ALEXANDER Graham Bell was one of many countless thousands of Scots who had to leave their native country to make a better life for themselves abroad. He took with him to Canada, and then the USA, his native genius and the mentality of grappling with deafness which, as I showed last week, first turned his attention to the processes which led to his invention of the telephone.

It was in this month of 1922 that Bell died on August 2, and it has frankly amazed me that the centenary of his death has passed with barely a mention of his greatness. Yet as I shall show, he was not without flaws and these must be acknowledged in any consideration of his amazing life and career.

It was after the death of two brothers from tuberculosis that Bell’s father decided in 1870 that the family would emigrate and they settled in Brantford, Ontario, where Bell did much of the experimentation that began his quest for a working telephone.

As well as his experiments and research, Bell was continuing his practice as a teacher of deaf people. In April 1871 he moved to Boston, and taught at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes. He would also teach at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, and at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut.

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In 1873 at the Clarke School, the first oral school for deaf people in the USA, he met 15-year-old Mabel Hubbard, daughter of the school’s founder, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, and herself profoundly deaf since the age of five after contracting scarlet fever. They fell in love and were married on July 11, 1877, when she was 19 and Bell more than 10 years older than her.

They would have four children in all, and though two sons died in infancy, their two daughters, Elsie May and Marian Hubbard both lived into the 1960s.

It was because of Mabel’s deafness that Gardiner Green Hubbard founded the Clarke School. He was a highly successful lawyer and would play a major part in Bell’s life, but Mabel was always acknowledged as the biggest influence on “Alec” Bell as she called him.

It was Mabel who, after Bell had filed his telephone patent and constructed his first apparatus, persuaded her husband to attend the US Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876, and with the backing of William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, he was awarded two Gold Medals, one for electrical equipment and the other for Visible Speech. Bell had been reluctant to attend, but Mabel bought him the tickets – he would come away from Philadelphia a global sensation.

He first offered the rights to the telephone to the Western Union telegraphy company but they thought it was just a toy and refused to pay the $100,000 price that Bell asked. It was a decision on a par with the people who turned down the Beatles.

It meant that Bell had to continue his teaching practice and indeed he continued lecturing up until 1897. Within a decade of its foundation, however, the Bell Telephone Company was the biggest in the world and 150,000 Americans owned a phone.

The greatest controversy of Bell’s life was the dispute about his patent. In total Bell faced almost 600 lawsuits in his life and with his father-in-law arranging the best legal team around, Bell won all the important cases, though the strain of the legal battles that went all the way to the US Supreme Court took a toll on his health.

There is no doubt that Bell was not entirely innocent of the allegations that he had “borrowed” some ideas, but in the end he was proven to have been the inventor.

He eventually resigned from the company that bore his name, though not before he had earned enough to own a mansion in Washington DC that had been built by his father-in-law. Bell also built a summer home, Beinn Bhreagh (Beautiful Mountain) on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia where he also started a boatyard that employed 40 people.

The inventions continued to flow. The photophone, which transmitted messages by light, was considered by Bell to be his greatest invention as he could see the possibilities for it that only came to fruition with fibre optics in the late 20thcentury.

Bell invented different types of aerial vehicles and hydrofoil boats, and in the field of acoustics he invented the audiometer. He devised a metal jacket to assist people with breathing, and also invented a metal detector which was used to try and help locate the bullet inside President James A Garfield’s body. The assassination in 1881 was successful only because the President had lain on a metal bed which skewed Bell’s attempts to locate the bullet though in any case the bullet was probably too deep inside the President’s body.

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It was his beliefs about heredity and genetics which would damn Bell’s reputation in many eyes.

As early as 1883 he published a paper “Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race” which focused on whether deafness was hereditary – his own investigations had led him to conclude that there were a higher proportion of deaf children of deaf people than of the population generally.

In turn this led Bell into the field of eugenics, and though he never personally advocated the sterilisation of deaf or otherwise disable people, he nevertheless associated himself with eugenicists and was honorary president of the Second International Congress of Eugenics held in New York in 1921.

Bell was nevertheless revered for his inventions and the City of Edinburgh decided to award him its highest honour, the Freedom of the City. Bell told the Lord Provost and 72 councillors: “I have hardly words to express how deeply I appreciate the honour that has been conferred on me to-day. I have received many honours in the course of my life, but none that has so touched my heart as this gift of the freedom of my native city, Edinburgh.”

Canada and the USA have claimed him as their own, but he was always a proud Scot.