Bell's Early Sketch of a Telephone, 135 Years After He Patented It

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Bell-sketch.jpg

It was on this day in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell, then 29, received a patent for a nice improvement on the telegraph that you and I know as the telephone.

At first, Bell holds back the most exciting part of his idea. He details how electrical impulses could be converted into "vibrations of different pitch" without necessarily saying, "You talk in this end and it comes out the other end of a wire!" But by the third page of his patent filing, you sense he bubbled over, permitting himself one paragraph to think about the awesome implications of what he'd done:

I desire here to remark that there are many other uses to which these instruments may be put, such as the transmission of musical notes, differing in loudness as well as pitch, and the telegraphic transmission of noises or sounds of any kind.

Thanks to the Library of Congress, we have access to a lot of Bell's papers including this wonderful sketch of the telephone, which he drew in 1876. You know what I really love about it? Even though this was clearly a functional drawing, Bell took the time to give the hair on the little guy some texture and even the hint of a tie. I like to think that's because he was imagining *himself* there, not just the technology.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. 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 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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