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Alexander Graham Bell invented a technology that would later bear his name. But how much did he deserve it?
The problem that Bell solved was to turn electrical signals into sounds.
Philip Reis had already designed a sound transmitter in 1860, and Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz had already built a receiver. Bell's real contribution was "to vary the strength of the current to capture variations in voice and sound," Lemley writes.
He was racing against Thomas Edison. Even Bell's final product -- which combined transmitter, fluctuating current, and receiver -- had company.
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The "Farnsworth Invention" was named after Philo T. Farnsworth, the nominal father of television. But his invention was neither his nor an invention.
In 1927, Farnsworth projected a straight line on a machine he called the Image Dissector, which is truly t...
Incandescent light bulbs existed before Thomas Edison, and when other inventors got wind of Edison's tinkerings, they roundly sued him for patent infringement.
So what did Edison actually do?
He discovered that a special species of bamboo had a higher resis...
Samuel Morse was with friends and debating electromagnetism when he realized that if an electrical signal could travel instantly across a wire, why couldn't information do the same?
The telegraph was invented by not only Morse, but also Charles Wheatstone...
Most of these stories here are about how we mistake incremental improvements. But the story of the movie projector is a story about theft.
Francis Jenkins built what we consider the ur-instrument of the motion-picture industry with a projector that showed strips of films f...
The car industry represents the epitome of incremental innovation. Take a tricycle. Add an engine. You've got a car. (Just look at the picture of the the original Benz Motorwagen from 1885).
Condensing the invention of cars to those six words leaves out a lot of detail and a few m...
The fabric cotton comes from cotton fibers that mix with seeds in the pods of cotton plants. To make the fabric, therefore, you have to separate the fibers from the seeds.
For centuries this was done mostly by hand, until Eli Whitney "invented" the cotton gin in 1...
Speaking of building bikes, that's exactly what Orville and Wilbur Wright did before they became the first team to fly a heavier-than-air machine.
When the Wrights asked the Smithsonian for all available information on the history of flight in 1899, they o...
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The next idea to explore was finding a way to transmit sound to far distances. Alexander Graham Bell laid out the underlying technology for electromagnetic telephones and was granted a patent in 1876 for his improvements in telegraphy.
This introduced a new problem: what if you were not av...
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