Controversy Who Really Invented the Telephone Part 3 Johann Philipp Reis

About the controversy over who really invented the telephone, Johann Philipp Reis's side of the story.




A professor at the University of Frankfurt, Reis publicly demonstrated his telephone before scientists of the Physical Society of Frankfurt in 1861. Reis tried to copy the design of the human ear, using a melange of items that almost constituted German national stereotypes. A hollowed cork from a beer barrel served as mouthpiece; the diaphragm was a sausage skin stretched over the cork; and the resonator was a violin case. A wired knitting needle and an acid-cell battery to provide an intermittent electrical current completed the apparatus, which could receive and transmit sounds at either the diaphragm or the violin end. Over a 300-ft. line between the demonstration room and a hospital, listeners heard verses of songs and claimed to recognize the melodies, though they couldn't get the words. Yet the homely, strung-together objects successfully transmitted sound pitch, if not quality Also, Reis's sausage skin was the first electrically activated diaphragm. Thus Reis was widely credited in Europe and elsewhere as the inventor of the telephone. Through modesty or physical and financial inability, however, he never commercialized or upheld his priority. He died at 40, two years before Bell's 1876 patent.

At about the same time as Bell's first transmission, however, The New York Times expressed the general European consensus by crediting the "remarkable instrument" called "the Telephone" to Johann Philipp Reis. The stage was thus set for decades of contention over who really invented the telephone.

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