RESEARCHES IN ELECTRIC TELEPHONY
By PROFESSOR ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
I have before alluded to the invention of my father of a system of physiological symbols for representing the action of the vocal organs, and I had been invited by the Boston Board of Education to conduct a series of experiments with the system in the Boston school for the deaf and dumb. It is well known that deaf mutes are dumb merely because they are deaf, and that there is no defect in their vocal organs to incapacitate them from utterance. Hence it was thought that my father’s system of pictorial symbols, popularly known as visible speech, might produce a means whereby we could teach the deaf and dumb to use their vocal organs and to speak. The great success of these experiments urged upon me the advisability of devising methods of exhibiting the vibrations of sound optically, for use in teaching the deaf and dumb. For some time I carried on experiments with the manometric capsule of Koenig, and with the phonautograph of Léon Scott. The scientific apparatus in the Institute of Technology in Boston was freely placed at my disposal for these experiments, and it happened that at that time a student of the Institute of Technology, Mr. Maurey, had invented an improvement upon the phonautograph. He had succeeded in vibrating by the voice a stylus of wood about a foot in length which was attached to the membrane of the phonautograph, and in this way he had been enabled to obtain enlarged tracings upon a plane surface of smoked glass. With this apparatus I succeeded in producing very beautiful tracings of the vibrations of the air for vowel sounds. Some of these tracings are shown in fig.20.
I was much struck with this improved form of apparatus, and it occurred to me that there was a remarkable likeness between the manner in which this piece of wood was vibrated by the membrane of the phonautograph and the manner in which the ossiculæ of the human ear were moved by the tympanic membrane. I determined therefore to construct a phonautograph modeled still more closely on the mechanism of the human ear, and for this purpose I sought the assistance of a distinguished aurist in Boston, Dr. Clarence J. Blake. He suggested the use of the human ear itself as a phonautograph, instead of making an artificial imitation of it. The idea was novel and struck me accordingly, and I asked my friend to prepare a specimen for me, which he did. The apparatus, as finally constructed, is shown in fig.21.
The stapes was removed and a stylus of hay about an inch in length was attached to the end of the incus. Upon moistening the membrana-tympani and the ossiculæ with a mixture of glycerine and water, the necessary mobility of the parts was obtained; and upon singing into the artificial ear the stylus of hay was thrown into vibration, and tracings were obtained upon a plane surface of smoked glass passed rapidly beneath. While engaged in these experiments I was struck with the remarkable disproportion in weight between the membrane and the bones that were vibrated by it. It occurred to me that if a membrane as thin as tissue paper could control the vibration of bones that were, compared to it, of immense size and weight, why should not a larger and thicker membrane be able to vibrate a piece of iron in front of an electromagnet, in which case the complication of steel rods shown in my first form of telephone, fig.19, could be done away with, and a simple piece of iron attached to a membrane be placed at either end of the telegraphic circuit.
Fig.22 shows the form of apparatus that I was then employing for producing undulatory currents of electricity for the purposes of multiple telegraphy. A steel reed A was clamped firmly by one extremity to the uncovered leg h of an electro-magnet E, and the free end of the reed projected above the covered leg. When the reed A was vibrated in any mechanical way, the battery current was thrown into waves, and electrical undulations traversed the circuit B E W E’, throwing into vibration the corresponding reed A’ at the other end of the circuit. I immediately proceeded to put my new idea to the test of practical experiment, and for this purpose I attached the reed A (fig.23) loosely by one extremity to the uncovered pole h of the magnet, and fastened the other extremity to the center of a stretched membrane of goldbeater’s skin n.
I presumed that upon speaking in the neighbourhood of the membrane n it would be thrown into vibration and cause the steel reed A to move in a similar manner, occasioning undulations in the electric current that would correspond to the changes in the density of the air during the production of the sound; and I further thought that the change of the intensity of the current at the receiving end would cause the magnet there to attract the reed A’ in such a manner that it should copy the motion of the reed A, in which case its movements would occasion a sound from the membrane n’ similar in timbre to that which had occasioned the original vibration.
The results, however, were unsatisfactory and discouraging. My friend Mr. Thomas A. Watson, who assisted me in this first experiment, declared that he heard a faint sound proceed from the telephone at his end of the circuit, but I was unable to verify his assertion. After many experiments attended by the same only partially-successful results, I determined to reduce the size and weight of the spring as much as possible. For this purpose I glued a piece of clock spring, about the size and shape of my thumbnail, firmly to the center of the diaphragm, and had a similar instrument at the other end (fig.24); we were then able to obtain distinctly audible effects.
I remember an experiment made with this telephone, which at the time gave me great satisfaction and delight. One of the telephones was placed in my lecture-room in the Boston University, and the other in the basement of the adjoining building. One of my students repaired to the distant telephone to observe the effects of articulate speech, while I uttered the sentence, “Do you understand what I say?” into the telephone placed in the lecture-hall. To my delight an answer was returned through the instrument itself, articulate sounds proceeded from the steel spring attached to the membrane, and I heard the sentence, “Yes, I understand you perfectly.” It is a mistake, however, to suppose that the articulation was by any means perfect, and expectancy no doubt had a great deal to do with my recognition of the sentence; still, the articulation was there, and I recognized the fact that the indistinctness was entirely due to the imperfection of the instrument. I will not trouble you by detailing the various stages through which the apparatus passed, but shall merely say that after a time I produced the form of instrument shown in fig.25, which served very well as a receiving telephone. In this condition my invention was exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The telephone shown in fig.24 was used as a transmitting instrument, and that in fig.25 as a receiver, so that vocal communication was only established in one direction.
Another form of transmitting telephone exhibited in Philadelphia intended for use with the receiving telephone (fig.25) is represented by fig.26.
A platinum wire attached to a stretched membrane completed a voltaic circuit by dipping into water. Upon speaking to the membrane, articulate sounds proceeded from the telephone in the distant room. The sounds produced by the telephone became louder when dilute sulphuric acid, or a saturated solution of salt, was substituted for the water. Audible effects were also produced by the vibration of plumbago in mercury, in a solution of bichromate of potash, in salt and water, in dilute sulphuric acid, and in pure water.
The articulation produced from the instrument shown in fig.25 was remarkably distinct, but its great defect consisted in the fact that it could not be used as a transmitting instrument, and thus two telephones were required at each station, one for transmitting and one for receiving spoken messages.
It was determined to vary the construction of the telephone shown in fig.24, and I sought by changing the size and tension of the membrane, the diameter and thickness of the steel spring, the size and power of the magnet, and the coils of insulated wires around their poles, to discover empirically the exact effect of each element of the combination, and thus to deduce a more perfect form of apparatus. It was found that a marked increase in the loudness of the sounds resulted from shortening the length of the coils of wire, and by enlarging the iron diaphragm which was glued to the membrane. In the latter case, also, the distinctness of the articulation was improved. Finally, the membrane of goldbeaters’ skin was discarded entirely, and a simple iron plate was used instead, and at once intelligible articulation was obtained. The new form of instrument is that shown in fig.27, and, as had long been anticipated, it was proved that the only use of the battery was to magnetize the iron core of the magnet, for the effects were equally audible when the battery was omitted and a rod of magnetized steel substituted for the iron core of the magnet.
It was my original intention, as shown in fig.19, and it was always claimed by me, that the final form of telephone would be operated by permanent magnets in place of batteries, and numerous experiments had been carried out by Mr. Watson and myself privately for the purpose of producing this effect.
At the time the instruments were first exhibited in public the results obtained with permanent magnets were not nearly so striking as when a voltaic battery was employed, wherefore we thought it best to only exhibit the latter form of instrument.
The interest excited by the first published accounts of the operation of the telephone led many persons to investigate the subject, and I doubt not that numbers of experimenters have independently discovered that permanent magnets might be employed instead of voltaic batteries. Indeed, one gentleman, Professor Dolbear, of Tufts College, not only claims to have discovered the magneto-electric telephone, but I understand charges me with having obtained the idea from him through the medium of a mutual friend.
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