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Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone, ca. 1876.

[Detail] Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone

Historical Comprehension

Reading Bell's journal entries and letters about particular inventions will aid students in gaining an historical comprehension of this time period. For example, students can search photophone to read why Bell thought this invention would aid society. On July 28, 1880 Bell was asked what he believed to be the future of the photophone. He responded:

"It is too soon to speak of that yet...but I look for its future in a practical use among navigators. For communication of ships at sea; for communication between a lighthouse and a ship, or between a ship that is being wrecked and the people on shore. I also look for it as a means of transmitting messages in times of war, when telegraph lines are down and the country is desolated, and where other electric forms would fall."

From Clippings, from August 31, 1880, to September 1, 1880

In the late 1800s,

  • What form of communication was commonly used to transmit information long distances? How quickly could people receive information? Did everyone have the means for receiving long-distance news in their home? How did Bell's inventions change the transmission of information over long distances?
  • How was information moved among armies during the American Civil War? How did this experience inspire Bell?
  • Were there disasters at sea that could have been aided by the use of the photophone?

Ask students to write an evaluation of the usefulness of the photophone, based on their investigation.