Somewhere north of six billon telephone calls will be placed today around the world. According to a variety of sources, the average American makes between five and ten each – a number that varies widely based on a person’s age and stage of life.
It all started with one, of course, and the first was placed on this date 147 years ago back in 1876 by the man credited with inventing the technology.
As the story goes, Alexander Graham Bell was in his Boston laboratory when he tested his invention for the first time. Picking up the device, he rang his assistant.
“Mr. Watson, come here – I want to see you,” he told him. Recalling the breakthrough, Bell reflected, “To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.”
It would be an understatement to say that the telephone transformed the world. What once took days, weeks and even months to relay, now took just a matter of seconds. Consider the fact that America’s decision to declare its independence from Great Britian was made in July of 1776 – but the King didn’t learn about it until the fall.
Scottish-born and emigrating to America via Canada thanks to the kindness of a Baptist minister, Alexander Graham Bell’s interest in audio communication was deeply personal. His mother was legally deaf, and so as a youngster, he became determined to invent something to help her communicate.
A few years earlier, Alexander’s father, Alexander Melville Bell, had previously created the “Visible Speech System” – a series of symbols that enabled the deaf to communicate. But the younger Bell wanted to do more, and especially after his two brothers died several years apart of tuberculosis.
Bell’s two experiments consisted of a telegraph that could send several messages at different pitches over a wire, and another to transmit the voice or sound over a wire. The telephone would eventually emerge from these efforts, a development that made Bell a very rich man.
All the while, the famous inventor would meet and fall in love with Mabel Hubbard, who was deaf. They would marry the next year and remain inseparable for 45 years until Alexander’s death in 1922. They would have four children, including two daughters who died tragically in childhood.
Little is recorded about Alexander’s faith as a youngster, though as an adult, the Bell family was known to attend Presbyterian and Episcopalian church. Mabel once recorded an incident about her husband finding a Unitarian/Universalist pamphlet.
“I have always considered myself as an agnostic,” he told his wife. “But I have now discovered that I am a Unitarian Agnostic.”
It seems theological confusion has been around for a long time.
The late historian David McCullough described Bell as “Courtly in manner, cheerful by nature, optimistic, insatiably curious about almost everything.” Curiously, though, McCullough writes, “His one real peculiarity, however, seems to have been an uncontrollable fear of having moonlight fall on him while he slept. His most lamentable vice, by all accounts, was an uncontrollable appetite for Smithfield Ham and apple pie.”
Yet, McCullough seems to have left off the strangest and most stunning peculiarity of all when it comes to the famed inventor.
Speaking at the National Deaf-Mute College in Washington, D.C., in 1891, Bell suggested the way to cure deafness was to have deaf people stop from procreating.
“I am sure that there is no one among the deaf who desires to have his affliction handed down to his children,” Bell told those gathered.
It seems that in addition to his other various experiments and inventions, including the metal detector, Bell became fascinated with eugenics – the wicked and immoral practice and study of trying to weed out certain genetic characteristics.
Why would a man whose entire existence depended upon a deaf woman, and whose 45-year marriage was to another deaf woman who conceived and gave birth to four children, want to deprive others of the joy and opportunity he enjoyed from the product of such unions?
Confused, faulty and dangerous theology would seem to be a leading culprit behind such thinking. And the idea that man, not God, sits in the chair of decision and destiny.
Of course, this same muddled and erroneous logic continues to this day. It brings to mind Ronald Reagan’s famous quip, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”
It’s also tragically ironic that the same man responsible for bringing the world and its people closer together than ever before was actually advocating for a policy that would have deprived our world of the richness, closeness and beauty of those in the deaf community.
Photo from Getty.