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Alexander Graham Bell, Telephone Inventor
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Alexander Graham Bell, about age 16

Alexander Graham Bell, about age 16

Bell as a Youth

Bell was not a good student. Although he liked reading, math, and science, he was easily bored in school. He was more interested in doing experiments and discovering things on his own.

Bell’s first invention was a husking machine for wheat. Eleven-year-old Bell and his friend Ben came up with the idea after they were told to “do something useful” by Ben’s father, the owner of a flour mill. Later Bell said: “It was a proud day for us when we boys marched into Mr. Herdman’s office, presented him with our sample of cleaned wheat, and suggested paddling wheat in a dried-out vat.”

With his brother Melville, Bell built a “speaking machine” based on a device they’d seen. Using parts cast from a human skull, a flexible wooden tongue, some tubing, strips of tin, and sheets of rubber, the boys built a machine that could say “Mama” loudly and clearly enough that the tenants of nearby apartments actually thought a baby was crying. “This, of course, was just what we wanted,” Bell wrote later.

Bell also had a great interest in studying animals. Bell and some friends started a club in which each boy was “professor” of a topic. Bell was professor of anatomy. He collected birds’ eggs and animal skeletons, and would dissect any dead animals he found.

As a teenager, Bell wanted to become an actor and also thought about running away from his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland, to become a sailor. Instead, he got his first job teaching music and public speaking at a school in Scotland at the age of 16.

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