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The True Inventor of the Telephone Is Not Who You Think

Gianfranco is a student at St. John's University, who has a passion for learning and helping others.

A Forgotten Genius

If you ask most people who invented the telephone, you would most likely get the same answer: Alexander Graham Bell. We learned this in school as kids, right? But the truth is Alexander Graham Bell was not the first to invent the telephone, it was in fact an Italian immigrant named Antonio Meucci.

For nearly 200 years his work was unrecognized and instead, credit was given to Bell. Many Italians know the truth, many of which were probably made fun of but history will always try to set the record straight, and this article intends to do just that.

Antonio Meucci

Antonio Meucci

The Man Behind the Invention

Antonio Meucci lived a very interesting but somewhat tragic life. He was born in 1808 near Florence, Italy. A place in which many geniuses years before lived and worked. The land of Dante and Da Vinci, innovation, and beauty. Keeping with tradition Meucci attended Florence’s academy of art at the age of 15, he was the youngest ever admitted. After he graduated, Meucci was offered a job in Cuba, which he accepted and then moved there with his wife, Esther. After some time the couple then moved to New York.

Meucci always was interested in learning new things and experimenting. For example, he worked on ways to treat illness with electric shocks. Perhaps not the most effective tool but his intention was noble. He did this because his own wife had become bedridden by sickness and he was determined to try and cure her. His tinkering was perhaps the inspiration for his initial idea for the telephone. He discovered that sound could travel through copper wire by electrical impulses and later created a system that incorporated these ideas. The unfortunate first use of this system was used in order to try and communicate with his paralyzed wife on the second floor of his house while he was in his basement laboratory.

Pain and Poverty

But the worst is yet to come in the life of Antonio Meucci. The problems that led to Meucci being forgotten were some of the same ones we face today; lack of money and pain. He continued to tinker with his invention in many ways however, he was forced to divert his attention to his factory which went bankrupt. He began a fruitless search for investors to try and save his source of income, but his search failed and his life was changed forever. Along with his business failure, his life got worse because of his inability to master the English language as well as a steamship accident in which he was severely burned.

Over time, his prototypes eventually become more sophisticated and he needed a patent for them. However, Meucci could not even afford the $250 patent for his so-called “talking telegram.” Even when Meucci filed for it again in 3 years he could not even afford the renewal cost, a measly $10. At this time it was sometimes difficult for immigrants to find work, especially with the growing prejudice toward Italians in America.

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Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell

The Thief

The man pictured above is Alexander Graham Bell, also known as the thief who stole Meucci's rightfully deserved place in history. According to the Gale Database, Bell is credited with “perfecting” the telephone and ushering in a new age of communication. Records show that in 1876 Bell and Meucci actually worked together in the same laboratory. Bell was later accused of stealing Meucci’s work and he then filed the patent that Meucci couldn’t do financially. A true stab in the back to a man who was already down.

Meucci tried to get justice by suing Bell and his new company. However, once Meucci died so did his legal pursuit of Bell. Justice was not served but Meucci died fighting for his invention. The story, unfortunately, writes itself from here: Bell gets all the credit, all the fame, and all the accolades, while Meucci died a poor, forgotten man.

A Small Consolation

There is a small silver lining in this tragic story, however. Meucci was indeed posthumously recognized for his work in 2002. The United States Congress held a vote that ultimately decided that Antonio Meucci was the true inventor of the telephone. In this setting, Bell was ousted as a thief who stole another man's work.

It truly is a shame that Meucci could not experience the recognition and the evolution of his invention. He passed away in 1889. His legacy was stolen and his intelligence was forgotten. The lesson to be learned is that if you’re passionate about something keep pursuing it for the rest of your life.

Setting the Record Straight

Therefore, if Congress has officially stated that Meucci is the true inventor of the telephone, why is it so hard for the public to accept that? Meucci was passionate about something and pursued it for his whole life. In his moment of weakness, he had it stolen from him by a man seeking fame. No one would ever want to experience that, so I hope that the next time someone asks you who invented the telephone, you answer Antonio Meucci.


"About Antonio Meucci." About Antonio Meucci. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

"Alexander Graham Bell." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography in Context. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

© 2018 Gianfranco Regina

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