Elisha Gray

Elisha Gray


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Elisha Gray was born in Barnesvulle, Ohio, in 1835. An inventor, his 60 patents included the multiplex telegraph. Gray's firm became the Western Electric Company.

Gray began experimenting with various acoustical devices. When Alexander Graham Bell heard the news he patented his telephone on 3rd March, 1876. The telephone was an instant success. Within three years there were 30,000 telephones in use around the world. Gray later claimed the invention of the telephone but lost the long legal battle in the Supreme Court. Gray died in 1901.


Elisha Gray

Elisha Gray was an electrical engineer considered by some to be the true inventor of the telephone, despite losing out the patent to Alexander Graham Bell.

Gray was born in 1835 in a Quaker family in Ohio. He went to Oberlin College but he did not graduate. However, he experimented with and taught electricity in the science departments. In 1865, he invented a self-adjusting telegraph and received a patent. This was the first of a series of more than ninety patents that Gray would receive in his lifetime. In 1869, Gray co-founded a telegraph equipment supply company, named the Gray & Co. in Cleveland, Ohio. They mainly serviced the Western Union Telegraph Company, who also financed their company. Gray soon gave up his administrative role to focus more on inventions and became the chief engineer. His sponsors directed him to focus on the potentially lucrative field of acoustic telegraph rather than the unpromising field of the telephone. Mainly because of this, Gray did not disclose to anyone his invention for transmitting voice sounds until February, 1876. But it was too late as Alexander Graham Bell’s lawyers had submitted Bell’s patent application on the same morning. Bell is sometimes accused of stealing Gray’s idea. However, Bell used an improved magnetic transmitter, not Gray’s water transmitter for both public demonstrations and commercial use.

Despite losing out the telephone patent to Bell, Gray made many other inventions. In 1870, Gray invented a needle annunciator for hotels and elevators and also a microphone printer. In 1872, Western Union bought a third of Gray and Barton Co. and changed the name to Western Electric Manufacturing Company and Elisha Gray continued to invent for them.

By the age of forty, Gray retired to do independent research. He invented and gave public demonstrations of one of the world’s first electrical musical instruments, the ‘Musical telegraph’. This harmonic telegraph created oscillations of steel rods using electromagnets and this was transmitted over a telegraph wire. In 1875, he received patent for acoustic telegraphy. Gray is widely acknowledged as the father of the music synthesizer. In 1887, Gray invented a device to remotely transmit handwriting through telegraph wires, called teleautograph. These teleautgraph machines were used by banks, railways and also by the military. Gray also conceived of a closed-circuit television and he called it the telephote. Towards the end of his life, Gray worked on underwater signalling systems and was officially recognized as the inventor of the underwater signalling device after his death in 1901.


Elisha Gray, Armand Givelet, Eloy Coupleux, Lev Termen

I n days long ago, when there were not even telephones amongst men, but when telegraphs were already clicking information all over the world, a seeming brick wall that stood awhile in the path of the entire evolution of communications was the straightforward problem that telegraph lines and technology could handle only singlular communications streams at a time. Many inventors and telegraphists of the time therefore dreamt of and worked towards devising some new means by which multiple messages could be simultaneousely transmitted along a single line-pair.

One such was a man named Eisha Gray, who was inspired to the endeavour by a fascinating exepriment that his nephew showed him in 1874. By the unique combination of a bath-tub, an electric oscillator and a hand, the experiment generated a sound

in fact, the oscillations transformed into acoustic vibrations through the electrified hand transformed the hand's owner for the purpose into his very own amplifier!

Within a year, the inventor awoken in Elisha Gray by this had improved upon the concept by condensing the principles involved into the body of a violin with a metal plate. which produced a quality of new sound that he likened to something between the violin and the "electric bathroom".

Having thus cracked the basic mysteries of how to generate (and therefore transmit) sounds using electricity, the now-restless inventor began to fantasize of transmitting "chords, i.e. many notes, or signals, on a single telegraph line. "

Accordingly, and again within the year, Elisha Gray built a bank of eight oscillators, controlled with a pianolike keyboard. and as word of the technical demonstrations spread amongst people interested in music, Gray was inspired to develop a two octave version of this "harmonic telegraph" with which he toured all over the USA, presently hugely successful recitals and demos.

Having achieved success with sound generation and transmission, Gray's interests moved on, and he became interested in sound. and especially the voice.

E lisha Gray patented the telephone two hours after Alexander Graham Bell.

. a nd the story of electro-acoustics moved on almost 50 years later, in the early 1920s, with the pioneering works of Armand Givelet, a radio enthusisast and engineer who created the first Radio Club in France and the TSF engineering school amongst other wide contributions to entertainment, music and news broadcasting of his time.

As a prominent pioneer at the dawn of electronics engineering, Givelet encountered all sorts of fantastic new devices at what was then the cutting-edge of technology, including sound generation with heterodyne circuits

concepts he carried forward in audio frequency and low power oscillator circuits of his own design that proved to be more stable and more reliable with cleverly underpowered tubes.

This led to the first demonstration of his "piano radioÈlectrique", a monophonic instrument, in a public performance of "La Marseillaise" in 1927.

At the end of the day, Givelet's goal was to build an electronic organ capable of replacing classical organs, leading him on to develop and patent many electronic and electromecanic devices (include the "Hammondish" "Tone Wheels"), and eventually collaborate with Eloy Couplex, an enthusisastic organist and organ builder, on the electronic organ project from early 1929.

From this came the first generation of electronic organs ever built to be marketed, of which four are well known to have been supplied to churches in France. but no trace remains of them today. They were built of a console with two or three keyboards, controlling one or many oscillator banks and one or many amplifier/filter banks. By a combination system, these filter banks allowed the organs to generate a wide variety of classical tones, thus also heralding the ubiquitous multiple-voice capabilities of all electro-acoustic instruments today.

A far more futuristic device was being developed at the same time by young Lev Termen of the USSR, who'd learnt music at 9, electricity at 13, and began working at the Laboratory of Oscillation at the Institution of Physics, Technology and Radio Sciences, in 1920.

The young Russian's first system, called a Theremin or "aetherophon," was actually designed as a proximity-sensing alarm system that generated a buzz when someone drew near an antenna, but it didn't take long for Lev to realize his device could become a new kind of muscical instrument, for he was already able to play tunes by waving his hands arround the antenna!

In May of 1922, Lev began a long tour through Eurpoe and the USA with a visit to Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin who played the instrument himself. In 1928 he got married and established a laboratory in New York, where he developed The "Thereminvox," an electro-acoustic instrument that was eventually commercially produced by RCA from 1930 to 1937.


Highland Park History: Elisha Gray, inventor

Unquestionably the most prolific inventor ever to make his home in Highland Park was Elisha Gray, who filed with the U.S. Patent Office the same day as Alexander Graham Bell an apparatus to "transmit the tones of a human voice through a telegraphic circuit," which would become known as the telephone.

"While Gray was undoubtedly the first to conceive of and disclose the invention, as in his caveat of 14 February, 1876, his failure to take any action amounting to completion until others had demonstrated the utility of the invention deprives him of the right to have it considered," the Patent Office later determined.

Born 1835 in Barnesville, Ohio, Gray studied at Oberlin College, where in 1866 he worked out his first great invention — the "self-adjusting relay," an instrument regulating automatically the motions of the telegraph sounder. He ultimately received patents for more than 70 additional inventions.

In 1869 Gray and Enos M. Barton founded the Gray & Barton Company in Cleveland to supply telegraph equipment to the Western Union Telegraph Company. A predecessor of the Western Electric Manufacturing Company, their firm, renamed Graybar Electric Company, moved to Chicago the following year.

Gray and his wife Delia Shepard chose to make their home in newly incorporated Highland Park. Their house, built by the Highland Park Building Company at what was then 359 and is now 461 Hazel Ave., stood on several acres with extensive gardens and two artificial ponds in back, across a ravine.

Besides devoting his life to the perfection of systems of communication by electricity, Gray became an active and generous member of the Presbyterian Church of Highland Park. The financial crisis of 1873 had left the church owing $6,000 for its new building at Linden and Laurel. Gray personally covered that debt.

In that same church building on Dec. 29, 1874, citizens were invited to attend "The first public exhibition of Elisha Gray's electric telephone, by which a number of familiar melodies, transmitted from a distance through telegraph wire, will be received upon violins and other instruments within the room."

Six years before being named Chairman of the First World Electrical Congress at the Columbian Exposition in 1893, Gray invented the "telautograph," a device, now considered a fax machine, that could "remotely transmit handwriting through telegraph systems."

Gray lived until 1901, and is buried at Rosehill Cemetery.

Gray's legacy may still be seen, not only in his onetime residence on Hazel, but also in the building at 1811 St. Johns that housed his first telephone exchange, his electric generating plant at 525 Elm Place, and in a relic of the manufacturing plant he built on what is now Gray Avenue just east of Ridgewood Drive.


The Telephone: Important Dates


    : Alexander Graham Bell discovered the principal concept of the telephone.
    : Only a few hours before Elisha Gray, Bell invented the first telephone.
    : In the U.S., the first outdoor telephone cables were constructed, stretching only three miles. Soon after, the first telephone company was started.
    : Subscribers were able to exchange telephone calls even when they didn’t have direct lines via an exchange system.
    : Subscribers in the first telephone directory were differentiated by number instead of by name, which allowed one person to have multiple numbers.
    : Telephone service was no longer just for local calls. Subscribers were able to make long-distance phone calls that were wired through metallic circuitry.
    : Hammond V. Hayes developed a central battery system through which all telephones within a single exchange shared one battery instead of individual batteries. He was later issued a patent for the discovery.
    : An undertaker in Kansas City, Almon Strowger, invented the first automatic dialing system because he thought operators were conspiring to direct his customers to his competition. This system was patented and became known as the Strowger switch.
    : The first pay phone was set up in Hartford, Connecticut.
    : The Bell Company experimented with the “French phone,” in which the receiver and transmitter shared the same handset.
    : American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) initiated a hostile acquisition of the Western Union Telegraph Company by secretly purchasing the majority of the company’s stock.
    : The U.S. alone had approximately ten million Bell telephones in service.
    : Phantom circuits allowed phone companies to switch large numbers of calls, which made it possible for three phone calls to occur on two wire sets.
    : Customers in New York and London were the first users to receive transatlantic international phone service via radio waves.
    : Bell Labs started researching electronic telephone exchanges, which led to the development of the electronic switching system (ESS).
    : The first commercial cell phone service launched, using radio wave technology.
    : Long-distance phone calls were made with microwave radio technology.
    : Bell Laboratories invented the transistor.
    : Transatlantic telephone cables were laid for the first time.
    : NASA launched Telstar, the first international communications satellite in the world.
    : The development of fiber-optic cables expanded the potential for telephone service providers to handle a huge volume of calls.
    : Cell phones advanced from basic devices to Wi-Fi-capable smartphones. A cellular phone receives seamless transmissions through its singular cell transmitter.

The Telephone - Important Dates

  1. 1874 - Principal of the telephone was uncovered.
  2. 1876 - Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone, beating Elisha Gray by a matter of hours.
  3. 1877 - The very first permanent outdoor telephone wire was completed. It stretched a distance of just three miles. This was closely followed in the U.S. by the worlds first commercial telephone service.
  4. 1878 - The workable exchange was developed, which enabled calls to be switched between subscribers rather than having direct lines.
  5. 1879 - Subscribers began to be designated by numbers and not their names.
  6. 1880's - Long distance service expanded throughout this period using metallic circuits.
  7. 1888 - Common battery system developed by Hammond V. Hayes, allows one central battery to power all telephones on an exchange, rather than relying on each units own battery.
  8. 1891 - First automatic dialing system invented by a Kansas City undertaker. He believed that crooked operators were sending his potential customers elsewhere. It was his aim to get rid of the operators altogether.
  9. 1900 - First coin operated telephone installed in Hartford, Connecticut.
  10. 1904 - "French Phone" developed by the Bell Company. This had the transmitter and receiver in a simple handset.
  11. 1911 - American Telephone and Telegraph (AT & T) acquire the Western Union Telegraph Company in a hostile takeover. They purchased stocks in the company covertly and the two eventually merged.
  12. 1918 - It was estimated that approximately ten million Bell system telephones were in service throughout the U.S.
  13. 1921 - The switching of large numbers of calls was made possible through the use of phantom circuits. This allowed three conversations to take place on two pairs of wires.
  14. 1927 - First transatlantic service from New York to London became operational. The signal was transmitted by radio waves.
  15. 1936 - Research into electronic telephone exchanges began and was eventually perfected in the 1960's with the electronic switching system (SES).
  16. 1946 - Worlds first commercial mobile phone service put into operation. It could link moving vehicles to a telephone network via radio waves.
  17. 1947 - Microwave radio technology used for the first time for long distance phone calls.
  18. 1947 - The transistor was invented at Bell laboratories.
  19. 1955 - Saw the beginning of the laying of transatlantic telephone cables.
  20. 1962 - The worlds first international communications satellite, Telstar was launched.
  21. 1980's - The development of fibre optic cables during this decade, offered the potential to carry much larger volumes of calls than satellite or microwaves.
  22. 1980's, 1990's, to present - Huge advances in micro electronic technology over the last two decades have enabled the development of cellular (mobile) phones to advance at a truly astonishing rate. A cellular (mobile) phone has its own central transmitter allowing it to receive seamless transmissions as it enters and exits a cell.

Some people believe the impact of the telephone has had on our lives is negative. Whatever your beliefs, it is un-doubtable that the invention and development of the telephone has had a massive impact on the way we live our lives and go about our every day business.

Alexander Graham Bell

Edinburgh, Scotland March 1847

Alexander Graham Bell is most well known for inventing the telephone. He came to the U.S as a teacher of the deaf, and conceived the idea of "electronic speech" while visiting his hearing-impaired mother in Canada. This led him to invent the microphone and later the "electrical speech machine" -- his name for the first telephone.

Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 3, 1847. He enrolled in the University of London to study anatomy and physiology, but his college time was cut short when his family moved to Canada in 1870. His parents had lost two children to tuberculosis, and they insisted that the best way to save their last child was to leave England.

When he was eleven, Bell invented a machine that could clean wheat. He later said that if he had understood electricity at all, he would have been too discouraged to invent the telephone. Everyone else "knew" it was impossible to send voice signals over a wire.

While trying to perfect a method for carrying multiple messages on a single wire, he heard the sound of a plucked spring along 60 feet of wire in a Boston electrical shop. Thomas A. Watson, one of Bell's assistants, was trying to reactivate a telegraph transmitter. Hearing the sound, Bell believed that he could solve the problem of sending a human voice over a wire. He figured out how to transmit a simple current first, and received a patent for that invention on March 7, 1876. Five days later, he transmitted actual speech. Sitting in one room, he spoke into the phone to his assistant in another room, saying the now famous words: "Mr. Watson, come here. I need you." The telephone patent is one of the most valuable patents ever issued.

Bell had other inventions as well -- his own home had a precursor to modern day air conditioning, he contributed to aviation technology, and his last patent, at the age of 75, was for the fastest hydrofoil yet invented.

Bell was committed to the advancement of science and technology. As such he took over the presidency of a small, almost unheard-of, scientific society in 1898: the National Geographic Society. Bell and his son-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, took the society's dry journal and added beautiful photographs and interesting writing -- turning National Geographic into one of the world's best-known magazines. He also is one of the founders of Science magazine.

Bell died on August 2, 1922. On the day of his burial, all telephone service in the US was stopped for one minute in his honor.


The Telephone - A Brief History

During the 1870's, two well known inventors both independently designed devices that could transmit sound along electrical cables. Those inventors were Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray. Both devices were registered at the patent office within hours of each other. There followed a bitter legal battle over the invention of the telephone, which Bell subsequently won.

The telegraph and telephone are very similar in concept, and it was through Bell's attempts to improve the telegraph that he found success with the telephone.

The telegraph had been a highly successful communication system for about 30 years before Bell began experimenting. The main problem with the telegraph was that it used Morse code, and was limited to sending and receiving one message at a time. Bell had a good understanding about the nature of sound and music. This enabled him to perceive the possibility of transmitting more than one message along the same wire at one time. Bell's idea was not new, others before him had envisaged a multiple telegraph. Bell offered his own solution, the "Harmonic Telegraph". This was based on the principal that musical notes could be sent simultaneously down the same wire, if those notes differed in pitch.

By the latter part of 1874 Bell's experiment had progressed enough for him to inform close family members about the possibility of a multiple telegraph. Bell's future father in law, attorney Gardiner Green Hubbard saw the opportunity to break the monopoly exerted by the Western Union Telegraph Company. He gave Bell the financial backing required for him to carry on his work developing the multiple telegraph. However Bell failed to mention that he and his accomplice, another brilliant young electrician Thomas Watson, were developing an idea which occurred to him during the summer. This idea was to create a device that could transmit the human voice electrically.

Bell and Watson continued to work on the harmonic telegraph at the insistence of Hubbard and a few other financial backers. During March 1875 Bell met with a man called Joseph Henry without the knowledge of Hubbard. Joseph Henry was the respected director of the Smithsonian Institution. He listened closely to Bell's ideas and offered words of encouragement. Both Bell and Watson were spurred on by Henry's opinions and continued their work with even greater enthusiasm and determination. By June 1875 they realised their goal of creating a device that could transmit speech electrically would soon be realised. Their experiments had proven different tones would vary the strength of an electric current in a wire.

Now all they had to do was build a device with a suitable membrane capable of turning those tones into varying electronic currents and a receiver to reproduce the variations and turn them back into audible format at the other end. In early June, Bell discovered that while working on his harmonic telegraph, he could hear a sound over the wire. It was the sound of a twanging clock spring. It was on March 10th 1876 that Bell was to finally realise the success and communications potential of his new device. The possibilities of being able to talk down an electrical wire far outweighed those of a modified telegraph system, which was essentially based on just dots and dashes.

According to Bell's notebook entry for that date, he describes his most successful experiment using his new piece of equipment, the telephone. Bell spoke to his assistant Watson, who was in the next room, through the instrument and said "Mr Watson, come here, I want to speak to you".

Alexander Graham Bell was born on 3rd March 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His family were leading authorities in elocution and speech correction. He was groomed and educated to follow a career in the same speciality. By the age of just 29 in 1876 he had invented and patented the telephone. His thorough knowledge of sound and acoustics helped immensely during the development of his telephone, and gave him the edge over others working on similar projects at that time. Bell was an intellectual of quality rarely found since his death. He was a man always striving for success and searching for new ideas to nurture and develop.

The telephone - important dates

1. 1874 - Principal of the telephone was uncovered.

2. 1876 - Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone, beating Elisha Gray by a matter of hours.

3. 1877 - The very first permanent outdoor telephone wire was completed. It stretched a distance of just three miles. This was closely followed in the U.S. by the worlds first commercial telephone service.

4. 1878 - The workable exchange was developed, which enabled calls to be switched between subscribers rather than having direct lines.

5. 1879 - Subscribers began to be designated by numbers and not their names.

6. 1880's - Long distance service expanded throughout this period using metallic circuits.

7. 1888 - Common battery system developed by Hammond V. Hayes, allows one central battery to power all telephones on an exchange, rather than relying on each units own battery.

8. 1891 - First automatic dialling system invented by a Kansas City undertaker. He believed that crooked operators were sending his potential customers elsewhere. It was his aim to get rid of the operators altogether.

9. 1900 - First coin operated telephone installed in Hartford, Connecticut.

10. 1904 - "French Phone" developed by the Bell Company. This had the transmitter and receiver in a simple handset.

11. 1911 - American Telephone and Telegraph (AT & T) acquire the Western Union Telegraph Company in a hostile takeover. They purchased stocks in the company covertly and the two eventually merged.

12. 1918 - It was estimated that approximately ten million Bell system telephones were in service throughout the U.S.

13. 1921 - The switching of large numbers of calls was made possible through the use of phantom circuits. This allowed three conversations to take place on two pairs of wires.

14. 1927 - First transatlantic service from New York to London became operational. The signal was transmitted by radio waves.

15. 1936 - Research into electronic telephone exchanges began and was eventually perfected in the 1960's with the electronic switching system (SES).

16. 1946 - Worlds first commercial mobile phone service put into operation. It could link moving vehicles to a telephone network via radio waves.

17. 1947 - Microwave radio technology used for the first time for long distance phone calls.

18. 1947 - The transistor was invented at Bell laboratories.

19. 1955 - Saw the beginning of the laying of transatlantic telephone cables.

20. 1962 - The worlds first international communications satellite, Telstar was launched.

21. 1980's - The development of fibre optic cables during this decade, offered the potential to carry much larger volumes of calls than satellite or microwaves.

22. 1980's, 1990's, to present - Huge advances in micro electronic technology over the last two decades have enabled the development of cellular (mobile) phones to advance at a truly astonishing rate. A cellular (mobile) phone has its own central transmitter allowing it to receive seamless transmissions as it enters and exits a cell.

Some people believe the impact of the telephone has had on our lives is negative. Whatever your beliefs, it is un-doubtable that the invention and development of the telephone has had a massive impact on the way we live our lives and go about our every day business.

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Jason Morris is co-author, search engine optimization and marketing consultant of Business Phone Systems Direct. An established communications company, offering advice and implementation of high quality business phone systems.
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The Electric Piano Debuts

Fender Rhodes' (although at the time the company was known just as "Rhodes") first foray into the field of electric keyboards was something they called the "Pre-Piano." This was a three and a half octave instrument that was made from 1946 until 1948. It was also the only Fender Rhodes instrument that ever came equipped with self amplification. Wurlitzer debuted their first electric piano (the 100) in 1955. While it was based on ideas from the Rhodes Pre-Piano, theirs was the first true electric piano.


Telecommunications History Group Resources

A copy of the first telephone patent.

You can, of course, sell licenses to others allowing them to make or sell or use your invention, or you can keep all these rights to yourself. You can become rich from the proceeds (if, say, you own the patent on the latest, greatest computer chip) or never see a dime.

The patent for the telephone (US patent number 174,465) is widely thought to be the most valuable patent ever granted, which is no real surprise. It is a surprise, however, to discover that the patent very nearly went to Elisha Gray, not to Alexander Graham Bell. (And it may have gone elsewhere–see the sidebar for another claimant to the telephone.)

Watch in Awe as Two Inventors Race to the Patent Office to Register the Most Valuable Patent Ever Issued

Alexander Graham Bell, c. 1867

Having nothing to do for a few hours, and finding yourself still loitering near the patent office, you would have seen another man, Elisha Gray, rushing in to file his Caveat, which announced his intention to file for a patent within three months, for “the art of transmitting vocal sounds or conversations telegraphically through an electric circuit.” (See this link for the full text of Gray’s Caveat.)

Elisha Gray, c. 1878 (from The Telephone Conspiracy of 1876 by A. Edward Evenson, McFarland & Co., Inc., 2000)

Based on that few hours, Bell was granted the patent for the telephone and, despite around 600 lawsuits challenging his patent, he emerged as the man enshrined in all the history books (and with good reason, as we shall see). In fact, it wasn’t the few hours that were the basis of all those lawsuits instead, the fact that the key to the telephone, variable resistance, was written in the margin of Bell’s application, as though added later (perhaps, it was claimed, after Bell had read Gray’s Caveat, which also included the principle), became a principle issue. Still, the courts consistently found in Bell’s favor.

A lucky thing for Bell was that the patent office didn’t require a working model of the invention. This had been a requirement for any patent application all the way until 1870, but then, for whatever reason, it was dropped and a person could file for a patent with just a description of the invention.

Be Amazed as Edison Pulls Another Bright Idea Out of His Hat

But because seemingly everything having to do with telephone inventions had to become a legal nightmare, even Edison’s invention (the carbon-based transmitter, eventually used in all telephones through to the 1970s, and a full description of which can be found in How Phones Work) was challenged in court.

Emile Berliner, inventor of the microphone and phonograph (THG file photo)

This tangled state of affairs was partially resolved when the courts ruled Berliner’s patent claim invalid, as attempting to too broadly encompass the electrical transmission of speech and not applying specifically to Edison’s carbon transmitter (actually, the decision was far more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it). It was more fully resolved when yet another lawsuit occurred, and then another …

Good Lawsuits

The litigation over the telephone was just beginning on that fateful Valentine’s Day in 1876 there was a lot of love in the air, but it was for the telephone, not for Bell or his patent. There were many more applications for telephone-like devices, and most claimed Bell’s original application was for an object that wouldn’t work as described. Bell and his partners weathered these, but at such a great cost that they tried to sell the patent rights to Western Union, the giant telegraph company, in late 1876 for $100,000.

But Western Union refused, because at the time they thought the telephone would never amount to anything. After all, why would anyone want a telephone? They could already communicate long-distance through the telegraph, and early phones had poor transmission quality and were limited in range.

Western Union’s mind changed within a year as they began to sense the impending importance of the phone, but at that point the rights were no longer offered. Bell and his partners had by then set up the Bell Telephone Company, and business was starting to look quite good indeed.

So Western Union turned around and entered into agreements with Gray, Edison, and others for their inventions, and with the advantages of Edison’s transmitter and an already-existing wiring infrastructure across the country, they looked to become the dominant force in telecom history—which is why, in 1878, Bell’s lawyers sued Western Union for patent infringement.

What made the lawsuit interesting was that both parties owned different patents having to do with the telephone. Bell, of course, had the rights to the telephone itself, plus various rights for the receiver, their own transmitter (inferior to Edison’s), and other bits. Western Union, through Gray and Edison and others, had licenses for the rights to the carbon transmitter and the induction coil (which Bell may have been using in its own phones without permission). And of course Western Union argued that Gray had the real rights to the telephone, and not Bell.

Finally, on November 10, 1879, Bell Telephone won its lawsuit and Western Union was forced to give up its telephone patents (including Edison’s transmitter) and its tens of thousands of phones and subscribers in return, it received 20 percent of Bell rentals for the 17 year life of Bell’s patents.

The next year, Bell’s victory in the courts was made complete when the British government also ruled against Edison in a lawsuit brought against The Edison Telephone Company of London, and the stage was set for Bell’s emergence as the giant of the telecom business, with 133,000 telephones. The Bell system remained a monopolistic force in the industry in the US until it was forced to break up in 1984.


Elisha Gray Biography (1835-1901)

Elisha Gray was Alexander Graham Bell's principle rival, first for inventionof the harmonic telegraph and then of the telephone. He was a prolific inventor, granted some seventy patents during his lifetime. Born in Barnesville, Ohio, on August 2, 1935, and brought up on a farm, Gray had to leave school early when his father died but later continued his studies at Oberlin College, where he concentrated on physical sciences, especially electricity, and supported himself as a carpenter.

After leaving Oberlin, Gray continued his electrical experiments, concentrating on telegraphy. In 1867 he patented an improved telegraph relay, and later,a telegraph switch, an "annunciator" for hotels and large business offices,a telegraphic repeater, and a telegraph line printer. He also experimented with ways to transmit multiple, separate messages simultaneously across a single wire, a subject that was also engaging the efforts of Bell. Gray prevailed,filing his harmonic telegraph patent application in February 1875, two daysbefore Bell's similar application.

Gray now began investigating ways to transmit voice messages, soon developinga telephone design that featured a liquid transmitter and variable resistance. In one of the most remarkable coincidences in the history of invention, Gray filed notice of his intent to patent his device on February 14, 1876--justtwo hours after Bell had filed his own telephone patent at the same office.Western Union Telegraph Company purchased the rights to Gray's telephone andwent into the telephone business the Bell Telephone Company launched a bitter lawsuit in return. After Western Union settled with Bell, Gray renewed hiscase. The Supreme Court ultimately decided in Bell's favor in 1888.

Meanwhile, Gray had been a founding partner in 1869 of Gray and Barton, an electric-equipment shop in Cleveland, Ohio. This became Western Electric Manufacturing of Chicago in 1872, which evolved into Western Electric Company, which, ironically, became the largest single component of Bell Telephone in 1881.

Despite his disappointment over the telephone patent, Gray continued to experiment with electricity. In 1888 and 1891 Gray patented his TelAutograph, which electrically transmitted handwriting or pictures, using a wide band of paper with a recording pen that moved as if hand-held. Gray demonstrated the TelAutograph at the World's Columbian Exhibition in 1893. From 1880 until his death, Gray was professor of dynamic electricity at Oberlin. Before his death onJanuray 21, 1901 in Newtownville, Massachusetts, he was experimenting with an undersea signaling device.


Watch the video: Elisha Gray Live A004 - Random Sessions