Alexander Graham Bell's Cell Phone?

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After we ran a gallery of Alexander Graham Bell's sketches, reader Chuck McManis wrote in to make a fascinating connection between two of the drawings. Taken together, they depict a conceptual design for "what you and I would call a cell phone," McManis writes. Here's his comment:

One of the things you missed (but not to worry you're not a EE) is that the two pages in the slide show "SELF PORTRAIT" [above] and "CABLE GUY" [below] are related.  Specifically they were Bell thinking about what you and I would call a cell phone :-). At the time of these notebooks there was a tremendous amount of discovery and research around radio and radio waves. In many ways radio waves were to the late 19th century what semiconductors were to the late 20th century.  In SELF PORTRAIT Bell shows a person speaking into a microphone which modulates a current in the loop of wire they are carrying. In CABLE GUY another person who is holding a loop of wire can "hear" the speaking at a distance because the newly discovered 'radio waves' had traveled between them. In fact, what Bell was imagining would have required magnetic coupling between the two coils but he was thinking around the edges of what would become one of the greatest "agents of change" of his generation.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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