The Franklin Institute Logo
Case Files logo

Alexander Graham Bell: Electrical Transmission of Articulate Speech, 1912

A Labor of Love

Alexander Graham's father, Melville Bell, created a phonetic system called Visible Speech, achieving an arrangement that reduced every sound to a visual representation. He used a horseshoe shape to represent the tongue, and manipulated this image to represent different movements of the mouth and thus different sounds. Alexander Graham traveled to Boston to propagate his father's system of Visible Speech, where he met Gardiner Greene Hubbard. One of Hubbard's daughters, Mabel, had lost her hearing after a severe bout of scarlet fever, but with the help of tutor and governess Mary True, her speech did develop. Mary True and Alexander Graham Bell became acquainted within the circle of Boston elocutionists, and at age sixteen Mary True introduced her young pupil to Alexander Graham.

Letters from Mabel to her mother reveal the budding relationship between herself and "Mr. Bell." Mabel reports that Alexander told her she had a naturally sweet voice, and that she walked through driving rain to get to lessons with him: "I did not want to lose a lesson when each costs so much." When they met in 1873, Mabel was just 15, and in 1877 they married. The wedding was a humble family affair, and took place on a warm July evening in the Hubbard mansion. The pair said "I do" in the very room where Alexander Graham first made Mabel's acquaintance. July of 1877 also brought the founding of the Bell Telephone Company, begun as an unincorporated, volunteer association. Despite his business ventures and scientific breakthroughs, Bell made time to continue his work with the deaf. Notably, he came into contact with Annie Sullivan, and was one of the teachers who worked with Helen Keller. In 1918, Helen wrote to Bell: "You have always shown a father's joy in my successes and a father's tenderness when things have not gone right."