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    Who is credited with inventing the telephone?
    Was it Alexander Graham Bell, Elisha Gray, or     Antonio Meucci?


    Alexander Graham Bell is often credited as the inventor of the telephone since he was awarded the first successful patent. However, there were many other inventors such as Elisha Gray and Antonio Meucci who also developed a talking telegraph.

Attributing the true inventor or inventors to a specific invention can be tricky business. Often credit goes to the inventor of the most practical or best working invention rather than to the original inventor(s). This happens to be the case of the invention of the telephone!

There is a lot of controversy and intrigue surrounding the invention of the telephone. There have been court cases, books, and articles generated about the subject. Of course, Alexander Graham Bell is the father of the telephone. After all it was his design that was first patented, however, he was not the first inventor to come up with the idea of a telephone.

Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant, began developing the design of a talking telegraph or telephone in 1849. In 1871, he filed a caveat (an announcement of an invention) for his design of a talking telegraph. Due to hardships, Meucci could not renew his caveat. His role in the invention of the telephone was overlooked until the United States House of Representatives passed a Resolution on June 11, 2002, honoring Meucci's contributions and work. You can read the resolution (107th Congress, H Res 269) on

To make matters even more interesting some researchers suggest that Elisha Gray, a professor at Oberlin College, applied for a caveat of the telephone on the same day Bell applied for his patent of the telephone- these gentlemen didnít actually visit the Patent Office, their lawyers did on their behalf. In Historical First Patents: The First United States Patent for Many Everyday Things (Scarecrow Press, 1994), Travis Brown, reports that Bellís lawyer got to the patent office first. The date was February 14, 1876. He was the fifth entry of that day, while Grayís lawyer was 39th. Therefore, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Bell with the first patent for a telephone, US Patent Number 174,465 rather than honor Gray's caveat. However, some authors dispute this story and suggest that there was malfeasance by certain individuals at Patent Office, and possibly Bell himself.

If someone asks who is credited with inventing the telephone, you can explain the controversy that still surrounds this question.

Standard DisclaimerRelated Web Sites
  • Alexander Graham Bell's Family Papers From the Library of Congress American Memory Web site, the collection includes "correspondence, scientific notebooks, journals, blueprints, articles, and photographs documenting Bell's invention of the telephone and his involvement in the first telephone company, his family life, his interest in the education of the deaf, and his aeronautical and other scientific research. Dates span from 1862 to 1939, but the bulk of the materials are from 1865 to 1920."
  • Alexander Graham Bellís Large Box Telephone - At the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Antonio Meucci A short history of Antonio Meucci from the Italian Historical Society of America.
  • Antonio Meucci Revisited This Web page provides details of Antonio Meucci's telephone which includes drawings.
  • Imagining the Internet: the Telephone - This timeline, from the Elon University School of Communication, is provided to help show how the dominant form of communication changes as rapidly as innovators develop new technologies.

Library of Congress Web SiteFurther Reading
  • Baker, Burton H. The gray matter: the forgotten story of the telephone. St. Joseph, MI, Telepress, 2000. 140 p.
  • Grosvenor, Edwin & Morgan Wesson. Alexander Graham Bell: the life and times of the man who invented the telephone. New York, Harry Abrams, 1997. 304 p.
  • Schiavo, Giovanni Ermenegildo. Antonio Meucci, inventor of the telephone. New York, Vigo Press, c1958. 288 p.
  • Stwerka, Eve & Albert. Hello! Hello! A look inside the telephone. Englewood Cliffs, NJ., Messner, c1991. 40 p. (Juvenile)
  • Hounshell, D.A. Two paths to the telephone. Scientific American, v. 244, January 1981: 156-163.

SearchFor more print resources...
Search on "Alexander Graham Bell," "Elisha Grey," or "Antonio Meucci" in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Alexander Graham Bell
[Alexander Graham Bell, three-quarter length portrait, standing, facing right, by window]. 1902. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Elisha Gray
Elisha Gray, from The Electronic Oberlin Groups Web site.

Antonio Meucci
Antonio Meucci, from the Italian Historical Society of America Web Site

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 October 2, 2018
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