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You might not have heard this, but the inventor of the telephone was Italian


Antonio Meucci was born near Florence in 1808. He studied mechanical engineering in school. In 1834 he easily gained employment as the lead mechanic at the Teatro delle Pergola whereby he designed an acoustic device to communicate between the stage and control room of the theatre. This “pipe telephone” is still in use today.

Meucci married Esterre Mochi, a costume designer who also worked at the Teatro. Politics was becoming dangerous in Italy due to the fervent support he gave to the Risorgimento movement. Consequently, he was being watched closely by the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

As a result, Meucci and his wife immigrated to Cuba in 1835 where he accepted a position as chief engineer at the Gran Teatro de Tacon in Havana. In Cuba, Meucci experimented with electricity to relieve pain. Additionally, he developed a method of using electric impulses as a remedy to cure illness.

During a treatment for migraine on a patient in 1849, Meucci accidently discovered the “electrophonic” effect using oral electrodes.” He designed a device he called the “telegrafo parlante” or talking telegraph in 1850, when Alexander Graham Bell was 3 years old.

Due to the notoriety and success of Thomas Edison in the United States, Meucci moved to Staten Island and set his sights on the same recognition. In his New York lab he experimented with different means of transmitting speech over vibrating electric currents. His first models utilized the vibrating loop principle discovered in Havana. Later, paper cones were replaced with tin cylinders to increase the resonant ring. He experimented with thin membranes, set in vibration by contact with the vibrating copper strip in a model resembling the telephone as we know it.

His teletrofoni were now fully formed, handheld, cup-shaped devices. Meucci kept detailed notebooks of his designs. In 1858, a sketch was made by painter Nestore Corradi illustrating long-distance communication, commonly known as “Corradi’s drawing.”

Meucci created the Telettronto Co. and Caveat with a few investors from Italy. He did not have the fee of $250 to apply for a patent. Therefore in 1871 he submitted a legal caveat numbered 3335,”Sound Telegraph,” from the U.S. Patent Office. (A caveat is a formal notice to a judicial officer requesting the officer to suspend a specific action until the party has received an opportunity to be heard on the matter.)

The Telettrofono Co. was shortly dissolved due to a lack of funds. On July 19, 1887, the case of “The U.S. Government vs. Antonio Meucci” ruled in favor of Bell who had acquired a patent in 1876. Judge Wallace’s ruling stated that Meucci was not able to provide ample evidence, from the caveat or Corradi’s drawing.

Throughout the rest of his life, Meucci maintained confident resolve of his life’s work: ” … the telephone which I invented and which I first made known and which, as you know, was stolen from me.” This wrongdoing was amended posthumously to Meucci years later.

On June 11, 2002, the U.S. Congress passed House Resolution 269, introduced by Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island, which recognizes the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci as the inventor of the telephone. Learn more about this Italian inventor at garibaldimeuccimuseum.com

Adesso, lo sa.

Lou Thomas

Lou Thomas was born and raised in Philadelphia, in a family with origins in Abruzzo. He is a Temple graduate who has been teaching Italian for 20 years at all levels. He attained a master’s degree in teaching Italian from Rutgers University. The sounds of Vivaldi and Jovanotti fill his classroom. His favorite quote is Il vino e’ la poesia della terra.

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