Alexander Graham Bell's Delightfully Weird Sketchbooks

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It was on March 10, 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call. "'Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you," he said to his assistant, who was in the next room. Bell recorded those early telephone experiments in his lab notebooks from the time, as he did with countless other experiments and ideas.

The books are a priceless treasure of an incredibly fertile mind working through one of the most exciting periods of technological innovation in the history of the world. The sketches, though, are more than just dry recordings of physical principles. Bell's drawings are expressive in ways that few technical sketches are. Little flourishes and annotations make paging through his drawings a delight.

Sadly, his handwriting doesn't have the same precision as his drawings. You'll probably have as tough a time as I did making out his intentions. Nonetheless, we can appreciate Bell's genius even without the full explanations of what he was thinking.

Bell's notebooks have been preserved by the Library of Congress, which digitized them, turning them into one of the Internet's real treasures. We present a selection of the best images here.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls 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 Web site 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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