Years before the first human voice was transmitted over Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone, Alexander or “Aleck” as he was known, had a particular interest in speech, no doubt effected by his mother’s deafness. Rather than use her ear trumpet to talk to her like everyone else did, Alexander discovered that she could hear his voice through its vibrations if he used booming tones close to her forehead. During a trip to London, Aleck saw a demonstration of a “speaking machine” invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone. The mechanical contraption made human like noises that Aleck successfully duplicated with a machine of his own. Pleased by his success Aleck tried massaging the mouth of his Skye Terrier, “Trouve,” so that the dog’s growls were heard as words. Using methods he learned from his father, a renowned elocutionist, Bell should shape Trouve’s mouth to produce the sounds, “ma, ma, ma.” After many treats and some time, Trouve could pronounce “Mama,” and eventually added syllables and more sounds. Ultimately, Trouve could convincingly articulate, “How are you, Grandmama?” The experiment encouraged Bell to use this knowledge to teach deaf children much the same way. In time, Bell opened a school for the deaf where the wealthy parents of two of his students helped finance Aleck’s other interests which paved the way for the telephone.
Image from Gene Gable’s article, “Scanning Around With Gene: One Ringy-Dingy, Two Ringy-Dingies,” appearing on CreativePro.com which can be seen here.