NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1877 __ Letter by Elisha Gray to Alexander Graham Bell, 21 Feb
Elisha Gray (1835-1901)
Comment : The Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell controversy concerns the question of whether Bell or Gray invented the telephone independently and, if not, whether Bell stole the invention from Gray. This controversy is narrower than the broader question of who deserves credit for inventing the telephone, for which there are several claimants. Alexander Graham Bell was a tutor for the deaf while pursuing his own research into a method of telegraphy that could transmit multiple messages over a single wire simultaneously, a so-called "harmonic telegraph". Bell formed a partnership with two of his students' parents, including prominent Boston lawyer Gardiner Hubbard, to help fund his research in exchange for shares of any future profits. Elisha Gray was a prominent inventor in Highland Park, Illinois. His Western Electric company was a major supplier to telegraph monopoly Western Union. Bell was in competition with Elisha Gray to be the first to invent a practical harmonic telegraph. In the summer of 1874, Gray developed a harmonic telegraph device using vibrating reeds that could transmit musical tones, but not intelligible speech. In December 1874 he demonstrated it to the public at Highland Park First Presbyterian Church. On February 11, 1876, Gray included a diagram for a telephone in his notebook. On February 14, Gray's lawyer filed a patent caveat with a similar diagram. The same day, Bell's lawyer filed (hand-delivered to the U.S. Patent Office) a patent application on the harmonic telegraph, including its use for transmitting vocal sounds. On February 19, the patent office suspended Bell's application for three months to give Gray time to submit a full patent application with claims, after which the patent office would begin interference proceedings to determine whether Bell or Gray were first to invent the claimed subject matter of the telephone. At the time, patents required submission of a working demonstration to be accepted, the acceptance process often took years, and interference proceedings often involved public hearings. However, Bell's lawyers argued strenuously for an exception to be made in their case. On February 24, 1876, Bell traveled to Washington DC. Nothing was entered in his lab notebook until his return to Boston on March 7. Bell's patent was issued on March 7. On March 8, Bell recorded an experiment in his lab notebook, with a diagram similar to that of Gray's patent caveat (see right). Bell finally got his telephone model to work on March 10, when Bell and his assistant Thomas A. Watson both recorded the famous "Watson, come here" story in their notebooks. In a letter of March 2, 1877, Bell admitted to Gray that he was aware Gray's caveat "had something to do with the vibration of a wire in water [the variable resistance breakthrough that made the telephone practical]and therefore conflicted with my patent." At this time, Gray's caveat was still confidential. In 1879, Bell testified under oath that he discussed "in a general way" Gray's caveat with patent examiner Zenas Fisk Wilber. In a sworn affidavit from April 6, 1886, Wilber admitted that he was an alcoholic who owed money to his longtime friend and Civil War Army companion Marcellus Bailey, Bell's lawyer. Wilber says that after he issued the suspension on Bell's patent application, Bailey came to visit. In violation of Patent Office rules, he told Bailey about Gray's caveat and told his superiors that Bell's patent application had arrived first. During Bell's visit to Washington, "Prof. Bell was with me an hour when I showed him the drawing [of Gray's caveat] and explained Gray's methods to him." He says Bell returned at 2pm to give him a hundred-dollar bill. Wilber's other sworn affidavits leave out these details. Only his October 21, 1885 affidavit directly contradicts this story and Wilber claims it was "given at the request of the Bell company by Mr. Swan, of its counsel" and he was "duped to sign it" while drunk and depressed. However, Wilber's April 6, 1886, affidavit was also sworn to and subscribed to Thomas W. Swan. These conflicting affidavits discredited Wilber. The April 6 affidavit was published in the Washington Post on May 22, 1886. Three days later, they published a sworn denial from Bell. Bell's lawyer filed Bell's patent application for the telephone in the US patent office on February 14, 1876. Gray's lawyer filed Gray's caveat the same day. Under US patent laws in 1876, a patent would be granted to the first to invent and not the first to file and therefore it should not have made any difference whether Bell or Gray filed first. The usual story says that Bell got to the patent office an hour or two before his rival Elisha Gray, and that Gray lost his rights to the telephone as a result. But that is not what happened according to Evenson. According to Gray's account, his patent caveat was taken to the US patent office a few hours before Bell's application, shortly after the patent office opened and remained near the bottom of the in-basket until that afternoon. Bell's application was filed shortly before noon on February 14 by Bell's lawyer who requested that the filing fee be entered immediately onto the cash receipts blotter and that Bell's application be taken to the examiner immediately. Late that afternoon, the fee for Gray's caveat was entered on the cash blotter and the caveat was not taken to the examiner until the following day. The fact that Bell's filing fee was recorded earlier than Gray's fee led to the story that Bell had arrived at the patent office earlier. Bell was in Boston on February 14 and did not know this was happening until he arrived in Washington on February 26. On February 19, Zenas Fisk Wilber, the patent examiner for both Bell's application and Gray's caveat, noticed that Bell's application claimed the same variable resistance feature described in Gray's caveat and both described an invention for "transmitting vocal sounds". Wilber suspended Bell's application for 3 months to allow Gray to file a full patent application with claims. If Gray's claims claimed the same subject matter as Bell's claims, the examiner would begin "interference" proceedings to determine which inventor was the first to invent the variable resistance feature. Gray's lawyer William D. Baldwin had been told that Bell's application had been notarized on January 20, 1876. Baldwin advised Gray and Gray's sponsor Samuel S. White to abandon the caveat and not to file a patent application for the telephone. Whether Bell's application was filed before or after Gray's caveat no longer mattered, because Gray abandoned his caveat, which opened the door to Bell being granted U.S. Patent 174,465 for the telephone on March 7, 1876. (Compiled from various sources)
Original excerpt : « Chicago, Feb. 21, 1877 - Prof. A.G. Bell - My Dear Sir, I give a lecture in McCormick Hall [Chicago], Tuesday evening, the 27th inst., on the telephone, as I have developed it. I also connect with Milwaukee, and have tunes and telegraphing done from there. I should like to explain and exhibit your method of transmitting vocal sounds as well, but do not feel at liberty to do more without your permission. I should explain it as your method, and not mine, although the Office records show a description of the talking telegraph filed by me the same day yours was filed. I was unfortunate in being an hour or two behind you. There is no evidence that either knew that the other was working in this direction. With our facilities I can get up an apparatus on a day's notice that will answer. I havea copy of your last patent. Please telegraph at my expense, on receipt of this, yes or no, and I will act accordingly. Yours truly, Elisha Gray. 220 Kinzie St. Chicago. I send this care of Mr. Hayes, as I do not know your address. I received a line from you through Mr. Baldwin, for which please accept thanks.Boston, February 24, 1877 - Elisha Gray, Western Electric Manufacturing, Co. - If you refute in your lecture, and in the "Chicago Tribune, the libel upon me published in that paper February sixteenth, I shall have no objection. Please answer. A. Graham Bell.Chicago, Feb. 24, 1877 - Prof. A.G. Bell. - Sir, Your telegram received. In answer, I would say, first, that I do not know what article you refer to, but will see the paper of that date. I have seen one or two articles lately that ventured to assume that you were not the only man in the world who had contribued to the development of the telephone. If such assertions are "libels", then you have been "libelled". So far as I know, the "libels" are mostly on the other side, of assertions of "originality", etc. mays be so considered. The papers here have been full of articles of late, copied from Boston papers, claiming the whole development of the telephone for you. It would not be strange if someone, knowing the facts, should speak, and in doing so may have done you an injustice. You seem to assume that I am responsible for all the newspaper articles that are not in your favor. I assert here that I have never said a word about you in the public prints, and I have always - even to the degree of offending some on my friends - defended you when I have heard disparaging remarks made about you. Since I made your acquaintance I have taken the ground that we were both independent inventors. Now, if we are going into, the refutation business I suggest that it be mutual. So far as I know there is quite as much needed from your side as from mine. I am always willing to correct any wrong done to you, even if I am not responsible. If we understant to follow up the newspapers we will have our hands full. I shall not show your apparatus, as I do not want any conditions imposed until I know what I am to refute. I do not know but it is to deny all claim to the invention. Allow me to suggest that your telegram was just a little indiscreet, as it contained an assumption very unjust to me. I do not know your address, so I send through Mr. Hayes. Yours truly, Elisha Gray. P.S. You should have sent your dispatch collect, as I requested it be sent. » (In A. Edward Evenson, pp. 105-108)
Source : MacKenzie, Catherine (1928), "Alexander Graham Bell", Kessinger Publishing, 2003, p. 165.
Source : Evenson, A. Edward (2000), “The telephone patent conspiracy of 1876: the Elisha Gray-Alexander Bell controversy and its many players”, Jefferson NC : McFarland.& Co Inc.
Source : Du Moncel, Theodore (1882), “Histoire de la découverte du téléphone”, In "La Lumière Électrique — Journal Universel d'Électricité", 1e série, vol. 6, n°1-25, 1882, Paris : Union des syndicats de l'électricité, 4 février, No. 5, pp. 97-102.
Urls : http://www.prc68.com/I/TelPat.shtml (last visited ) http://0.tqn.com/d/inventors/1/7/r/X/graypatent.gif (last visited ) http://documents.irevues.inist.fr/bitstream/handle/2042/30882/C%26T_1983_10_61.pdf?sequence=1 (last visited ) http://cnum.cnam.fr/CGI/fpage.cgi?P84.6/101/100/616/0/0 (last visited ) http://cnum.cnam.fr/CGI/fpage.cgi?P84.7/146/100/667/0/0 (last visited ) http://cnum.cnam.fr/CGI/fpage.cgi?P84.7/287/100/667/0/0 (last visited )

No comment for this page

Leave a comment