The invention of the telephone changed the world, connecting people and communities over vast distances and revolutionizing communication. But what country was it invented in?
The patent for the invention of the telephone was issued in the United States in 1876 to the Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell. However, there were many inventors competing in the United States, while breakthroughs were also made by the Italian Manzetti and Reis in the German Confederation.
To learn more about one of the most controversial inventions of all time, leading to hundreds of legal issues, read on.
The Road to the Development of the Telephone
When the American professor Samuel F.B. Morse proved the efficacy of his telegraph invention that could send messages via electromagnetic signals over wires in 1838, it revolutionized communication in the 1840s and prompted a rush in the scientific community to improve upon it.
If sound could be sent over long distances using Morse code to relay messages, many inventors hypothesized that voices could also be carried over wires via electromagnetic signals for communication.
While the U.S. patent for the telephone would be issued on February 14, 1876, to the Edinburgh-born and Canadian resident Alexander Graham Bell, much of the scientific foundation of this invention had already been established.
Due to the revolutionary significance of the invention, naturally, many countries claim the invention of the telephone and many scientists from around the world made important contributions, with the idea of an “invention” perhaps being open to some interpretation. In 1854 in France, Charles Bourseul, for example, described how a telephone invention could theoretically work but he did not build one.
Also in France, based on an idea he had perhaps 20 years earlier, the Italian inventor Innocenzo Manzetti built an automaton in 1864 that had a “speaking telegraph” that gave it the power of speech, essentially working as a telephone. He did not patent the invention and it was seen as a novelty.
At around the same time, in 1859 in the German Confederation, the self-taught inventor Johann Philipp Reis developed a working telephone that could use galvanic current to reproduce sound over any distance. He presented his findings in Frankfurt in 1861, speaking the phrase “the horse does not eat cucumber salad” over the line, with the invention being seen as of some use.
However, Reis’s invention had poor quality sound and could only relay messages in one direction, while his invention was perhaps too early and was seen as something of a novelty. He died in 1874.
Battles and Controversy
At around the same time, many other inventors were working on ideas for the telephone, including the Italian Meucci, the American Gray, and the Scotsman Bell. Antonio Meucci had created a voice communication device and had filed for a patent in 1871 in the United States, but it was not issued due to a lack of funds.
Alexander Graham Bell was working on his plans for a telephone and had been experimenting with Reis’s apparatus since 1862. He moved to Canada in 1870 and taught at a school for the deaf while working on making improvements to Reis’s machine in his spare time, also taking inspiration from Meucci (Meucci accused Bell of stealing his ideas) as Bell had previously worked in Meucci’s workshops and had been exposed to his plans.
An American from Illinois called Elisha Gray was also working on improvements to the telegraph and being able to transmit multiple tones as well as voice via telegraphs. Gray submitted his telephone designs for a patent on February 14, 1876, claiming that he was first, although the official records claim that he filed his patent two hours after Bell’s lawyers had filed his.
Bell had been waiting to file his patent as he did not want to file in the United States until he had filed a patent in the United Kingdom. There were also allegations that Bell had stolen ideas from Gray, notably his plans for a liquid transmitter.
Regardless, after hundreds of legal battles, Bell was issued the patent and was credited as the inventor of the telephone, before creating a company that would connect the United States via telephone networks, with over 49,000 telephones in the country by 1880. This company was later named AT&T.
Which Country Was the Telephone Invented In?
In short, while Meucci, Gray, and Bell came from different countries, they made their innovations in telephone technology in the United States, with Bell being given the patent, so the telephone was officially developed in the country.
However, precursors were invented elsewhere, such as Reis’s invention in 1859 in the German Confederation.