May 4, 2015


Inventors & Impostors

By  Daniel Diehl & Mark P. Donnelly

Genre: Historical Non-Fiction/Inventions
Length: 236 pages
Release Date: May 1st, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1511463348

What if everything you learned in school about the heroes of science, technology and invention was a lie?

What if Tom Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb? What if the Wright brothers weren’t the first men to fly? What if Marconi didn’t invent the radio, or Watt the steam engine, or Bell the telephone, or Henry ford the production line? What if Columbus didn’t really discover America, or Darwin the concept of evolution, or Watson and Crick the existence of DNA?

Well, brace yourself, because none of these people did what the history books credit them with having done. Were they all thieves and liars? Was it all a huge mistake? Was it some gigantic conspiracy? How did all these people become famous for things they didn’t do?

In fourteen gripping, true stories Daniel Diehl and Mark P. Donnelly dig deep into the past and lay bare the facts about who really invented what and why somebody else got the glory.

This is historical fact that reads like the best fiction – easy to read and impossible to put down.

Available Here


Daniel Diehl has been an author, writer and investigative historian for thirty-five years. For nearly twenty years Diehl has been involved in writing for publication and documentary television production. Mr. Diehl’s work has won awards from the Houston (Texas) Film Festival, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (US) and the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Arts Foundation. Working alone and as a part of the multi-award winning team of Daniel Diehl and Mark Donnelly, Diehl has produced work in two main categories; trade publication and television documentary scripts. His canon of work includes twenty non-fiction books (which have been translated into ten foreign languages), one previous work of fiction and scripts for more than one hundred and seventy hours of documentary television primarily for A&E Network, The History Channel, History International, Biography Channel and Discovery Network.

Mark P. Donnelly is an historian, author, screenwriter, duelist, bon vivant, and constant gentleman. He has authored, co-authored or ghost written over 20 titles in several countries and has scripted and/or produced nearly 200 hours of historical television programming. He can frequently be found traveling throughout the north-eastern US giving lectures and presentations at themed events as well as teaching historical swordsmanship and western martial arts. He currently resides in central Pennsylvania where he enjoys life with his wife and family.

Guest Post

What if everything you learned in school about the heroes of science, technology and invention was a lie?

What if Tom Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb? What if the Wright brothers weren’t the first men to fly? What if Marconi didn’t invent the radio, or Watt the steam engine, or Bell the telephone, or Henry ford the production line? What if Columbus didn’t really discover America, or Darwin the concept of evolution, or Watson and Crick the existence of DNA?

Well, brace yourself, because none of these people did what the history books credit them with having done. Were they all thieves and liars? Was it all a huge mistake? Was it some gigantic conspiracy? How did all these people become famous for things they didn’t do?

In ‘Inventors & Impostors: A Sordid History of Invention and Imitation’ Daniel Diehl and Mark Donnelly dig deep into the past to recount fourteen gripping, true stories that lay bare the truth about who really invented what and why somebody else got the glory.

This is historical fact that reads like the best fiction – easy to read and impossible to put down.
There is an oft quoted truism that non-fiction writers, like teachers, collect more information than they can possibly pass on to their audience. Never was that more the case than when we started to write our latest release ‘Inventors & Impostors: A Sordid History of Invention and Imitation’.

When we decided to write a book about the largely unknown inventors whose names have been overshadowed by those who followed in their footsteps, we thought it was a grand, fun idea. We also thought that as historians with some little experience in the field, the project would be amazingly easy; a real breeze. Just goes to show how wrong you can be. Every piece of research led to another, and that one to yet another, and so on. We simply had no idea how many commonplace things that we not only take for granted, but assume we know something about the development of, are actually the result of years, decades and sometimes centuries of one 'inventor' after another building on, and sometimes blatantly co-opting, the ideas of other people. Many of the items that we assumed were either eighteenth or nineteenth century in origin turned out to stretch back many centuries, in some cases more than two thousand years. Even more astounding was the geographic scope of these improbable chains of invention; things which may have originally been discovered or invented in one nation, only to be lost and forgotten, would later be rediscovered thousands of miles away in a different nation and under entirely different circumstances. Just as often, credit for inventions were simply stolen from their originator by an unscrupulous – and far less qualified – individual who then claimed credit for another person’s work.

Much of what you will read in Inventors & Impostors may strike you as astounding, if not outright unbelievable. Some of the people we have all been raised to believe were clever, if not brilliant, heroes of science, invention and discovery were, in fact, little better than self-promoting pirates. Certainly this is not true in every instance, but it is often enough the case to undermine our confidence in much of what we have been taught over the course of our time in public school.

Consequently, the information contained in these pages will probably never make it into textbooks or popular history books, but the same can be said for so much of life. The truth is often just too embarrassing to become common knowledge. Still, as newspaper reporters say when defending their intrusive way of poking their noses into people's private lives: “the public has a right to know”.

This book may cause some controversy, it may raise some readers' ire; and that is not always a bad thing, at least if it occurs as the result of an honest search for the truth. But most of all, we hope you enjoy reading it and, with a little luck, come away with a better understanding of the way in which many of the modern wonders which we all take for granted really came into existence.

We thought the best way to explain to our readers exactly what our new book ‘Inventors & Impostors: A Sordid History of Invention and Imitation’ was all about was to let them read one of the 14 absolutely true, but nearly unbelievable, stories from the book. Here then is the REAL story of Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone.

“Watson, come here, I want you!” Anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of the telephone recognizes these words as having been spoken by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant, Thomas Watson, on March 10, 1876, thus inadvertently proving that his experimental telephone actually worked. While the story and the quotation are probably true, the question facing us is whether or not A. G. Bell actually invented the telephone.

In 1831 the great English scientist Michael Faraday had already discovered that electrical impulses, sent through a copper wire, would produce sound vibrations if one end of the wire was placed against a metallic disk. This alone made Faraday the world's then leading expert in sound transference. In 1855 Faraday received a letter from a German schoolmaster and mathematics teacher named Philipp Reis who asked the simple question, “How could a single instrument reproduce at once the total actions of all the organs operated in human speech?” To Faraday this may have posed an interesting puzzle; to Reis it was a consuming question that had been worrying him for years.

Born three years after Faraday's first experiment with electrical sound transference, Reis was interested in the wonders of electricity from childhood. At sixteen he was already an elementary school teacher and his restless mind consumed every scrap of scientific information he could lay his hands on. In 1851 he joined the Frankfurt Physical Society, a group dedicated to inquiring into the latest advances in science around the world. Among the group's honorary members was no less than Michael Faraday, also the head of London's august Royal Society, and many of his learned papers and articles were read aloud at meetings of the Frankfort Physical Society. It was in response to one of these papers that Reis wrote to Faraday asking about the possibility of a machine capable of transferring human speech along an electric wire.

Reis had already been contemplating such a possibility and his letter to Faraday was simply another step in trying to unravel the puzzle. Within two years of this correspondence Reis decided to construct a mechanical model of the human ear. Working in a shed in his back garden Reis assembled an unlikely array of odds and ends. There were coils of wire, a knitting needle, the body of an old violin, a pile of corks and a length of pig-gut sausage casing. To reproduce the ear-drum Reis stretched a piece of sausage skin across a hollowed-out cork, much like a small drum head. Imperceptibly close to this 'ear-drum' Reis placed the end of a length of platinum wire. The proximity of the wire to the sausage skin was essential. It had to be close enough that even the slightest vibration in the skin would produce contact with the wire, but not so close that contact was constant. He hoped that as the improvised 'ear drum' vibrated it would create a series of short, intermittent contacts with the platinum wire, making and breaking an electrical circuit. The opposite end of the wire was wound around a knitting needle which had been mounted vertically onto the violin body. Reis believed that when electrical impulses reached the wire coil it would cause the violin to vibrate and reproduce whatever sound had been transferred along the wire.

It took two years of false-starts to perfect the crude device, but in 1860 he ran 320 feet (100 meters) of wire from the sausage casing microphone in his shed to the violin speaker located in the nearby Garnier Institute where he was now teaching. While one of his students stood near the violin, Reis placed his mouth close to the artificial eardrum and spoke the words, “The horse eats no cucumber salad.” It may not have been as dramatic as 'Watson, come here I want you”, but the student understood every word. According to Reis' analysis of the experiment, “The consonants are for the most part tolerably distinctly reproduced, but the vowels not yet in an equal degree.”

Calling his device Das Telephon, Reis worked for another year to improve sound reproduction before broadcasting news of his invention to anyone who cared to listen. On October 26, 1861 he demonstrated the device – with the violin having been replaced by a sound box - to the Frankfort Physical Society. Anxious to prove the viability of his phone, Reis disseminated construction plans to several recognized experts in the field of electrical transmission, including Wilhelm von Legat, Chief Inspector of the Royal Prussian Telegraph System.

Despite having proven his device before his peers and government officials Reis could not find a scientific journal willing to publish his work. Frustrated but not discouraged, in 1862 and '63 he arranged for demonstrations across Europe and in Great Britain. Among those who saw, or acquired, Das Telephon were the London Science Museum, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary and King Maximilian of Bavaria. By 1864 Reis had won-over even the most hard-core sceptics but, for reasons which remain obscure, fascination with the curious talking box quickly faded. But before the chimera of fame fled, Das Telephon had been demonstrated in New York where it was unquestionably seen by Thomas Edison and, in all likelihood, by William Orton, president of Western Union Telegraph Company and Alexander Graham Bell. Documentary evidence exists that a critical analysis of Reis' device, which appeared in the German publication Polytechnisches Journal, was translated into English for Mr Orton and he passed it on to Edison who was a friend and associate of Alexander Bell.

Reis' involvement in the invention of the telephone ends here, because in 1874 he died of tuberculosis at age forty. The story, however, continued to twist and turn for years before Bell became directly involved.

While Reis had been working on his version of the telephone, so had an Italian theatrical tech-director named Antonio Meucci. Born in Florence in 1808, Meucci emigrated to Cuba in 1835 when offered the job of technical director of Havana's Tacon Theater. Although a technician by trade, Meucci was a dedicated inventor at heart. In his first ten years in Cuba he completely re-vamped Havana's waterworks, vastly improving the filtration system; established the first electro-plating factory in the Western Hemisphere and invented an improved system of electrotherapy, then an accepted form of medical treatment for a vast variety of ailments. In 1849, while administering an electrotherapy treatment to a patient, Meucci distinctly heard the sound of his patient's voice being transmitted over a copper wire attached to the therapeutic machinery. Realizing the possibilities in such a discovery – nearly a decade before Reis' experiments reached the same point - Meucci resigned his job and moved his family to Staten Island, New York where he believed the commercial possibilities of such an invention could be best exploited.

While trying to establish himself in his new country Meucci encountered several major problems. First was creating a cash-flow and second was his seeming inability to cope with the English language. In Cuba, due to the similarities between Spanish and Italian, he had been able to gloss over his linguistic limitations but now he became reliant on friends to serve as translator. Socially isolated, Meucci forged ahead with his work, spending more time than he would have liked developing non-related ideas in order to keep his family housed and fed. Over a period of ten years he invented the first effective paraffin candles (previously made from smelly tallow extract); set up a candle manufacturing plant; patented a smoke-free kerosene lamp; discovered how to manufacture paper from wood pulp rather than rags; established the first paper mill to utilize recycled paper and invented carbonated drinks. In each case he was forced to entrust the running of his various companies to people who were fluent in both Italian and English. Through it all, Meucci dedicated every free minute to his telephone.

By 1856, only five years after arriving in America, Meucci made significant advancement on his telephone. Meucci's phone differed from Reis' in that it employed an electromagnet to improve the flow of electrical impulses, and the diaphragm (or ear-drum) was stiffened with dichromate of potash and had a small iron button glued to the center which helped control the vibrations, making the sound clearer.

In 1860 - the year prior to Reis' first public demonstration of Das Telephon - Meucci sent a model of his phone to Italy with a friend who was instructed to obtain financial backing for development and commercialization. Knowing that every idea must be published if it is to gain acceptance in the scientific community, Meucci described his device in New York City's Italian language newspaper, L'Eco d'Italia. Working through a translator, he held public displays of his device in New York. Here, with typically Italian artistic flair, he placed a singer in one room while her audience listened to her recital, telephonically, several rooms away. Although the demonstrations in the US and Italy were greeted with enthusiasm and wonder, they failed to provide the hoped-for funding. Even when he took in two business partners all Meucci could generate was a measly $20.00. If his finances were already strained, they were about to become a whole lot worse.

In 1861 several of Meucci's business managers joined forces with his unscrupulous lawyer and seized control of virtually all of his business ventures. Forced to take whatever work he could find, Meucci had to abandon plans for exploiting his telephone. His experiments, however, continued. To test new innovations Meucci wired his house and workshop with phones. In August of 1870 he managed to transmit a clear telephone message over a distance of one mile – a major accomplishment considering the technology of the time. Now confident that he could find monetary backing, Meucci began making periodic trips from Staten Island into Manhattan to rekindle interest in his device. While returning home on the Ferry Westerfield one day in July 1871, the ship's boiler exploded killing many passengers and crew and severely injuring Meucci.

Now unable to work and faced with a mountain of hospital bills, the Meucci family descended into perilous financial straits. In an attempt to generate even the smallest amount of money, Mrs Meucci sold her jewelry, then the household furniture and paintings, and finally the working models of virtually all of her husband's inventions – including every telephone in the house - to a second-hand dealer for the grand sum of six dollars.

When Meucci was released from the hospital several months later he tracked down the junk dealer but was told the telephones had been sold. As to the identity of the young man who bought them, the second-hand dealer had not asked and did not care. Frantic to recreate his invention, the still-recovering Meucci worked constantly to rebuild the telephone and redraw all the plans necessary to prove how it was built. He was also desperate to obtain a patent on his device before someone else did; someone like the unknown young man who had purchased his models. Unable to raise the $250 required for a patent application, Meucci managed to scrape together $20 to file a 'Patent Caveat'; essentially a letter explaining the applicant's invention and his or her intent to file for a full patent at some future date. Under the terms of the Caveat, should anyone apply to patent a similar invention the holder of the Caveat would be notified and given three months to file a full patent application. Only if they failed to do so would the subsequent application be taken under consideration. The Caveat could be renewed indefinitely for an annual fee of $10.

With this safety cushion behind him, Meucci tried again to garner sufficient financial backing to make his device commercially viable. Among those he approached in 1862 was Edward B. Grant, vice-president of the American District Telegraph Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Union. Certain the device would work at a far greater distance than the one mile he had already achieved, Meucci requested permission to attach the telephone to Western Union's endless miles of telegraph lines. To encourage the curiously reluctant Grant, Meucci even left a model of his device with American District's offices. For two years, on an almost weekly basis, he contacted Grant's office and always received the same reply: Mr Grant was too busy to arrange the test. Maybe next time. Finally, in frustration, Meucci demanded that Grant return his models but, as in the case of the second-hand dealer, the telephone was gone and nobody seemed to know where it went. Virtually destitute and emotionally crushed, by 1874 Meucci found himself unable to come up with the $10 necessary to renew the Patent Caveat and consequently he let it lapse. Did this leave the field open for Bell? It would have, except for the existence of Elisha Gray, a partner in Gray & Barton Co., yet another subsidiary of Western Union Telegraph Company.

Born of Quaker parents on a small farm in Ohio in 1835, Gray was, like the other 'inventors' of the telephone, an inveterate tinkerer. At the age of ten he built a working model of Morse's telegraph and went on to take a two-year science degree at Oberlin College. At the age of thirty Gray invented a 'self-adjusting' telegraph relay that compensated for fluctuating signal strength. Four years later he went into partnership with Enos Barton, a budding entrepreneur who funded their enterprise by convincing his mother to mortgage the family farm. Together, Gray and Barton quickly won a contract for supplying equipment to Western Union, which bought one-third of Gray & Barton, moved the company to Chicago, Illinois and changed the name of the satellite company to Western Electric.

Although Gray soon retired from Western Electric to take up a teaching position with his alma mater, Oberlin College in Ohio, he remained the company's chief inventor. Precisely when Gray began developing his telephone remains obscure, but his first display of a sound transmitting device took place at the Presbyterian Church of Highland Park, Illinois, on December 29, 1874. This mechanism, which he called an 'Electric Telegraph for Transmitting Musical Tones', was effectively the first electronic synthesizer. From there it was only a short step to similarly reproducing the human voice. Considering Gray's familiarity with electronics it is almost inconceivable that he was unaware of Reis' telephone before embarking on the creation of his own. However it came about, on February 14, 1876, Gray's lawyer, William Baldwin, submitted a Patent Caveat, similar to the one filed by Meucci five years previously but which had expired at the end of 1873. Had Meucci's Caveat still been in effect, he would have been notified of Gray's submission and given the chance to file a full application.

So convinced was Gray that he was the only contestant in the field, he opened his Caveat with the statement: “Be it known that I, Elisha Gray...have invented a new art of transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically...” Unique to Gray's version of the phone was a liquid-filled microphone, but beyond that single detail it was very similar to those of both Reis and Meucci; not so much that fraud or theft is implied, but enough to make it clear that Gray had re-invented the wheel – probably after having seen one roll past.

The sequence of events at the US Patent Office that morning has become the stuff of legend. Supposedly, only two hours earlier an almost identical application had been submitted by one Alexander G. Bell and it was by those one-hundred and twenty minutes that Gray lost one of the most lucrative inventions in history. The legend, however, is wrong. The fact is, Gray's attorney reached the patent office slightly more than two hours BEFORE Bell's lawyers but, as so often happens in vast bureaucracies, the patent clerk took the Caveat and Gray's money, laid them with a pile of other submissions and went about his work, leaving the bookkeeping until later. When Bell's lawyers, Anthony Pollok and Marcellus Bailey, arrived at the Patent Office they demanded that their client's application be processed immediately. In consequence, although Gray's Caveat arrived earlier than Bell's it was not entered into the ledger until several hours later. The question that arises is obvious: why were Pollok and Bailey in such a hurry? Before answering this question we need to look at the story behind Bell's telephone.

Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bell came from a family where sound was of supreme importance. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, was a teacher to the deaf who had developed 'visible speech', a system of teaching speech to those who could not hear. His mother, Elisa Symonds Bell, was an accomplished portrait painter but was, herself, deaf. After attending the University of Edinburgh, Bell transferred to University College, London where his father conducted his special education classes. After graduation Bell remained at University College to assist his father. In his spare time he researched sound and acoustics in an effort to help the deaf communicate with the world around them.

When the elder Bells emigrated to Canada in 1870 - nearly a decade after both Reis and Meucci had produced working telephones - young Alexander, now aged twenty-two, moved with them. Only one year later he moved again, this time to Boston, Massachusetts, where he set up practice as a teacher to the deaf, and continued his research into artificial means of transferring sound. In 1875 he teamed up with Thomas Watson, a mechanical electrician, and stepped-up his drive to produce a means of reproducing the human voice electrically. If there had been impetus before, it was now urgent. Bell had recently courted and married one of his deaf students and any means he could find to communicate with his wife and mother would be no less than a God-send. At least some parts of Bell’s investigations are well recorded. On March 1, 1875 he met with Joseph Henry, then head of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. During this meeting Henry showed Bell the working model of Philipp Reis' Das Telephon and explained how the mechanism worked. Bell was fascinated by the device which, Henry undoubtedly explained, had never been patented by Reis, who had died fifteen months earlier. Racing back to his lab, Bell and Watson began to reproduce Reis' invention as closely as Bell could remember it.

The twenty-nine year old Bell submitted his Patent Application, via his lawyers Pollok and Bailey, ten months later, on February 14, 1876. It is important to note that Bell's application does not state that this is a new invention; but is entitled “Improvements in Electric Telephony and Telephonic Apparatus”. Certainly in examining his patent application one is struck by just how vague the description of the telephone is; hardly specific enough, in fact, to have allowed a patent issuance. At that point in time, Bell recognized that Reis, had gone before him and he openly referred to Reis as the original inventor of the telephone in a paper entitled ‘Researches in Electric Telephony’, which he presented publicly in May 1876 and again in November 1877.

Curiously, the incident where Bell said “Watson, come here I want you”, did not occur until March 10, 1876, nearly a month after he applied for the patent and three days after it had been granted. How could he have 'discovered' that his phone worked after he had already submitted the patent application and drawings? This question is not posed to imply that Bell was a complete fraud. Indeed, he went on to invent a string of useful and innovative things including improvements in telephone technology, improvements on Edison's phonograph, creating the selenium cell battery and laying the groundwork for the development of fiber optics. In all, he patented 18 inventions, 12 of which he shared with other inventors. He was instrumental in founding the National Geographic Society and was the recipient of numerous international awards. But for all these honors we are left with the nagging question: how could he not have developed a working telephone until after the patent award. Certainly the editors of the highly respected scientific journal Scientific American saw nothing new in Bell's accomplishment. In their issue dated February 10, 1877, in an article entitled 'The Speaking Electric Telegraph' they state: “The articulating telephone of Mr Graham Bell, like those of Reis and Gray, consists of two parts, a transmitting instrument and a receiver.” Obviously, the same point occurred to Meucci and Gray.

Furious at Bell's arrogance, and in spite of the contrary advice of his lawyer, William Baldwin, to bow to Bell's supposed two hour lead on submitting his patent application, Gray now filed for a full patent application on his own telephone. Taking a more direct course, Meucci simply filed suit against Bell, claiming prior rights to any and all profits from the sales of the device. To garner as much publicity as possible Meucci also fired off a series of letters to every newspaper that would print them. These two actions were only the opening salvos in what was to become one of the longest legal battles ever to drag its blood-soaked carcass through the U S legal system.

To comprehend fully the scale of the fracas the reader must understand that Bell was now head of the Bell Telephone Company and had considerable resources of his own. Gray was still employed as a consultant by Western Electric and had not only that organization to back him up, but also the nearly bottomless pockets of his firm's parent company, Western Union Telegraph Company and its owners, financier J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family. By September 1878 all sides had filed their suits and were deploying platoons of well-armed lawyers onto the field of battle.

Among the most damaging pieces of evidence to come out of the trial, although hearsay in nature, was the claim that US Patent Examiner, Zenas Wilber, had allowed Bell's attorneys to see Gray's Caveat Application and make notations on Bell's Application that would have vastly improved the working of his telephone. Certainly the phone on which Bell supposedly said “Watson, come here, I want you” did not have the same construction or design as the one which he had so vaguely described in his application only a few weeks earlier. In point of fact, the device described in Bell's patent application would hardly have reproduced any sound at all. It would also seem that there were dubious connections between a number of employees of the US Patent Office and the Bell Telephone Company. The crime of patent fraud was not attributed to Bell himself, but to his lawyers, but the mud quickly rubbed off on Bell. Additionally, it came out that Gray's lawyer was fully cognizant of the fact that his client had a legitimate, prior claim on the patent but had allowed himself to be bought-off by Bell's lawyers and may even have leaked technical information on Gray's superior device directly to Pollok and Bailey. Without question, Bell's first working phone utilized the liquid transmitter that Gray had invented and which was not included in Bell's design.

If the evidence against him were not damning enough, Bell attempted to save his reputation by offering Western Union a twenty percent share of all profits from his telephone for a period of seventeen years if they would drop their case against him. While out-of-court settlements are perfectly legal, it did nothing to enhance Bell's image.

While Gray and Western Electric gnawed away at Bell, so did Antonio Meucci. In three separate law suits, one filed by Meucci; one by the Globe Telephone Company (now using Meucci's phones) and one by the US Government on Meucci's behalf, Bell and his claim to having invented the telephone were slowly taken apart. Meucci's case collapsed when Meucci died in October 1889 at the age of 81, but by that time most of the battles had already shifted from private law suits to government sponsored ones. On January 14, 1886, Lucius Lamar, the United States Secretary of the Interior, drafted a letter to John Goode, U S Attorney General, recommending that the government sue both the Bell Telephone Company and Alexander Graham Bell. Attached to the letter were no less than sixty documents which had been used as exhibits during one or more of the private law suits against Bell. Slowly, tortuously, the suits wound their way through the system; the government's case finding its way all the way to the US Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court handed down its decision on March 19th, 1888, Alexander Graham Bell was exonerated of patent fraud by a single vote. Bell or his company would eventually be sued no less than 600 times, the last case limping to its conclusion twenty-three years after the fiasco began.

Near the close of the proceedings, William Orton, president of Western Union Telegraph Company, who had seen Reis' telephone demonstrated in New York in 1864, quipped: “I find it amusing that Bell is perceived as the man who spent his whole fortune defending his patent on the phone, when in fact, what he did was spend his whole fortune patenting Philipp Reis' work.” How curious then that most of us still remember Bell with admiration if not down-right awe.

Long after the participants in this grizzly little epic had passed on to their final reward, or punishment, as the case may be, their cause still manages to raise occasional ire in public circles. What little recognition remained for Philipp Reis by the opening of the twentieth century was expunged not once, but twice. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1932 the Ministry of Propaganda ordered Reis' name stricken from every textbook and scientific treatise in the Reich. Why? Because Philipp Reis happened to be Jewish. But Nazis routinely swept aside disagreeable truths. Surely the rest of us wouldn't be so petty. In 1947 engineers from the British firm Standard Telephones and Cables examined Reis' 1863 telephone that had been in the collection of the London Science Museum since its construction. The results of their tests concluded that the mechanism could “reproduce speech of good quality but of low efficiency”. On the order of Sir Frank Gill, then head of Standard Telephones and Cables, the results of these tests were suppressed. Why? Because Standard Telephones was then in negotiations with AT&T (inheritors of the Bell Telephone Company) and Gill feared that admitting what Bell himself had acknowledged three-quarters of a century earlier - that Reis' phone worked - might damage relations between the two. The results of the 1947 tests were not released until late in 2003.

Eventually, Antonio Meucci was granted recognition for his work. In September 2001 the US Senate passed a resolution stating that Antonio Meucci, an Italian by birth and a naturalized American citizen, had invented the telephone. Ten months later the US House of Representatives passed a similar resolution. Elisha Gray still remains the man who submitted his Patent Caveat two hours late, even though he actually put it in two hours prior to Bell.

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