Have you ever thought what the world would be like if the telephone had never been invented? Thanks to Alexander Graham Bell we have instant contact whenever we want it. OK, now name other inventions Bell was involved in researching. Other inventions, you ask? Yes. In fact he was a prolific inventor. Although he lived in Boston and later in Washington, D.C. he spent his last 30+ summers in Baddeck (Baa – deck) on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Having been born in Scotland, he’d moved to Ontario, Canada with his mother and father in 1870. Baddeck reminded him of Scotland and he built a large home there, Beinn Bhreagh, which is still owned by the Bell family. In the 1950’s his daughters donated all of Bell’s inventions, papers and personal effects to Canada on the condition that a museum be built in Baddeck. Canada already has a museum in Ottowa devoted to the telephone. The Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck is devoted to all of his other interests and inventions. I had no idea he was such a creative genius. He grew up in a time when inventors were creating the things we take for granted today i.e. pasteurization, wireless (telegraph) communication and the phonograph (life before downloading for the younger folks). He was a contemporary of Edison and Marconi.
His father, Melville Bell, was a teacher of voice and elocution. Perhaps because his mother was partially deaf his father created Visible Speech, a phonetic alphabet for the deaf, in 1864. Invention in the world of air and sound just seemed to be his birthright. Bell worked in the Boston area as a teacher to the deaf while working on his theories of sound transmission via wire. He obtained the first telephone patent in the US in March 1876 and a few days later the “Come here Mr. Watson …” message was made. The telephone made him independently wealthy and gave him the opportunity to turn his genius loose. He had to defend his telephone patents in over 600 court cases. As a result he became a prolific record keeper. The museum houses rooms full of documentation. So as they say, here’s the rest of the story…
As you enter the exhibits there is a timeline leading up to the invention of the telephone. His experiments were funded in part by a man named Hubbard. In 1877 Mabel Hubbard would become his wife and business partner. Not since John and Abigail Adams have I heard of such a devoted couple with ongoing correspondence. He was the inventor while she managed the business issues. She must have loved him very much as we learned he was prone to getting an idea and then grabbing whatever he could find around the house to work on the project. One time he took silk fabric she’d just ordered from Italy for a dress to use on a tetrahedral kite. Another time he grabbed a wooden blind off a window to become a prototype for an airplane propeller. We learned this and much more quite by accident, luckily for us.
Steve spotted a small sign on the wall saying “ASK ABOUT OUR WHITE GLOVE TOURS”. So we asked. These tours aren’t mentioned anywhere else that we saw. You pay $5/room (there are 3 rooms) to go behind the scenes with a Park Interpreter for 30+ minutes. The rooms are divided by interest area into Bell’s workshop, The family room and the aviation room. We choose to do all 3 and it was the highlight of our visit. In his workshop, with white gloves on, we were able to handle various artifacts he had fabricated or used in experiments. The Interpreter told us just that morning they had been doing some research on another topic when they discovered documentation about a whistle in this room. It told them he was experimenting with the conduction of sound underwater. Since this was during WW I, could he have been investigating what we came to know as Sonar? In the second room, the family room, we saw photos and heard a copy from the Library of Congress wax cylinder with his voice. We also learned he was instrumental in forming the National Geographic Society and his relationship with early aviation pioneers to form the Aerial Experiment Association in 1909. Room number three held hi experiments with flight that led to the hydrofoil and in 1909 the Silver Dart, Canada’s first powered, controlled airplane flight. Bell was involved with the HD-4 hydrofoil which set a world speed record in 1919 but never rode on it. The theory is that he had perfect hearing and depended upon this for many of his experiments. He was afraid that the noise encountered by being a passenger would damage his ears.
In 2005 the Aerial Experiment Association began fabrication of a full size replica of the Silver Dart to commemorate the centennial in 2009. That February, the replica was flown by a Canadian astronaut. It took off from a frozen Lake Bras d’Or just as the original had done. It will never be flown again. In April of 2013 the back of the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site was opened and the Silver Dart brought in for display.
If you go to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, don’t miss the White Glove Tours!