6. Antonio Meucci and the telephone
Antonio Meucci was an Italian immigrant living on Staten Island when he developed a communication system which allowed his invalid wife to communicate from her second floor bedroom with his laboratory in the basement. Meucci studied the principles of electromagnetic reproduction of sound, and used them to construct a type of voice communication system, drawings of which he later sent to the American District Telegraph Company of New York, asking to test the device over long distances using the company’s telegraph lines. After they failed to respond for two years he asked for the drawings’ return, only to be told they were lost.
In 1976 as part of the 100th anniversary of the invention of the telephone, long credited to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, the Smithsonian Institution honored Meucci as one of the eight most important inventors of what became the telephone. Meucci called his device a teletrofono, and in his patent caveat, which expired in 1874, he referred to it in English as a “sound telegraph”. Meucci has a long list of inventions credited to his name in diverse fields, including electrotherapy, candle making, the development of coffee filters, electroplating, and many more, but the invention of the telephone, though his clearly preceded Bell’s, is not among them.