Friday, March 7, 2014

I subscribe to a newsletter called something like "Carl Cannon's Morning Note." It's kind of a "this day in history" newsletter with a sprinkling of what's going on now. Anyway, today's note has to do with Alexander Graham Bell because he received the patent for his telephone 138 years ago today.

I never knew that his experiments which led him to the telephone all came about as the result of a mistake. From the newsletter:
While studying at the University of London, Bell came across the thesis of German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz called "On the Sensations of Tone." In that paper, von Helmholtz described how he'd made the sensations of vowel sounds with a tuning fork. The paper had not yet been translated into either English or French, both of which Bell spoke, so he tried to tackle "On the Sensations of Tone" in the original German, a language he did not speak.
This charming bit of hubris resulted in what Bell would later describe as "a very valuable blunder"-believing that von Helmholtz had transmitted vowel sounds over a wire, he began trying to replicate a breakthrough that actually had never taken place.
That advance would indeed come, in the New World, and in Bell's own lab, for by the time he set sail for America the idea for the telephone was firmly planted in his impressive brain.
Later, he would ruminate on the misunderstanding that led to it all: "It gave me confidence," he said. "If I had been able to read German, I might never have begun my experiments in electricity."
 More later...

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