Most people know Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone, but a lot of people don’t know that he did some pretty amazing things outside of telecommunications. So what did Alexander Graham Bell invent other than the telephone? In this blog post, we will look at the other inventions Bell created during his lifetime and their impact on society as we know it today.
Alexander Graham Bell Was a Prolific Inventor
From a young age, Alexander Graham Bell showed a keen interest in the science of sound and how it could be used for communication. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, inspired him greatly and often set him to task with innovative challenges. One childhood invention includes a talking baby doll that was so convincing that some mistakenly believed it to be real!
Alec’s genius became known throughout his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland. At just twelve years old, he invented a machine to help a local farmer husk wheat grain to increase the efficiency of his mill.
As he grew into young adulthood, Alec became an expert in the emerging field of acoustics and began to develop his own ideas for how sound could be used for communication. Although he later became known for his brilliant invention of the telephone, many people often overlook his contributions to other scientific and humanitarian efforts throughout his lifetime.
His interests were expansive.
Bell’s inventive spirit was constantly at work, from working on early prototypes of airplanes to helping develop the phonograph. He poured his time, money, and genius into scientific endeavors that included electromagnetic fields, aviation, and editorial publications such as the National Geographic magazine.
He spearheaded many research projects and scientific endeavors.
Bell was a strong advocate for scientific research and development. In 1876, he established the Volta Laboratory in Washington D.C., eventually leading to what we remember as his most remarkable invention of all—the telephone.
Bell later founded the Aerial Experiment Association, a group dedicated to developing heavier-than-air flying machines. The AEA’s first successful powered flight was made in a plane called the “Red Wing,” which Bell helped design himself. He later backed the Canadian Aerodrome Company, the first airplane company in Canada.
He was a passionate advocate for the deaf community.
Driven by a mission to expand opportunities for the deaf and hard of hearing, Bell spent much of his time and money working on projects to improve their quality of life. He developed a method of visible speech, which included a system of symbols representing the position and movement of the vocal organs to help those who could not hear learn how to speak.
Even one of his most successful companies, The Volta Laboratory, primarily focused on finding new ways to improve communication for the deaf community through electrical signals. Many of his inventions continue to serve our society today.
So What Did Alexander Graham Bell Invent Other Than the Telephone?
The Metal Detector
Bell’s inventions were often driven by the need to solve problems, and in 1881, America had a big problem on its hands— a presidential assassination attempt.
An assassin had shot President James Garfield, and the doctors treating him couldn’t find the bullet. So officials called in Bell to help using his newly invented metal detector. But unfortunately, the prototype was not yet sensitive enough to locate the small slug of lead, and as doctors had not yet begun to practice sterile surgery methods, the president eventually succumbed to infections from his injuries.
All was not lost, however, as the metal detector would go on to have other uses. It was successfully used in subsequent years to locate bullets in patients and is still used today for various security purposes.
The photophone was one of Bell’s favorite inventions. It worked by using mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a selenium receiver, turning the light into an electrical signal. Then, he could send this signal wirelessly to another photophone, turning it back into light and projecting it onto a screen, effectively reproducing the original message.
The photophone was the first wireless communication device, and while it wasn’t practical for long-distance use, it did lay the groundwork for future inventors to build upon.
The audiometer is a device used to measure a person’s hearing. Bell developed it in 1875 while working on a way to improve telegraphy. It worked by sending tones of varying pitch through headphones and recording how well the user could hear them.
The audiometer was an essential tool in diagnosing hearing problems and is still used today.
The tetrahedral triplane was a flying machine designed by Bell and built by the AEA. It was based on the principle that a tetrahedron (a three-sided pyramid) is one of the strongest shapes in nature.
The triplane had four wings, each made up of three triangular panels. It was powered by two engines and could reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
The hydrofoil was a boat designed to travel on water using the lift generated by its wings. Bell developed it in 1906 with the help of engineer Casey Baldwin.
The first hydrofoil built by the team was called the HD-I, and it was powered by a gasoline engine. It reached speeds of up to 20 miles per hour and could seat up to six people.
The military later used the hydrofoil during World War II for coastal patrol and anti-submarine warfare, and it is still used for racing and recreation.
The aileron is a control surface on the wing of an aircraft that is used to roll the plane. Bell patented the design in 1906, and has been used on planes ever since.
A joystick operates the aileron in the cockpit and, when turned, causes the plane to roll. This movement allows the pilot to turn the aircraft and is essential to flying.
Bell’s design was based on the wings of birds, and his patent included a drawing of a bird in flight. He later said that the aileron was “the first successful application of the principles of flight to a machine intended to carry human beings.”
Bell’s Lasting Impact on Society
Alexander Graham Bell was much more than just the inventor of the telephone. He was a true renaissance man whose work touched many different areas of science and society. His inventive spirit and passion for helping others continue to inspire people worldwide to this day. To learn more about Bell’s work and lasting impact, explore the rest of our resources.