced 744 million cigarettes using a cigarette-making machine invented by James Bonsack of Virginia. W. Duke & Sons grossed $600,000. Thomas Edison chewed tobacco, but he refused to hire cigarette smokers.
      David A. Wells was an economic advisor to Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and Cleveland, and in Recent Economic Changes (1889) he wrote about the role of machines in improving economic growth and change, explaining,

The spirit of progress conjoined with capital,
and having in view economy
in distribution and the equalization of values,
is therefore controlling and concentrating the business
of retailing in the same manner as the business
of wholesale distribution and transportation,
and of production by machinery,
is being controlled and concentrated, and all to an extent
never before known in the world’s experience.3

      In 1889 the chemist Herbert H. Dow got a patent for a way of extracting bromine that was cost effective, and he would improve the process using electrolysis in 1891.
      The safety bicycle with two wheels nearly the same size was introduced in the United States, and within four years it would be used by a million Americans.
      William Gray invented a coin-operated telephone, got a patent, and installed one in the Hartford Bank. A nickel could be used for local calls until 1951.
      The Otis Company installed the first electric elevator in the Demarest building in New York City.
      In 1890 Joseph Newton Pew incorporated the Sun Oil Company of Ohio and pumped gas using mechanical pressure. The company would grow and become Sunoco.
      John Harvey Kellogg used ground wheat, oatmeal, and cornmeal to make Granola, and he started the Sanitas Food Company.
      In 1891 Whitcomb L. Judson applied for a patent for his chain-lock fastener that become known as the useful zipper.
      William Burroughs gained a patent for an adding machine that he invented to help bookkeepers.
      Almon B. Strowger, an undertaker in Kansas City, invented a rotary dial telephone so that his calls would not be diverted to his competitor.
      In 1891 Carpenter Electric Heating Manufacturing Company in St. Paul, Minnesota began selling electric ovens.
      George Batten started an advertising agency in New York City offering production and placement.
      Walter Camp wrote the first rule book for football with 11-man teams, a scrimmage line, signals, and a quarterback. James Naismith invented the game of basketball in Massachusetts to give students another sport in between the football and baseball seasons.
      Charles Duryea and his brother Franklin attached a four-cycle gasoline engine to a buggy in Springfield, Massachusetts and test drove it in 1892.
      In 1892 the dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary Department brought tuberculin from Europe and began testing cattle on March 3.
      John Froelich invented a gasoline-powered tractor in Iowa and started the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company the next year.
      Nathan Straus had become a co-owner of the R. H. Macy & Company Department Store in 1888. In 1892 he began pasteurizing milk and established milk stations in New York and other cities.
      Surgeon David Hale Williams saved the life of a person with a knife wound by doing the world’s first open-heart surgery.
      John Hopkins University founded its Medical School with outstanding physicians.
      After 16 and a half years since his application George B. Selden finally got his patent for an automobile with a clutch on November 5.
      C. W. Post concocted Postum from wheat, molasses, wheat bran, and water as a nutritional substitute for coffee, and in 1895 he began the Postum Cereal Co.
      In 1894 Milton Hershey in Lancaster, Pennsylvania developed a chocolate bar that was 45% sugar, 24% milk solids, 17% cocoa beans, and chocolate liquor, and another that included almonds, though the first Hershey bars were not sold until 1900.
      Frederick Taylor in June 1895 presented his essay “A Piece-Rate System of Wages” to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers arguing that this new form of labor would be more productive.
      The Nikola Tesla Company began, and he invented a rotating magnetic field with alternating current enabling the Niagara Falls Power Co. on August 26 to transmit the first commercial electric power from the falls using three Westinghouse Electric generators to deliver 2,200 volts which the Pittsburgh Reduction Co. used to reduce aluminum ore. The electricity was also used to run trolley cars and streets lights in the city of Buffalo.
      Wilbur Olin Atwater set up an Office of Experiment Stations for the US Department of Agriculture, and he devised a system for calculating as calories the amount of energy for heat people take in from food.
      The Hartford Rubber Works produced the first pneumatic tires for motorcars in the US, and they were also used for bicycles.
      John Thomas Underwood developed a better typewriter invented by Franz X. and Herman L. Wagner.
      More than 300 motorcars had been built and sold. Only about 60 used a gasoline engine while twice that many used steam or electricity.
      Music by Samuel A. Ward and lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates produced the song “America the Beautiful.”
      On 29 January 1896 Emil H. Grubbe learned that the German William Roentgen had discovered X-rays. After burning his hand Grubbe experimented by using them to destroy malignant cells in a breast-cancer patient.
      In February the Duryea Motor Wagon Co. in Massachusetts offered the first motorcars for sale in the US. Then Ransom Olds sold them at Lansing, Michigan, and Alexander Winton in Cleveland marketed them with tires made by B. F. Goodrich. On March 6 Charles B. King drove Ford’s gasoline-powered quadricycle in Detroit that Henry Ford himself drove on June 4.
      The astronomer Samuel Pierpont Langley built a steam-powered model airplane, the first flying machine, that flew 3,000 feet along the Potomac River on May 6.
      The Diamond Match Company manufactured pocket-size books of matches that began selling after companies used them for advertising.
      The song “When the Saints Go Marching In” was composed by James M. Black with lyrics by Katherine E. Purvis. Also in 1896 the stage play El Capitan with music by John Philip Sousa played on Broadway for 112 performances. He also composed his most famous march, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”


1. Edison a biography by Matthew Josephson, p. 161.
2. Ibid., p. 163.
3. The Annals of America, Volume 11 1884-1894 Agrarianism and Urbanization, p. 232.

Copyright © 2022 by Sanderson Beck

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