Article by Alexander Graham Bell, 1910
NOTES OF EARLY LIFE
From the Notebook of Alexander Graham Bell
(Copyright 1910, by The Volta Review)
MY FIRST INVENTION
When I was a school-boy my father had a pupil, Benjamin Herdman, who was of about my own age. We became intimate and used to spend a good deal of time together. Benjamin's father owned a large flour mill, known as Bell's Mills, near Edinburgh. I was at the mills a good deal with my friend Benjamin, and, as boys will do, we were constantly getting into mischief.
“Do Something Useful”
One day Benjamin's father called us into his office and gave us a good talking to. He wound up with the words, “Now, boys, why don't you do something useful? I mildly asked him what we could do. It seems that at the moment his mind was occupied with some problem concerning his mill, and he picked up a handful of wheat and said, “If you could only take the husks off this wheat you would be of some help.”
I said nothing at the time, but began to wonder whether some machine could not be devised that would remove the husks from the grains of wheat before milling. It seemed to me that brushing would accomplish this, so, through Benjamin Herdman, I quietly procured a sample of wheat and began to make experiments. I found no difficulty, by diligent application of a nail-brush, in cleaning the wheat as desired.
It then occurred to me that at Bell's Mills they already had a rotating machine, used for other purposes, that should do the business. By dumping the wheat into this machine it would be paddled round and would be thrown against the circumference of the machine, which was provided with brushes or something rough that I thought would clean the wheat as thoroughly as the nail-brush had done.