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Bell History

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  • Paul Rosa
    12/27/07 Denver Post Book argues that Bell stole phone idea By BRIAN BERGSTEIN AP Technology Writer Article Last Updated: 12/26/2007 11:54:27 AM MST BOSTON—A
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 27, 2007
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      12/27/07 Denver Post

      Book argues that Bell stole phone idea
      By BRIAN BERGSTEIN AP Technology Writer
      Article Last Updated: 12/26/2007 11:54:27 AM MST

      BOSTON—A new book claims to have definitive evidence of a long-suspected
      technological crime—that Alexander Graham Bell stole ideas for the
      telephone from a rival, Elisha Gray.

      In "The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret,"
      journalist Seth Shulman argues that Bell—aided by aggressive lawyers and
      a corrupt patent examiner—got an improper peek at patent documents Gray
      had filed, and that Bell was erroneously credited with filing first.

      Shulman believes the smoking gun is Bell's lab notebook, which was
      restricted by Bell's family until 1976, then digitized and made widely
      available in 1999.

      The notebook details the false starts Bell encountered as he and
      assistant Thomas Watson tried transmitting sound electromagnetically
      over a wire. Then, after a 12-day gap in 1876—when Bell went to
      Washington to sort out patent questions about his work—he suddenly began
      trying another kind of voice transmitter. That method was the one that
      proved successful.

      As Bell described that new approach, he sketched a diagram of a person
      speaking into a device. Gray's patent documents, which describe a
      similar technique, also feature a very similar diagram.

      Shulman's book, due out Jan. 7, recounts other elements that have piqued
      researchers' suspicions. For instance, Bell's transmitter design appears
      hastily written in the margin of his patent; Bell was nervous about
      demonstrating his device with Gray present; Bell resisted testifying in
      an 1878 lawsuit probing this question; and Bell, as if ashamed, quickly
      distanced himself from the telephone monopoly bearing his name.

      Perhaps the most instructive lesson comes when Shulman explores why
      historical memory has favored Bell and not Gray—nor German inventor
      Philipp Reis, who beat them both with 1860s telephones that employed a
      different principle.

      One reason is simply that Bell, not Gray, actually demonstrated a phone
      that transmitted speech. Gray was focused instead on his era's pressing
      communications challenge: how to send multiple messages simultaneously
      over the same telegraph wire. As Gray huffed to his attorney, "I should
      like to see Bell do that with his apparatus."
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