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Alexander Graham Bell, Telephone Inventor
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Bell’s phonautograph

Bell’s phonautograph

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Tracing created by a phonautograph of a human voice
Tracing created by a phonautograph of a human voice

Illustration of the human ear
Illustration of the human ear

Bell’s Invention of the Phonautograph

Alexander Graham Bell built his phonautograph in 1874.

The mouthpiece funneled the sound of Bell’s voice to an eardrum from a dead body. His voice created sound waves that caused the inner ear bones to vibrate. A piece of straw-attached at one end to the bones-traced the pattern of the vibrations onto a charcoal-coated glass plate moving under the straw’s tip. The straw’s tracings recorded each sound as a series of waves. As Bell’s voice changed pitch, the speed of vibrations changed and so did the pattern’s shape.

Bell originally thought his machine might help deaf students learn to speak by allowing them to match the tracings of their spoken words to those made by people who could hear. The idea for the telephone came from his realization that if you could use sound to get an electrical current to vibrate-just like the piece of straw-then you could send speech as far and fast as electricity could travel.

Next: The Invention of the Telephone ›

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