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Friday, April 27, 2012


Why do phones start with the numbers 1-2-3 at the top while calculators start with 7-8-9 at the top?  Wouldn't it be easier if it were the same on both?  Who made the decision to invert the numbers on calculators which were obviously invented after the telephone?  What would Alexander Graham Bell think?

And that brings me to dear Mr. Bell.  As schoolchildren in the U.S. many decades ago, we were taught that he invented the telephone, definitively.  Our government has even issued commemorative stamps in his honor.  However, if you pose the question, "who invented the telephone" on Google, there are various and sundry possibilities.  

One is Johann Philipp Reis of Germany.  In 1860, Mr. Reis was the first to produce a functioning electromagnetic device that could transmit musical notes, indistinct speech, and occasionally distinct speech by means of electric signals.  He's credited with introducing the term "telephon" for his device.  The first sentence Johann spoke on his telephon was apparently "Das" which translates to "the".  No one seems to have documented what the rest of Mr. Reis' transmitted sentence was.  According to a source on Wikipedia, "Thomas Edison tested the Reis equipment and found that "single words, uttered as in reading, speaking and the like, were perceptible indistinctly, notwithstanding here also the inflections of the voice, the modulations of interrogation, wonder, command, etc., attained distinct expression."  As you would expect, Mr. Reis was also honored by his country in the form of a postage stamp.

Other American inventors had also claimed the invention as their own, including Daniel Drawbaugh, Elisha Gray and Charles Grafton Page to name a few.  Interesting that American schoolchildren never learned these names.  Numerous inventors worldwide have been credited with inventing the telephone as well,  hailing from such locales as Italy, Denmark, Hungary, France, England and Canada, just to name a few. 

I'm not even going to segue into that other train of thought....that history as we each know it, is only as it's presented by each country to it's citizens.  There's not enough room in my blog to cover that subject!

Despite the other inventors mentioned, Mr. Bell has been honored with postage stamps commemorating "his" invention by many far-reaching countries, including Swaziland, Sierra Leone, Togo, Guinea and Bulgaria, as well as an exceptionally suave image of dear old Alexander as depicted on the Grenada commemorative stamp!

So what are we teaching our young children today when they innocently ask, "Who invented the telephone?"  Do we give them the stock answer that it was Alexander Graham Bell?  Or should the answer be, "Well, honey, common lore has it that it was a man named Alexander Graham Bell, but it was actually a collaborative worldwide effort that included many bits and pieces that were improved upon along the way, by many different inventors, as well as a fight to the finish to see who could get the credit first?"  Now tell me, what curious six year old is going to be satisfied with the second answer?  But I guess if they're curious enough to ask the question, the answer should probably be, "Don't bother me with such complicated questions, just go Google it yourself on your iPhone!"  Which roughly translates to, "How the hell should I know, honey?!"


  1. Hi Lynn! You know my business is knowing the answers, or how to find them, and it's amazing to me the number of things that I *think* I know that I really don' thanks for the reality check! Also, if you care, I had to know the answer to your first question, so I Googled and found this:

    Hope it helps!

  2. bibliofilly, thank you! I should have done more research, and when I was reading Answer Geek's response to that question, I couldn't believe that I overlooked the fact that "touch tone" button phones arrived long after the calculator. Interestingly, I'm old enough to have actually worked on one of the first "calculators" with long rows of numbers. Their precursor, of course, was the industrial adding machine which every office had on someone's desk. Thanks for the link!