It’s Meucci’s birthday week and the perfect time to give him his due
It’s a bold statement that to this day elicits mixed reactions: “Alexander Graham Bell was nothing more than a common thief.”
Anglo Saxons often get their back up about this statement, while Italians are prone to agree and nod in supportive approval. Those that do not fit in either group often laugh like I’ve told a bold joke or am being argumentative in jest.
I have been making the seemingly provocative statement since I was a teenager and learned about the work of Antonio Meucci (1808-1889), an Italian immigrant to the United States from a town near Florence, Italy who was developing the design for a talking telegraph in 1849 and filed an official patent caveat (announcement of the intention to file a patent) in 1871.
Meucci’s birthday is on April 13th and in honour of that, I’m writing a reminder to all that we must recognize his work and honour the man who made modern communication over airwaves a reality.
It’s no joke and Anglo Saxons need to recognize their telephonic hero is nothing more than a clever conman, enabled by finances and despicable souls who would not acknowledge the intelligence of immigrants.
Realistically, if the Canadian government had any gumption whatsoever, the entire Bell Media empire should be dismantled and those who have greatly profited should be stripped of everything they own, and it should be given to education grants for underprivileged youth.
Or at the very least, acknowledge the contributions to the invention of the telephone made by Meucci prior to Bell’s co-conspirators filing a patent when the Italian could no longer afford to renew his own.
If you think this is revisionist history by a person of Italian descent, then you need to do some reading. In fact, even the United States House of Representatives and President Barack Obama acknowledged Meucci’s contributions in 2002 in this resolution.
In a greatly disappointing follow-up to the United States’ acknowledgement of Meucci, the Canadian Government (ten days after this 2002 resolution was made) passed a parliamentary motion affirming Bell as the inventor of the telephone.
Worse yet, it was a majority Liberal government led by Jean Chretien who passed the motion: basically ignoring decades of support from Italian immigrants through the nation in the process.
facts prove meucci invented the phone
It’s time to tell, in brief, why Meucci is the inventor of the telephone – based on documented and officially acknowledged facts.
These facts are general knowledge for those in the know, and can be found in several locations – however, we must acknowledge the Italian Historical Society of America as our main source for this article.
Meucci studied design and mechanical engineering at Florence’s Academy of Fine Arts before working in theatres as a stage technician. In 1835, he took his talents to Havana, Cuba to work in a theatre in the tiny island nation.
Fascinated by scientific research, he spent all his spare time reading and researching and inventing. He invented a new method to galvanize metals, which was used on Cuban military equipment.
Never fully satisfied if not pursuing experiments, Meucci developed a way to use electric shocks to treat illness which was then popular in Havana.
While getting ready to administer one of these shock treatments, Meucci heard what a friend (who was in the next room) said through a piece of copper wire running between them. The idea for a talking telegraph – and subsequent telephone – was born.
From that day forward, first as he continued to work in Cuba, then in the United States (Meucci moved to Staten Island in 1950), the inventor spent every spare moment working towards the practical usage of a telephone.
Unfortunately, once in the United States, there were financial issues (Meucci’s business acumen was not as great as his ability for invention) and, ironically, communication problems as he could only speak Italian and some Spanish.
Surrounded by Italian political refugees on Staten Island, Meucci helped his friends by creating industrial projects which included new and/or better manufacturing methods for a variety of products, such as beer, candles, pianos and paper.
Going back to his inability to manage finances (or people), the profits for the most successful Meucci ideas were quickly absconded by immoral and inept managers or used by his Italian friends (who were too busy being philosophical about politics to actually earn a living).
Then came a series of events which greatly changed the course of history (and filled the Bell family coffers) which we are reprinting from this biographical article titled Antonio Meucci (1808 to 1889):
In 1855, when his wife became partially paralyzed, Meucci set up a telephone system which joined several rooms of his house with his workshop in another building nearby, the first such installation anywhere.
In 1860, when the instrument had become practical, Meucci organized a demonstration to attract financial backing in which a singer’s voice was clearly heard by spectators a considerable distance away.
A description of the apparatus was soon published in one of New York’s Italian newspapers and the report together with a model of the invention were taken to Italy by a certain Signor Bendelari with the goal of arranging production there; nothing came of this trip, nor of the many promises of financial support which had been forthcoming after the demonstration.
The years which followed brought increasing poverty to an embittered and discouraged Meucci, who nonetheless continued to produce a series of new inventions. His precarious financial situation, however, often constrained him to sell the rights to his inventions, and still left him without the wherewithal to take out final patents on the telephone.
A dramatic event, in which Meucci was severely burned in the explosion of the steamship Westfield returning from New York, brought things to an even more tragic state. While Meucci lay in hospital, miraculously alive after the disaster, his wife sold many of his working models (including the telephone prototype) and other materials to a secondhand dealer for six dollars.
When Meucci sought to buy these precious objects back, he was told that they had been resold to an “unknown young man” whose identity remains a mystery to this day (considering the timeline that follows, we’re certain that either Bell or one of his cronies was this man).
Crushed, but not beaten, Meucci worked night and day to reconstruct his invention and to produce new designs and specifications, clearly apprehensive that someone could steal the device before he could have it patented. Unable to raise the sum for a definitive patent ($250, considerable in those days), he took recourse in the caveat or notice of intent, which was registered on December 28, 1871 and renewed in 1872 and 1873 but, fatefully, not thereafter.
Immediately after he received certification of the caveat, Meucci tried again to demonstrate the enormous potential of the device, delivering a model and technical details to the vice president of one of the affiliates of the newly established Western Union Telegraph Company, asking permission to demonstrate his “Talking Telegraph” on the wires of the Western Union system.
However, each time that Meucci contacted this vice president, a certain Edward B. Grant, he was told that there had been no time to arrange the test. Two years passed, after which Meucci demanded the return of his materials, only to be told that they had been “lost.” It was then 1874.
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell filed a patent which does not really describe the telephone but refers to it as such.
When Meucci learned of this, he instructed his lawyer to protest to the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, something that was never done. However, a friend did contact Washington, only to learn that all the documents relevant to the “Talking Telegraph” filed in Meucci’s caveat had been “lost.”
Later investigation produced evidence of illegal relationships linking certain employees of the Patent Office and officials of Bell’s company.
And later, during litigation between Bell and Western Union, it was revealed that Bell had agreed to pay Western Union 20 percent of profits from commercialization of his “invention” for a period of 17 years. Millions of dollars were involved, but the price may been cheaper than revealing facts better left hidden, from Bell’s point of view.
In the court case of 1886, although Bell’s lawyers tried to turn aside Meucci’s suit against their client, he was able to explain every detail of his invention so clearly as to leave little doubt of his veracity, although he did not win the case against the superior – and vastly richer – forces fielded by Bell.
Despite a public statement by the then Secretary of State that “there exists sufficient proof to give priority to Meucci in the invention of the telephone,” and even though the United States initiated prosecution for fraud against Bell’s patent, the trial was postponed from year to year until, at the death of Meucci in 1889, the case was dropped.
It’s never too late to make things right
At the time that Bell was filing his contentious patent and stealing the title of “father” of the telephone from Meucci, other inventors were working on similar items … they included Philip Reis and Elisha Gray.
However, it is widely known by those who have any form of intelligence whatsoever that Antonio Meucci in 1854 was the first to build telephone-like devices – which in turn makes him the true inventor of the telephone.
It’s Meucci’s birthday this week and it’s a good time to get the process going on an official parliamentary motion acknowledging his legacy.
After all, it’s never too late to make things right.