When asked who invented the telephone, most people would say it was Alexander Graham Bell. However, the less well known Antonio Meucci really deserves the credit. Meucci was born in 1808 and studied mechanical engineering while living in Florence. Later in his life he was working on technology to treat illness with electric shocks when he discovered that copper wire could transmit sounds with electrical impulses.
He developed a prototype including an inductor around a cylindrical iron core, which was a very advanced technique for his time, and when his wife developed paralysis from an illness he rigged up a device that allowed communication between her room and his workshop. However, while his ideas were revolutionary he met many obstacles in publicizing them and getting credit.
In 1850 he and his wife moved to New York where he continued his research and made significant progress on his designs. Unfortunately he has serious financial troubles due to his wife’s health problems and the fact that he was an immigrant and could not speak English. It is rumored that at one point he had to redo some of his prototypes after they became so desperate for money that his wife sold them to a second hand shop for only six dollars!
Unfortunately, he was unable to afford the payment needed to get a patent, so he filed a notice for an impending patent that gave him rights to the invention for one year. However, the next year he was not able to renew it. Two years later, Alexander Graham Bell, who for a time had worked in the same lab as Meucci, came into the picture when he filed a patent for a telephone. His design was clearly based off Meucci’s work, and it was found that he had gotten access to Meucci’s designs and used them. Graham Bell even made money off selling the invention to Western Union Telegraph Company, which Meucci had previously tried to contract with but had failed due to his lack of money and English skills. Meucci was understandable very upset with this chain of events and sued for fraud. He was nearing victory, and the supreme court had agreed to hear his case, when he died in 1889 and the case was dropped.
Though the decision came many years late, in 2002 the House of Representatives released a statement recognizing Meucci’s invention and stating “It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be recognised, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged”. Antonio Meucci was a talented inventor who faced extremely bad luck and tough life circumstances, but the least people can do is give credit where it is due for his revolutionary discoveries.
Carroll, Rory. “Bell Did Not Invent Telephone, US Rules.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 June 2002, www.theguardian.com/world/2002/jun/17/humanities.internationaleducationnews.
Fossella, Vito. “Text – H.Res.269 – 107th Congress (2001-2002): Expressing the Sense of the House of Representatives to Honor the Life and Achievements of 19th Century Italian-American Inventor Antonio Meucci, and His Work in the Invention of the Telephone.” Congress.gov, 11 June 2002, www.congress.gov/bill/107th-congress/house-resolution/269/text.