Library of Congress > Collections with Manuscripts > Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress

1847 to 1868

  • March 3, 1847

    Alexander Bell is born to Alexander Melville and Eliza Symonds Bell in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the second of three sons; his siblings are Melville (b. 1845) and Edward (b. 1848).

    [Alexander Melville Bell with his wife, Eliza Grace Symonds and their children, Melville James, Alexander Graham and Edward Charles]. [ca. 1852?] Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z1031. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • 1858

    Bell adopts the name Graham out of admiration for Alexander Graham, a family friend, and becomes known as Alexander Graham Bell.

  • October 1862

    Bell arrives in London to spend a year with his grandfather, Alexander Bell. Letter to Bell from his father

  • August 1863

    Bell begins teaching music and elocution at Weston House Academy in Elgin, Scotland, and receives instruction in Latin and Greek for a year.

  • April 1864

    Alexander Melville Bell develops Visible Speech, a kind of universal alphabet that reduces all sounds made by the human voice into a series of symbols. Visible Speech chart

    Chart, undated. Box 196, "Subject File: The Deaf--Visible Speech--Nature & Uses." Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers, Manuscript Division , Library of Congress.

  • Fall 1864

    Bell attends the University of Edinburgh.

  • 1865-66

    Bell returns to Elgin to teach and experiments with vowel pitches and tuning forks. Letter from Bell to his father

  • 1866-67

    Bell teaches at Somersetshire College in Bath.

  • May 17, 1867

    Younger brother Edward Bell dies of tuberculosis at the age of 19.

  • Summer 1867

    Alexander Melville Bell publishes his definitive work on Visible Speech, Visible Speech: The Science of Universal Alphabetics.

  • May 21, 1868

    Bell begins teaching speech to the deaf at Susanna Hull's school for deaf children in London.

    Bell attends University College in London.

Next: 1870 to 1879
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1870 to 1879

  • May 28, 1870

    Older brother Melville Bell dies of tuberculosis at the age of 25.

  • July-August, 1870

    Bell, his parents, and his sister-in-law, Carrie Bell, emigrate to Canada and settle in Brantford, Ontario.

  • April 1871

    Moving to Boston, Bell begins teaching at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes.

  • March-June 1872

    Bell teaches at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Boston and at the American Asylum for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut.

    Photograph of the Pemberton Avenue School for the Deaf, Boston. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z1-130,726-A. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • April 8, 1872

    Bell meets Boston attorney Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who will become one of his financial backers and his father-in-law.

  • Fall 1872

    Bell opens his School of Vocal Physiology in Boston and starts experimenting with the multiple telegraph. Brochure for Bell's School of Vocal Physiology

  • 1873

    Boston University appoints Bell Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at its School of Oratory. Mabel Hubbard, his future wife, becomes one of his private pupils.

  • Spring 1874

    Bell conducts acoustics experiments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He and Clarence Blake, a Boston ear specialist, begin experimenting with the mechanics of the human ear and the phonautograph, a device that could translate sound vibrations into visible tracings.

  • Summer 1874

    In Brantford, Ontario, Bell first conceives of the idea for the telephone. Bell's original sketch of the telephone Bell meets Thomas Watson, a young electrician who would become his assistant, at Charles Williams's electrician shop in Boston.

    Caption Below

    Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone. Sketches, undated; handwritten text top and bottom of page, 1876. Box 273, "Subject File: The Telephone--Drawing of the Telephone, Bell's Original." Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

  • January 1875

    Watson begins working with Bell more regularly.

  • February 1875

    Thomas Sanders, a wealthy leather merchant whose deaf son studied with Bell, and Gardiner Greene Hubbard enter into a formal partnership with Bell in which they provide financial backing for his inventions.

  • March 1-2, 1875

    Bell visits noted scientist Joseph Henry at the Smithsonian Institution and explains to him his idea for the telephone. Henry recognizes the significance of Bell's work and offers him encouragement.

  • November 25, 1875

    Mabel Hubbard and Bell become engaged to be married. Letter from Bell to Mabel Hubbard Bell

  • February 14, 1876

    Bell's telephone patent application is filed at the United States Patent Office; Elisha Gray's attorney files a caveat for a telephone just a few hours later.

  • March 7, 1876

    United States Patent No. 174,465 is officially issued for Bell's telephone.

  • March 10, 1876

    Intelligible human speech is heard over the telephone for the first time when Bell calls to Watson, "Mr. Watson -- Come here -- I want to see you." Page from Bell's notebook

  • June 25, 1876

    Bell demonstrates the telephone for Sir William Thomson (Baron Kelvin) and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Letter from Bell to Mabel Hubbard Bell

  • July 9, 1877

    Bell, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Thomas Sanders, and Thomas Watson form the Bell Telephone Company.

  • July 11, 1877

    Mabel Hubbard and Bell are married.

  • August 4, 1877

    Bell and his wife leave for England and remain there for a year.

  • January 14, 1878

    Bell demonstrates the telephone for Queen Victoria.

  • May 8, 1878

    Elsie May Bell, a daughter, is born.

    Caption Below

    [Elsie May Bell as a child, bust portrait, facing front]. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z1-155,855-A. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • September 12, 1878

    Patent litigation involving the Bell Telephone Company against Western Union Telegraph Company and Elisha Gray begins.

  • November 10, 1879

    Western Union and the National Bell Telephone Company reach a settlement. Newspaper article

Next: 1880 to 1887
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1880 to 1887

  • 1880

    The National Bell Telephone Company becomes the American Bell Telephone Company.

  • February 15, 1880

    Marian (Daisy) Bell, a daughter, is born.

    Bell and his young associate, Charles Sumner Tainter, invent the photophone, an apparatus that transmits sound through light.

    Caption Below

    [Marian Hubbard "Daisy" Bell, three-quarter length portrait, at eight years of age, standing, facing left, with dog]. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z3-155,755-AB-2. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • Fall 1880

    The French government awards the Volta Prize for scientific achievement in electricity to Bell. He uses the prize money to set up the Volta Laboratory as a permanent, self-supporting experimental laboratory devoted to invention.

  • 1881

    At the Volta Laboratory, Bell, his cousin, Chichester Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter invent a wax cylinder for Thomas Edison's phonograph.

  • July-August 1881

    When President Garfield is shot, Bell attempts unsuccessfully to locate the bullet inside his body by using an electromagnetic device called an induction balance.

  • August 15, 1881

    Death in infancy of Bell's son, Edward (b. 1881).

  • 1883

    At Scott Circle in Washington, D.C., Bell starts a day school for deaf children.

    Bell is elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

    With Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Bell funds the publication of Science, a journal that would communicate new research to the American scientific community.

  • November 17, 1883

    Death in infancy of Bell's son, Robert (b. 1883).

  • March 3, 1885

    The American Telephone & Telegraph Company is formed to manage the expanding long-distance business of the American Bell Telephone Company.

  • February 1887

    Bell meets six-year-old blind and deaf Helen Keller in Washington, D.C. He helps her family find a private teacher by recommending that her father seek help from Michael Anagnos, director of the Perkins Institution for the Blind.

    Caption Below

    [Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan and Alexander Graham Bell, full-length portrait, seated outdoors]. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z1 137 816-A. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress.

Next: 1890 to 1899
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1890 to 1899

  • Aug-Sept, 1890

    Bell and his supporters form the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf.

    Caption Below

    Fourth summer meeting of the American Association for the Promotion of Teaching Speech to the Deaf... Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-122248. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • December 27, 1890

    Letter from Mark Twain to Gardiner G. Hubbard, "The Father-in-law of the Telephone"

  • October, 1892

    Bell participates in the formal opening of long-distance telephone service between New York and Chicago.

    Caption Below

    Alexander Graham Bell at the opening of the long-distance line from New York to Chicago. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z2-28, 608-B. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • 1897

    Death of Gardiner Greene Hubbard; Bell is elected President of the National Geographic Society in his stead.

  • 1898

    Bell is elected a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution.

  • December 30,1899

    Acquiring the American Bell Telephone Company's business and property, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company becomes the parent company of the Bell System.

Next: 1900 to 1922
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1900 to 1922

  • October 1900

    Elsie Bell marries Gilbert Grosvenor, the National Geographic Magazine editor.

  • Winter 1901

    Bell invents the tetrahedral kite, whose shape of four triangular sides would prove to be light, strong, and rigid.

  • April 1905

    Daisy Bell marries botanist David Fairchild.

  • October 1, 1907

    Glenn Curtiss, Thomas Selfridge, Casey Baldwin, J.A.D. McCurdy, and Bell form the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), which is funded by Mabel Hubbard Bell.

    Caption Below

    [Alexander Graham Bell (center) with Aerial Experiment Association members...]. Reproduction Number LC-G9-Z1 137, 247-A. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

  • February 23, 1909

    The AEA's Silver Dart makes the first flight of a heavier-than-air machine in Canada.

    Photograph of June Bug. Box 148, "Subject File: Aviation--The Silver Dart." Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

  • January 25, 1915

    Bell takes part in the formal opening of the transcontinental telephone line by talking on the telephone in New York to Watson in San Francisco. Invitation from Theodore Vail to Bell

  • September 9, 1919

    Bell and Casey Baldwin's HD-4, a hydrofoil craft, sets a world marine speed record.

  • August 2, 1922

    Bell dies and is buried at Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia.

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