Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame

Queensferry Crossing

The Queensferry Crossing, Scotland, under construction in 2016. Jacobs/Arup client engineers

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), engineer and inventor of the telephone

Alexander Graham Bell

Born in Edinburgh and educated at the University of Edinburgh and in London. In 1870 he emigrated with his family to Canada and the following year he moved to Boston and became interested in transmitting the human voice over wires.

Throughout 1874 and 1875 Bell worked on both the harmonic telegraph and a voice transmitting device and in 1875 came up with a simple receiver that could turn electricity into sound and he was granted a patent in March 7, 1876. The Bell Telephone Company was created in 1877 with Bell the owner of one-third of the shares, quickly making him a wealthy man. By 1886 more than 150,000 people in the US owned telephones.

In January 1915 Bell was invited to make the first transcontinental phone call from New York to San Francisco. When Bell died on 2 August 1922, at the conclusion of his funeral the entire telephone system in North America was shut down for one minute in tribute to his life.

He founded the Volta Laboratory in Washington where he continued experiments in communication, medical research and in techniques for teaching speech to the deaf.

Bell and his assistant Charles Sumner Tainter jointly invented a wireless telephone, named a photophone, which was a precursor to the fibre-optic communication systems which achieved popular world-wide use in the 1980's.

Bell was also interested in exploring flight and in 1907, along with several other associates, formed the Aerial Experimental Association. The group developed several flying machines including the Silver Dart which was the first powered machine flown in Canada. Bell later worked on Hydrofoils and set a world record for speed for this type of boat.

In 1888, Bell was one of the founding members of the National Geographical Society, and served as its President from 1896 to 1904 and helped to establish its journal.

Bell has been ranked among the 100 Greatest Britons (2002), Top Ten Greatest Canadians (2004), the 100 Greatest Americans (2005) and one of the Ten Greatest Scottish Scientists.

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