Monday, November 24, 2003

Our Daily Lesson

History is full of inventors who had their inventions stolen from them by greedy companies protecting profits. Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of the television, was nearly one such victim, at the hands of RCA.

Now comes word that yet another tale of history we thought we knew isn't true. Turns out that Alexander Graham Bell didn't invent the telephone. He missed it by thirteen years.
FOR more than a century, Alexander Graham Bell has been credited with inventing one of the world’s most ingenious and profitable inventions. But astonishing new evidence unearthed in the archives of London’s Science Museum reveals that successful tests on a German telephone, created 13 years before Bell’s, were suppressed, allowing the Scot to retain his position as the father of modern communications.

Previously unseen documents show how a series of experiments in 1947 on a device developed by Philipp Reis, found that it could work as well as Bell’s design when amplified. Using a modern receiver, the engineers found the German’s 1863 transmitter, a system written off by history, could transmit speech and that Reis’s receiver would also “reproduce speech of good quality but of low efficiency”.

But the file also reveals that the tests – carried out on a number of the museum’s telephone exhibits in 1947 to coincide with the centenary of Bell’s birth – were considered so controversial that they were ordered to be kept secret by Sir Frank Gill, then chairman of British firm Standard Telephones and Cables (STC).

According to the documents, STC was at the time locked in talks to win a lucrative business deal with the American Telephone and Telegraph company (ATT), which had evolved from the famous Bell Company, and Gill thought it commercial suicide to have the results made public.
There's more, of course. Read the whole thing.

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