It would be hard to imagine our lives without a phone today and we can all thank Alexander Graham Bell for the invention, right? Well, you might be wrong. Actually, there was a good deal of controversy over the patent for the telephone that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Have you ever heard of Daniel Drawbaugh? He was an inventor who lived in Eberly Mills, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. During his lifetime, he acquired over 125 patents for various inventions.
Daniel Drawbaugh’s home in Pennsylvania
He was a pioneer in placing insulation on electrical wires and had a particular curiosity about electricity. His interest in electricity led him to experiment with telephones as early as 1861 using a teacup and old mustard can. By 1867, he was able to transmit a human voice which he frequently demonstrated to family and friends. However, he was unable to afford a patent for the device.
Alexander Graham Bell was also experimenting with a similar device and came to see Daniel Drawbaugh’s. Shortly, after Bell’s visit, Daniel’s shop was broken into and one of his telephone device was stolen. When Alexander Graham Bell, received his patent on February 14, 1876, Daniel Drawbaugh asserted that it was on his invention, not Alexander Graham Bell’s invention.
Drawbaugh sued Alexander Graham Bell and the case went on for almost eight years. Finally, the Supreme Court finally ruled 4-3 against Drawbaugh’s claim, after which Drawbaugh accused a justice of a conflict of interest for holding significant stock in Bell Telephone. People’s Telephone Company soon went out of business. Unfazed, Drawbaugh continued his claims against Bell.
In 1903, Drawbaugh returned briefly to the national stage when he publicly insisted that he had invented radio before Marconi. Drawbaugh died of a heart attack in 1911, soon after Bell Telephone Company offered him a settlement to end his litigation once and for all.
Letter from Benjamin Peirce to Alexander Graham Bell, April 20, 1877
Letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Alexander H. Rice, April 21, 1877
- The Telephone Appeals (January 24 to February 8, 1887) James Jackson Storrow Alfred Mudge & Son, Law Printers, 1887
- Library of Congress
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