Since Antonio Meucci invented the telephone – and yes, by now the whole world knows it wasn’t Alexander Graham Bell who invented it – so much has changed, especially given the recent news.
Last month, the Michigan State House voted to pass Senate Bill 636, which would allow the elimination of “traditional” landlines services by 2017; those against the bill argued that it would make 911 calls less reliable.
If still alive, Meucci would not be happy to know that his invention is about to disappear. Born on April 13th, 1808, the telephone was his life’s work. And if Meucci could see the ‘wireless’ version of his invention – barely used to talk anymore – he probably would not understand why now it is mostly dedicated to sharing intimate moments on social media platforms. Lately these may have reached one of their lowest points with #Aftersex selfies, though only history will tell.
History worked out well for Meucci, in the end, after roughly 131 years and several legal battles. Antonio Meucci had a tendency to get in trouble with the law, mostly over small things: an incident with fireworks –a gig for extra money- or leaving his workplace due to ‘women issues’ for which he also went to jail where he also stayed for political reasons. When he lost his doorman job, he started working in theatres, and in one of them he established his first laboratory and his “acoustic telephone” that was used to communicate from the stage with contractors over the ceiling.
Thanks to his technical skills, he was able to leave Tuscany for Havana in 1835, more or less illegally, since he could not get a passport due to old legal troubles. He spent 15 years in Cuba, by his accounts the happiest time of his life, until his entertainment contract with the theatre expired. In 1850, Meucci and his wife arrived in the United States and settled down in Staten Island until his death. He bought a cottage there, today the Garibaldi Meucci Museum. He also opened a candle factory, although neither this nor the later beer factory enjoyed much success, and the financial situation of the Meucci family worsenend.
In the 20 years from 1851 to 1871, he perfected his earlier invention, and created a perfectly functioning appliance starting with one connection, already in place in 1856, between the basement/laboratory and the second floor bedroom of his wife, who was confined by a disabling rheumatic disease. In his notes from 1857 Meucci described the telephone as “a vibrating diaphragm magnet electrified by a spiral wire around it”, and it’s safe to say, it changed the world.
Although he had resolved the technical problems, Meucci had to face a very harsh commercial and legal battle he wasn’t prepared to fight. In 1871, he deposited in Washington a caveat Sound telegraph to present his invention but after three years it expired as he was missing the necessary funds to maintain it, though sources are controversial on these facts.
Meucci claimed he gave the American District Telegraph Co. some prototypes and the company claimed to have lost them. Bell then presented his own patent similar, in everything, to the one belonging to Meucci who claimed the paternity of his invention and started a complex and lengthy legal action. Meucci never saw resolution as he died in 1889. In 2002, the last word was written on the dispute, when the United States Congress upon initiative of the Italian American deputy Vito Fossella recognized that the invention of the telephone belongs to Antonio Meucci.
At the time, the press triumphantly covered the event to celebrate a recognition that arrived 113 years after Meucci’s death.
We cannot forget such a brilliant mind which proudly belonged to the first generation of Italian immigrants, and we wish the future generation even greater success in scientific discoveries that might once again change the world.