Way Back Wednesday: Can You Hear Me Now?

One of my pet interests is history. It’s a sad fact that today’s youth don’t get exposed to nearly enough history in school (and don’t get me started on that, because as a teacher, I could give you, oh, approximately three dozen reasons why that is and how to correct that). Anywho, I love history and historical trivia. I’d like to share some tidbits of history with you! Today, on Way Back Wednesday, let’s talk about the history of the telephone.

Most of us credit Alexander Graham Bell with inventing the telephone. Many of us in America have been customers of Ma Bell at some point. But did you know that Bell wasn’t the only one who applied for a patent on the telephone?

The lesser-known (and ultimately, unsuccessful) inventor of the telephone was Elisha Gray. Elisha Gray was an American electrical engineer born in 1835. Gray applied for over seventy patents through his career.

In 1874, Elisha Gray demonstrated a device that played musical tones over a telegraph line. He would continue inventing and developing, and then in February 1876, he was ready to apply for a patent.

Unfortunately, so was Bell.

 

Elisha Gray

On February 11, 1876, Elisha Gray directed his lawyers to prepare a caveat for filing at the US Patent Office. Patent caveats (discontinued in 1909) were essentially “intent to file” documents.

 

The problem? Bell’s lawyers were on standby to submit his patent application (they were just waiting on notification that the British patent had been filed first).

On the morning of February 14, Gray’s patent lawyer filed the caveat. However, Bell’s lawyers had gotten wind of Gray’s application and added some modifications to Bell’s.

A legal fight ensued. Of course, we all know the outcome (Graham Bell won). However, there are many who now suggest that Elisha Gray should be credited with the invention of the telephone.

Regardless of which man you credit, it’s a fair assumption that either one would be floored by how far the devices have come since their simple telegraph devices in the late 1800s. They certainly could never have dreamed of cellular phones and FaceTime.

Want to read more about Elisha Gray or the telephone? Check out these resources:

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