Free Science Studies: Alexander Graham Bell & the Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell Scottish-born engineer, pioneer in communications for the deaf, and inventor best known for the invention of the telephone.

Read the following:

“Alexander Graham Bell and the Invention of the Telephone”

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
  • Bell attributes the largest influences that resulted in his invention to his love of music and particularly understanding sound and how sounds are produced, his training in elocution or oral speech, his desire to take things apart to see how they worked, and his efforts at creating a speech machine. Create a four-page flip book and explain how those things influenced Bell.
  • Learn more about how sound works. (See resources below).
  • Study the art of elocution as found in this McGuffey Reader. After reading the introductory material, see how well you do with the Exercises in Articulation found on page 14. (The exercises continue through page 37.)
  • Virtually dissect a flower in this BBC interactive to see how it is made.
  • View the Visible Speech system created by Alexander Melville Bell (Alexander Graham Bell’s father) at
  • Explain (narrate) what Bell thought Helmholtz’s experiment did and how that led to the invention of the telephone (bottom of pg. 232 to top of pg. 233).
  • View an illustration of Bell’s phonautograph at the University of Virginia.
  • Explain (narrate) how the phonautograph worked (bottom pg. 234).
  • View a diagram showing the anatomy of the human ear.
  • Watch the video below to learn how the human ear works.
  • Explain (narrate) how the anatomy of the ear gave Bell the idea for a speaking telephone (middle pg. 238).
  • View an illustration of Bell’s multiple telegraph.
  • What advice did Professor Henry give to Bell when Bell said he “had not the electrical knowledge necessary to overcome the difficulties” (top of pg. 240)? How can you apply that advice to your own life?
  • View a photo of Alexander Graham Bell’s large box telephone at the Smithsonian.
  • View a photo of a replica of the receiver exhibited at the Centennial Exposition by Bell’s future father-in-law (scroll down to Bell “Centennial” Telephone Replica of 1876 model).
  • Explain how Bell’s telephone instruments finally received attention at the Centennial Exposition (beginning bottom pg. 243).
  • View an illustration from Elisha Gray’s patent for an electric telegraph for transmitting musical tones.
  • Learn more about Elisha Gray, eventual co-founder of Western Electric, who later contested Bell’s telephone invention at Oberlin College.
  • Read more about Emperor Dom Pedro II who helped open the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition at the Library of Congress.
  • To understand why his influence would be so important to Bell, learn more about Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) who, though primarily known for his work in the field of thermodynamics, was also a pioneer in electromagnetism. Bio at the BBC.
  • Create a timeline showing the important events in Alexander Graham Bell’s life (see resources below).
  • More about Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone from the Book of Knowledge:

    In 1874 Alexander Graham Bell, a Scotsman who lived for part of the year in Boston and part in Brantford, Canada, was making experiments with sound-waves. Bell was a teacher of speech to the deaf, and his interest in the nature of sound led him to make certain experiments in electricity. He found not only that sound-waves could be shown to the eye, but that they could be changed into wave-like electric currents that could be sent over a wire.

    Elisha Gray, of Chicago, was working on the same idea at the same time. On February 14, 1876, Bell filed an application for a patent in Washington. Just two hours later Gray made an application for the protection of the idea.

    The instruments of both men were clumsy and crude. They were likely to get out of order and voices were not very distinct; but the principle was correct. The new invention made a great sensation at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, but the public at first did not realize how important it was. Few people seemed to see that it was soon to become a necessity. Hundreds of improvements have been made since, and many new discoveries and inventions also….

    The actual process is very simple. The sound-waves from your mouth beat upon a disc in the mouthpiece of the telephone. The disc presses against a little carbon case connected to a wire through which electric current flows. Vibrations of the disc control the amount of current which flows through the carbon, so that waves of current, corresponding to the sound-waves from your mouth, travel along the wire. Almost instantly, these waves reach an electromagnet perhaps miles away. The magnet causes another disc to vibrate and give out words to the listening ear. Your friend speaks into the mouthpiece of his telephone and the current from it moves the disc you hold to your ear and you hear the distant voice.

    We cannot explain this marvel. No one can tell why these vibrations should set up nerve currents which our brain transforms into words. It is all mysterious, but it is true, as you know….

    “The Wonder of the Telephone” from The Book of Knowledge


Further Investigation

The First Telephone Call
Basic information for young students at the Library of Congress site for kids.

Alexander Graham Bell
Biography at MIT.

Telephone and Multiple Telegraph
Brief history explaining how one led to the other at the Library of Congress.

Alexander Graham Bell’s Path to the Telephone
Extensive research at the University of Virginia into the various discoveries and inventions that led to the invention of the telephone. This introduction is a summary. For more, click on the Table of Contents link in the menu at the top.

Time Line of Alexander Graham Bell
From the Bell family papers (Library of Congress).


The Nature of a Sound Wave
Animations and information at

Visible Speech
Decoding worksheet for using the system developed by Alexander Graham Bell’s father at Carnegie Mellon. (Use the link in the suggestions above as a key.)

Alexander Graham Bell
Interactive biography at

Lab Notebook
Bell’s notebook at the Library of Congress.

Interactive Timeline Maker {Free}
Use this interactive at to create a timeline showing Bell’s progress in inventing the telephone.


History of the Telephone by Herbert Newton Casson
Free eBook that provides extensive but interesting coverage.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Tuning Fork Discovery
Students learn how sound works and experiment with tuning forks in this lesson plan from the Acoustical Society of America.

Phenomenon of Sound: Waves
Lesson plan at that has students experimenting with sound waves.

The Telephone: A Unit Study

The Telephone: A Unit Study
One of our own units with more resources exploring how a telephone works and Bell’s background.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Map of the World
At for locating Scotland and Canada.

Map of the United Kingdom
For locating Edinburgh, Scotland.

Map of Canada
PAT map for locating Brantford, Ontario.

Alexander Graham Bell Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the entire series:
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions

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