Antiques of Science and Technology   781 245 2897

Click on the number above to more details of each  instrument.



Bells  1st Telephone Design

The Dates for the Sequence of Construction and Experimental Events
see ref 1

  • On June 2nd 1875. while working on his harmonic telegraph,  in the attic of the Williams machine shop on Court Street Boston, Alexander Graham Bell  and his assistant Thomas A.  Watson discovered  they could transmit more than a single sound note,  a timbre electrically through  wires from one  room to another using iron resonant reeds driven by electromagnets. Because of Bell expertise in sound he immediately recognized the possibility of  talking over wires and created his first design.


  • On the 3rd & 4th June  1875 Watson working from Bells design sketches perhaps blending in his own view constructed  the first telephone.
  • We built one for this project out of vintage material  to get a feeling of how well it worked.
  • Their design did not work nor did ours.

  • Depending on the number of turns of wire we were using on the magnet we were getting microvolts of signal .The  membrane diaphragm and reed were not suitable plus the magnetic circuit was very poor.

  • Bell carried out very few experiments  on this model and they were  unsuccessful from the start. Further work was suspended  for nearly a month for a variety of reasons including the displeasure of one of his backers Mr. Hubbard who wanted results on the harmonic telegraph to have a  higher priority.


  • Curiously in hind site if. Bell and Watson had used a thin iron disk in place of the  membrane and  had a permanent magnet iron core in  the coil they would have had a successful working model from the start.


  • It wasn't until July 1st 1875 when Watson  modified the instrument with a heavier membrane and a lighter reed that they began hearing some semblances of voices which was further improved with the addition of another diaphragm instrument for the receiver however the results were very marginal. However Bell felt he could eventually make the telephone work and decided to patent lit anyways, Fortunately for Bell and his crew in 1870  patent models were no longer required by law.


  • Between July 1875 and March 8th 1876 nearly 8 months Bell wrote up his patent for the telephone attended to other  patents, attended to his job as a teacher at Boston University and worked on his quest to Marry  Mabel  Hubbard daughter. He was successful on all accounts.


  • on March 7th 1876. He was awarded his patent for the telephone.


  • On March 8th 1876. He went back to the experiments to try and make it work.  This time He started with  tuning  forks  experimenting  with acid pots  as variable resistance transmitters. Perhaps this was done  instead of continuing with the first magneto design  because Bell felt certain that he needed a stronger transmitter for reaching longer distances. See the general layout of the tuning forks device  in the figures and diagram below.

  • June 25 1876 Philadelphia  Centennial Exhibition the judging of the Telephone: Single-pole transmitter, the iron box receivers p169 ref 1 Koenig Manometrc capsule electric capsule was fitted with an electromagnetically vibrated diaphragm to show , by the dancing flame and revolving mirror how an adulatory electric current might  be visually observed


  • Thomas Edison finally worked out a successful variable resistance  microphone using carbon as the sound pressure resistive sensitive element.


  • Think about the prospective of money backers of such a project. There was no appreciation of the strong acceptance that  public would have for keeping in touch with his fellow man and woman. Western Union refused to by Bell company at a ridiculously low price which in few years  grew to hundreds of times the initial selling price.

  •  In  fact had their been a cell phone 60 years ago the cell phone would have appeared in the stores much sooner than they did and by now who knows where we might be in the communication arena


  • Different cultures, different languages, a common goal

Below are pictures of the Japanese film crew working together on the set. Here is  the producer, director, and young Bell working out the details of the metal detector for one of the laboratory scenes.

Below  is  the Scientific advisor showing the technical details of the apparatus to  the crew in the developing a shooting plan for the next scene.

Click More Set Pictures


The model we built of Bells first telephone design for a
Japanese TV program about Bell

Click pictures for more details ( June 3rd. & 4th 1875)

  • Below The Redesign We Made That Works

  • Click Picture For Details for this design and a discussion of the question

  •  Should the patent office have granted Bell the Patent?


  • Is the little replica below  the symbol of success or  failure?

  • This is symbolic replica of the original design that failed.

  •  It was celebrating the  1951 meeting of the Telephone Pioneers of America in Louisville, Kentucky

  • Bell realized that he needed to achieve good working distance for a practical telephone and to achieve it he needed to have an externally powered system. Below is one version he tried for a variable resistance microphone using an acid puddle.

Koenig Manometric capsule sound analyzer in our collection.

Click on the picture to see the details and other equipment that would have been available  to inventers in late 1800's


Feb 10 1877
Scientific American Article on Bell's New Telephone
with comments from no less an authority than Sir William Thomson




Historical Instruments of Science, Technology and Invention
 and what they tell us about the future.

The Alexander Graham Bell  story of invention and scientific discovery:  how  it gets done, how it ultimately gets to the customer, how business manipulates the use and availability of those  inventions or discoveries, and who gets the reward both in money and recognition is all very much the same today as it was in Bells time.

There are important lessons to be learned from this story. Lessons which are important to us today in every part of our daily living.  The Patents and discoveries  of today in food production  new medicines, communications ( the internet) affect all of us profoundly.

Civilizations rise and fall because of technical progress It's important for all of us to understand and  make sure that  our political representatives and businessmen understand this  and demand that we get our fair share of the rewards from these inventions and discoveries.

With careless management  these resources can be used against us. Millions of jobs move almost over night from one country to another because of technical progress.  Tens of thousands of atomic weapons are just waiting to be used because of technical progress. Thus far all of this progress for the most part has been used to make the world a better and safer place to live in  Many of us are living longer and enjoying ourselves more than in Bell's time.

We cant stop technical progress its in our genes. So we have to be on our toes and continue to use them wisely. After all Bell and his telephone and Sam Morse and his telegraph were not very clever in the science and engineering needed to invent the telephone and telegraph  but look what they started and how it has change everyone lives.

Antiques of Science and Technology
781 245 2897

Copyright 12/07/2004  Jim & Rhoda Morris