E. Schiavo in the 1950s FOREWORD Below is a
reproduction of Chapter XV "Who stole Meucci's Invention?"
of Giovanni E. Schiavo's book "Antonio Meucci Inventor of
the Telephone," The Vigo Pess, New York, NY 1958. Since his
book is out of print, we offer our readers his views on that
subject. A vast
collection of Schiavo's works and personal files is kept at
American Renaissance Foundation
in New Orleans, LA. Here at
left is a photograph of Giovanni Schiavo, taken from an
unknown newspaper of the 1950s, when he met with another
known historian, James A. Kelly and John W. LaCorte,
executive director of the Italian Historical Society. This
photograph was kindly supplied by Tony De Nonno, of De
Nonno Productions, Inc., Brooklyn,
NY.) We have
also reproduced, at the end of this file, the Preface of
Schiavo's book, where he complains of the many mistakes
about Meucci and his work that he had found in certain books
Giovanni E. Schiavo in the 1950s
Below is a reproduction of Chapter XV "Who stole Meucci's Invention?" of Giovanni E. Schiavo's book "Antonio Meucci Inventor of the Telephone," The Vigo Pess, New York, NY 1958. Since his book is out of print, we offer our readers his views on that subject.
A vast collection of Schiavo's works and personal files is kept at the Italian American Renaissance Foundation in New Orleans, LA.
Here at left is a photograph of Giovanni Schiavo, taken from an unknown newspaper of the 1950s, when he met with another known historian, James A. Kelly and John W. LaCorte, executive director of the Italian Historical Society. This photograph was kindly supplied by Tony De Nonno, of De Nonno Productions, Inc., Brooklyn, NY.)
We have also reproduced, at the end of this file, the Preface of Schiavo's book, where he complains of the many mistakes about Meucci and his work that he had found in certain books or articles.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - WHO STOLE MEUCCI'S
[from: Schiavo,G. E., Antonio Meucci Inventor of the Telephone, The Vigo Pess, New York, NY 1958, pp. 171-181]
defense against the fraud
of which I was the victim."
"I cannot deny to Signor Manzetti his invention, but I only wish to remark that two minds may arrive at the same discovery, and that by uniting both ideas one can more easily reach a certainty about a thing so important."
The above passage from a letter written by Meucci in 1865 and published in that year in L'Eco d'Italia of New York and Il Commercio of Genoa, shows how Meucci fully realized that two men could reach the same results independently of each other.1 Yet, from 1877, when Bell's telephone came into use, until the time of his death in 1889, Meucci continued to protest against what he called Bell's usurpation of his invention. He did that in the press (in 1880 the Eco d'Italia of New York did not hesitate to proclaim him "the real inventor of the telephone")2; he did that in his letters to friends, and even in a letter to Bell himself; he asserted it in court, in the presence of the Bell counsel. Meucci's charge that the telephone invention had been stolen from him was hinted at in a circular put out by the Globe Telephone Company on September 12, 1885, in which we find the following words: "Is it not reasonable to at least infer, that by some means the ideas of Antonio Meucci may have been telephoned to others and their ideas have been moulded into form that he set out, and he thereby been deprived of the rights justly due him?"
The charge takes a more precise form in a report by Assistant Secretary of the Interior, G. A. Jenks, to the Secretary of the Interior, dated December 22, 1885, in which it is stated:
"He (Meucci) claims that in 1872 he went to Mr. Grant, vice-president of the New York District Telegraph company, explained his invention and tried repeatedly to have it tried on the wires of the company. This, it is claimed, was used by the telegraph company, and was the basis of the contract between the Western Union Telegraph Company and the Bell Telephone Company, dated November 10th, 1879."3
How that happened we really do not know. All we can do is to put two and two together and reach certain amazing conclusions. Let us see first, therefore, what was the 1879 contract mentioned above.
BELL-WESTERN UNION AGREEMENT OF 1879
As related by Mr. Thomas A. Watson, Bell's assistant, in the fall of 1876 the Western Union refused to buy Bell's patents for the paltry sum of $100,000 because it considered the telephone nothing more than an electric toy. Both Mr. Prescott and Mr. Pope, let us bear in mind, were at that time the electricians of the Western Union.
Whether Mr. Orton, the president of Western Union, really believed that the telephone had no practical value, or whether he had a card up his sleeve (Meucci's invention and Gray's caveat), we do not know. The fact is that in December 1877 the Western Union organized the American Speaking Telephone Company and entered the telephone business. The Bell Telephone Company did nothing about it for a year, until September 12, 1878, when it brought suit against Peter A. Dowd, an agent of the Western Union. Another year went by, during which Mr. George Gifford, the Western Union counsel, became convinced, so the story goes, that the Bell patents were valid and advised a settlement. A final agreement was reached on November 10, 1879, whereby the Western Union recognized Bell as the inventor of the telephone and agreed to retire from the telephone business. The Bell company, on the other hand, agreed to pay the Western Union, for a period of seventeen years, twenty per cent of all rentals or royalties on all telephones used in the United States, amounting to more than one million dollars.
This agreement, it has been stated, "was a master-stroke of diplomacy on the part of the Bell Company."4 Most likely it was, if one considers that in 1879 the Bell Company was in rather precarious financial circumstances, whereas the Western Union was possibly the most powerful corporation in America.
One fails to understand, however, why the Bell Company should have agreed to pay over one million dollars to its rival, and to buy a considerable amount of equipment which it could not use,5 if it did not fear losing the case. In other words, if the Bell Company was so sure that Alexander Graham Bell was the first and original inventor of the telephone and that his 1876 patent was obtained in a perfectly legal manner, why did it have to compromise? "I did not like some hints let fall by Mr. Forbes as to the advisability of compromising with Western Union," wrote Alexander Graham Bell to Mrs. Bell on February 21, 1879, eight months before the agreement was reached.6
To the argument that it was the Bell Company and not the Western Union that surrendered, Mr. Dickerson, the Bell counsel, replied that "the record contains the whole story, told by Mr. Gifford, and no man contradicts it."7 What a ridiculous argument!
"If the Gray pretensions had been well founded," continued Mr. Dickerson, "the Western Union would have had a patent for the whole speaking telephone, and Bell would have nothing." That is exactly our contention, inverting of course the parties, so as to read "if the Bell pretensions had been well founded, the Western Union would have nothing." However, as we shall presently see, the Gray pretensions were an excuse, not the basis for the litigation.
It has been said that the 20% paid by the Bell Company to the Western Union, amounting to $1,164,563, represented the value of some patents the Western Union turned over to the Bell Company, but nobody has yet explained satisfactorily which of those patents the Bell Company used. We have searched all the books on the subject we could lay our hands on, but we have not found any information whatsoever. From Mr. Pier's biography of Mr. Forbes we have learned, however, that the Bell instruments cost $2.50 each and those of the Western Union $10 or $11 each. The Bell sets were so much better than those of the Western Union, that Mr. Forbes could not use the latter and wished to dump them all abroad.8 Anyway, no patent or number of patents for telephone improvements before 1880 were worth 20% of all the royalties earned by the Bell patents of 1876 and 1877.
MORE PLAUSIBLE EXPLANATIONS
Two explanations have been offered which to us seem more logical and closer to the truth.
The first is that Mr. Gifford and the Bell counsel made a collusive fight in order to rig up the market--as it really happened. As a matter of fact, between November 10, 1879, the date of the settlement, and November 27, 1879, the stock of the National Bell Telephone Company went up 700 per cent.9 As stated by Bell's biographer and secretary, Miss Mackenzie, "immediately the stock of the Bell Company shot up in value. In December 1879, it sold at $995 a share, although the company never paid a dividend."10 A few months before it had sold at $110 a share. No wonder that the Bell lawyers who negotiated the settlement, Mr. Chauncey Smith and Mr. Storrow, presented a bill for $50,000.11 The fee seemed a little exorbitant to the Bell Company, as its president, Mr. Forbes, complained in a letter to Mr. Storrow in which, while recognizing the fine services of the two lawyers, he felt necessary to add "but also cannot but feel that causes outside the strength of our patents operated in our favor."12
The second explanation seems even more plausible. Namely, as stated by a defendant in another Bell lawsuit, "that it was not to the interest of either party to expose or to prove any prior inventions by other parties, or any printed patents or publications which tended to invalidate the claims of either and the case was carefully managed in order to avoid revealing the weakness of either in this respect."
MR. POPE "SPILLS THE BEANS"
The argument that Mr. Gifford became convinced that the Bell patents were valid and that, therefore, he had no case, has no leg to stand on. In the first place, a company like the Western Union would have not entered the telephone field if it had not been sure that eventually it could have forced the Bell Company to a compromise. In 1879 it had in use 56,000 telephones in 55 cities, which the Bell Company was obliged to buy as the result of the settlement. In the second place, if the Western Union was compelled to admit that the Bell patents were valid, why did the Bell Company agree to pay over one million dollars in royalties? It does not make sense.
According to Mr. Casson, Mr. Frank L. Pope, the Western Union electrician, after making a thorough study of the question, handed in a report to his company, in which he announced that there was "no way to make a telephone except Bell's way, and advised the purchase of the Bell patents. ... But the officials of the great corporation refused to take this report seriously. They threw it aside and employed Edison, Gray, and Dolbear to devise a telephone that could be put into competition with Bell's."13
Mr. Casson and other writers after him, apparently, did not read Mr. Pope's deposition in the Drawbaugh case carefully (6,000 printed pages), because, although in 1883 Mr. Pope stated, as quoted by Mr. Casson, "I was entirely unable to discover any apparatus or method anticipating the invention of Bell as a whole, and therefore concluded that the patent was valid and so advised my employers,"14 four years before, in 1879, he had told a different story. In 1883, of course, Mr. Pope was in the service of the Bell Telephone Company, but in 1879 he was working for the Western Union.
The facts, as related by Mr. Pope, are as follows: In August 1877, Mr. Pope was asked by Mr. Orton, the Western Union president, to make a thorough investigation of the whole telephone subject.15 Whereupon, "every possible facility was placed at my disposal in the prosecution of the investigation"16 with the vast literature collected all over the world. As stated by him in 1883, "I presume that at the end of the year 1878 (he meant 1877) I was more fully acquainted with the state of the art with relation to this subject than any other person."
However, on May 9, 1879 (before the Western Union-Bell settlement) he declared on the stand, under oath that "I stated that, in my opinion, based upon all the facts which I had been able to get hold of, the method was first invented by Elisha Gray, and that therefore I regarded it as most important to obtain control of his invention and patents."17 Later he added that he had read Gray's caveat, and referred to it in his report to Mr. Orton "as more fully confirming my original opinion in reference to the scope of Mr. Gray's inventions."18 That such was his opinion in 1877 and 1879 is further proved by a telegram which he sent to Mr. Gray on the occasion of a banquet tendered to Mr. Gray at Highland Park, Ill. on November 15, 1878. The telegram read: "Accept my congratulations upon the splendid results of the years of thought and labor which have been devoted to your researches in harmonic telegraph, of which that 'triumph of inventive inspiration, the telephone' is the brilliant and fitting culmination." The text of this telegram we found by chance in an obscure pamphlet in the New York Public Library entitled Voices of the Past, The Telephone in 1878.
In the same pamphlet we found another telegram by Mr. Prescott, also to Mr. Gray, reading: "To Elisha Gray, the inventor of the telephone and the solver of the problem of the ages."
Both Mr. Prescott and Mr. Pope assisted Alexander Graham Bell during his experiments in the Western Union laboratory in March, April and May, 1875, shortly before Mr. Bell made his famous "discovery" of June 2, 1875."19 Incidentally, Mr. Pope proclaimed Gray as the inventor of the telephone also in a paper which was read before the American Electrical Society of Chicago on December 12, 1877, and later was reprinted in the 1878 edition of Mr. Prescott's book on the telephone. At that time, both Mr. Prescott and Mr. Gray were members of the Board of Directors of the American Speaking Telephone Company, the company set up by the Western Union, as already noted.20 After the 1879 agreement between the Western Union and Bell Company, Mr. Prescott changed his tune and gave Bell full credit, as one can see in 1890 edition of his book, The Electric Telephone, and in the 1892 edition of his book, Electricity and the Electric Telegraph.21
Elisha Gray of Chicago (1835-1901) was one of the most successful inventors in American history, so successful that he made over $5,000,000 by his patents.22 In 1872 Gray and Enos Barton formed the firm of Gray and Barton which later became the Western Electric Company. He is best remembered, however, for one of the most extraordinary coincidences (supposing that it was a coincidence) in the history of invention.
On February 14, 1876, the United States Patent Office in Washington, D.C. received within about two hours from each other two applications, one for a patent and the other for a caveat, covering the same invention.23 The application for the patent was in the name of Alexander Graham Bell and that for the caveat in the name of Elisha Gray. That invention turned out to be nothing else but the telephone. As Gray wrote to Bell on February 11, 1877, and on March 5, 1877, "The description is substantially the same as yours. I was unfortunate in being an hour or two behind you" and "when, however, you see the specification, you will see that the fundamental principles are contained therein."24 As a French writer put it, "La description d'Elisha Gray est si precise qu'elle permet la construction d'un appareil qui constituirait certainement un téléphone transmittant la voix articulée."25
It is beyond the purpose of the present inquiry to delve into the Bell-Gray controversy, about which one can learn the various arguments, pro and con, in the recent editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. What really happened is beyond our knowledge, except that during the spring and summer of 1875 Bell was very suspicious of Gray and "believed him capable of spying on me,"26 possibly because during that period both Bell and Gray were doing experimental work in the Western Union laboratory in New York, and both of them were in contact with Mr. Prescott and Mr. Pope, especially with the latter, in whose room some of Gray's instruments "for transmitting musical sounds by telegraph" were placed.27 Mr. Pope "was most interested in these experiments and personally assisted him in many of them."28
Mr. Pope's knowledge of the subject in 1876 can be gauged by his estimate of the Bell apparatus in 1876, as mentioned in the preceding chapter.
Mr. Prescott also shared Mr. Pope's ideas. Referring to the experiments made by Bell in the Western Union laboratories after 1876, he wrote in his book, The Electric Telephone, "for a long time the results, while regarded with interest, were looked upon as possessing little practical value not until the summer of 1877....29
Frankly, we do not know to what extent one can trust either Mr. Pope or Mr. Prescott. However, if we are to believe Thomas Alva Edison (no man in his right mind would question his word), one thing is certain, namely, that at the very time that Bell and Gray were conducting their experiments in the Western Union laboratory in New York, the Western Union President, Mr. Orton, was very much interested in the electric transmission of the human voice. That may explain why Mr. Hubbard, Bell's financial backer and future father-in-law, all of a sudden became interested in the telephone and urged Bell to apply for a patent instead of a caveat, without the least delay.30 That also could explain many things, such as Mr. Orton's alleged lack of interest in the Bell patents, etc. etc. We conclude that much from a letter which Edison wrote to Mr. Prescott and which the latter incorporated in his book The Electric Telephone.
"Some time in or about the month of July 1875," Edison wrote, "I began experimenting with a system of multiple telegraphy which had for its basis the transmission of acoustic vibrations. Being furnished, at the same time, by Hon. William Orton, President of the Western Union Telegraph Company, with a translated description from a foreign scientific journal of Reiss's telephone, I began a series of experiments, with the view of producing an articulating telephone."31
MEUCCI AND THE BELL-WESTERN UNION SETTLEMENT OF 1879
Now, putting two and two together, we arrive at the following tentative conclusions:
1. In 1872 Meucci took the description of his invention and a set of his telephone to Mr. Grant of the American District Telegraph Company to have it tested over the wires of that company.
2. Mr. Grant, most likely, turned the matter over to the Western Union electricians (Mr. Prescott and Frank L. Pope) as the logical men to pass on it, but neither of them understood or realized the practical value of the telephone and ignored the whole thing.
3. In 1875 both Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray were making experiments in the laboratory of the Western Union in New York, and while there Mr. Prescott or Mr. Pope, or both, may have mentioned Meucci's invention. What was unintelligible to either Mr. Prescott or Mr. Pope acquired immediate significance in the eyes of both Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray. At any rate, shortly after Bell made his experiments in the Western Union laboratory, between March and the end of May 1875, Bell made his famous "discovery" of June 2, 1875. Bell's and Gray's common knowledge of Meucci's invention would the explain the unusual coincidence of their applications at the United States Patent Office on the very same day, February 14, 1876, but only a couple of hours apart. That may explain also Mr. Grant's words to Mr. Bertolino about making $100,000, fifty thousand for him and fifty thousand for Meucci.
4. In 1877, after the Bell Telephone Company was organized, and its threat to the telegraph business became apparent, Mr. Frank L. Pope may have asked his brother, Henry W. Pope, superintendent of the American District Telegraph Company, to look for the instruments Meucci had brought over to the latter's company in 1872. The instruments were found and then tested on a private telegraph line which the two brothers installed between their homes near Elizabeth, N. J., as we have seen in the preceding chapter. Shortly after that the Western Union organized the American Speaking Telephone Company.
5. Under those circumstances, in order to damage the Bell case, the Western Union would have been compelled to reveal the Meucci background of the Bell patent and the Gray caveat. But by so doing it would have damaged its own case and both parties would have lost. The logical thing left to do was to reach a compromise.
Thus Meucci's charge that the Bell-Western Union agreement of 1879 was based on his invention becomes quite intelligible. What we fail to understand is why the Western Union did not hold out for a larger share. On this point, however, it has been said that even in 1879 the Western Union experts did not foresee the future development of the telephone. That makes sense.
DID MEUCCI FOOL HIMSELF?
The possibility that Meucci may have fooled himself regarding the similarity between his instruments and Bell's telephone must be ruled out in the most absolute manner. As we have seen in the preceding chapters, Meucci described several electric instruments so clearly that there is no doubt whatsoever as to his knowledge of the fundamental principles of the electric telephone. But then we have the Globe circular of September 1885 with two cross-sections of both Meucci's and Bell's instruments, the drawings in the November 1885 issue of the New York Electrical World, and, above all, the sketches which Meucci made on the stand as well as those he made at home, which were attached to his affidavit.
Last but not least, would Meucci have had the audacity of writing a personal letter to Bell "alleging his own pretensions," as Mr. Storrow (Bell's lawyer) put it, if he did not feel sure that he had been defrauded?
But, let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Meucci did fool himself. Did Meucci's financial backers, lawyers and business men thoroughly acquainted with the details of both Meucci's invention and Bell's telephone, fool themselves too? Those gentlemen were not interested in Meucci's glory or vindication, or similar empty honors. If they staked such large sums of money on Meucci's claims they must have been positive that Meucci's telephone was electric and similar to Bell's. What is more, they risked six thousand additional dollars to appeal Judge Wallace's decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, after the Supreme Court had affirmed six previous decisions of lower courts, all in favor of Bell.
As Elisha Gray wrote on a piece of paper which was found among his effects after his death, "The history of the telephone will never be fully written, it is partly hidden away in 20 or 30 thousand pages of testimony and partly lying on the hearts and consciences of a few whose lips are sealed--some in death, and others by a golden clasp whose grip is even tighter."32
General -- All references to the Bell Telephone Company, the Western Union Telegraph Company, the American District Telegraph Company and other companies mentioned in this book are, of course, to the companies by those names in existence in Meucci's day, that is, before 1889. Obviously, today's companies by the same names are different from the old companies not only in management but also in policies and are not responsible for the actions of their predecessors.
1 Eco d'Italia,
Oct. 21, 1865. Both letters are reprinted, also in English, in
Meucci's Deposition. On Manzetti see Du Moncel, The Telephone,
Microphone, Phonograph, p. 10.
2 Eco d'Italia, March 6, 1880.
3 A copy of the printed report is in the U. S. National Archives. See facsimiles in Appendix, pp. 255-256.
4 Casson, The History of The Telephone, p. 83.
5 Pier, Arthur S. Forbes, p. 130.
6 Ibid. p. 118.
7 126 U. S. 466.
8 Pier, op. cit. p. 121.
9 Nature (London), Nov. 27, 1879, p. 90.
10 Mackenzie, Alexander G. Bell, p. 212. See also Langdon, Myths of Telephone History.
11 Pier, op. cit. pp. 132-133.
12 Ibid. p. 133.
13 Casson, op. cit. p. 81.
14 People's case, Vol. II, p. 1304.
15 Ibid. Vol. IV. p. 775.
16 Ibid. Vol. II, part II, p. 1286.
17 Ibid. Vol. IV, p. 777.
18 Ibid. Ans. 186, p. 830.
19 Bell's Deposition, pp. 48-53. See also Prescott, The Electric Telephone, 1890 ed. p. 444.
20 Reid, J. D. The Telegraph in America, N. Y. 1879, p. 632.
21 Prescott, op. cit., pp. 452-455. Prescott, Electricity and the Electric Telegraph, 1892, ed. Vol. II, p. 1601. On page 217 of the 1878 edition of his The Speaking Telephone Mr. Prescott wrote: "Referring to Prof. Bell's description on page 71 of the instrument with which he first obtained audible effects (fig. 50) it will be seen that it is precisely the same in principle, and almost identical in construction, with the receiving instrument shown and described in Mr. Gray's caveat of Feb. 14, 1876. . . Whether or not Prof. Bell invented the apparatus independently of Mr. Gray, we have no means of judging; but that he was not the first inventor, we think the facts conclusively show."
22 Casson, op. cit. p. 91.
23 As we have seen, Bell also intended to apply for a caveat, but Mr. Hubbard dissuaded him. See below, note 30.
24 Bell's Deposition, pp. 165-168. See also note 21 above.
25 Turpain, Téléphonie, p. 14. See also Chapter Ten, Note 5.
26 Bell's Deposition, Ans. 597. See also Mackenzie, op. cit. p. 82.
27 People's case, Vol. II, p. 1286.
28 Ibid. Vol. IV, p. 776.
29Prescott, Electric Telephone, 1890 ed. p. 444.
30 Bell's Deposition, p. 81.
31 Prescott, op. cit. p. 110.
32 Langdon, loc. cit.
PREFACE OF THE
[from: Schiavo,G. E., Antonio Meucci Inventor of the Telephone, The Vigo Pess, New York, NY 1958, pp. 5-8]
Should one ask an Italian--here or in Italy, it matters little-- "Who invented the telephone?," in all probability the reply would be "Antonio Meucci, everybody knows that."
If, however, one were to ask the same Italian what proofs he could show to support his assertion, most likely he would be referred to any Italian encyclopedia, such as the monumental Enciclopedia Treccani, to mention only the most important reference work in the Italian language.
The Treccani encyclopedia, as a matter of fact, proclaims Meucci as the inventor of the telephone in two articles, first in Meucci's biography, and then in the article on the telephone. In the first, we learn that Meucci's "invention consists of a vibrating diaphragm and a magnet electrified by a coil around it. The vibrating diaphragm . . . alters the current of the magnet . . . these alterations of current being transmitted to the other end of the wire produce similar vibrations on the receiving diaphragm, thus reproducing the word."
Of course, the above description would be a good description of an electric telephone, even if it does not mention what causes the diaphragm to vibrate, but, unfortunately, the author of the article does not substantiate his assertion with any sources. The article also contains several mistakes, as for instance, the reference to "Clifter, Long Island" instead of "Clifton, Staten Island," or to Meucci's "patent," when it should have said "caveat."
In the second article, by another writer, on page 405 of Vol. 33, we learn that "in October, 1888, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that 'the Bell telephone ought to be called Meucci telephone, the Bell Telephone Company having acquired its patent fraudulently." It adds that Meucci discovered the first principles of the telephone in 1849--a statement easy to disprove--and shows the section of a Meucci telephone, complete with vibrating diaphragm and electromagnet. Furthermore, it states that "In Meucci's original patent it is said that the electromagnet may be set closer to, or farther away from, the vibrating diaphragm made of a substance 'capable of induction,' thus showing Meucci's knowledge of the subject. It cannot, therefore, be doubted that the real inventor of the modern telephone was the Italian, Meucci."
In my files I have at least a score of articles which have appeared in Italian and English in as many newspapers and magazines, both in Italy and in the United States, all making the same assertions, as in the Treccani. One author even gives the volume and page of the U. S. Reports (October Term, 1888) in which the following words are alleged to be found: "The said invention was known and used by Antonio Meucci at Staten Island, N. Y. from 1856 to 1870, and by him published in the Eco d'Italia."
Another Italian popular work, the Enciclopedia dei Ragazzi, the Italian edition of the Book of Knowledge, (Vol. IX, p. 3984) states "but the United States Supreme Court credited the invention to Antonio Meucci, of Leghorn, who emigrated to America in 1845, and ordered the Bell Telephone Company to pay Meucci a pension."
In Italy one will find also a tablet and a splendid bas-relief in honor of Meucci. The tablet, in the Florence Post Office Building, reads: "ANTONIO MEUCCI--INVENTOR OF THE TELEPHONE--DIED IN 1889--IN A FOREIGN LAND, POOR--AND DEFRAUDED OF HIS RIGHTS...." The bas-relief, unless my memory fails me, takes up the whole left wall of the hallway of the Teti Palace (the Telephone Building) on Piazza Colonna, in Rome. It bears the following inscription: "ANTONIO MEUCCI-- FLORENTINE PATRIOT--EXILE IN AMERICA-- CONCEIVED AND CONSTRUCTED IN 1849--THE FIRST TELEPHONE WHICH HE PERFECTED IN 1854--THIS INVENTION OF HIS-- AT FIRST NOT RECOGNIZED--AND NOW ADMITTED -- IS VINDICATED IN HIS HONOR--AND FOR THE HONOR OF ITALIAN GENIUS."
Finally, I might mention an article which appeared in an Italian magazine published in New York in 1922, in which it is stated that in 1917 Alexander Graham Bell admitted that he was not the inventor of the telephone. On this point, what really happened was that at the unveiling of a bust of himself in Brantford, Ontario, Bell said "I cannot claim to be the inventor of the modern telephone. That is the product of many minds. I but initiated the transmission of sound." Anyone slightly acquainted with the subject would realize at once that what Bell meant was that he did not invent the complicated instrument of 1917, but only discovered the fundamental principle of the telephone. For that matter, Meucci did not invent the modern telephone, either, but only the principle on which the modern electric telephone is founded.
At any rate, the following facts should be made clear, once for all:
- In 1871 Meucci was not granted a patent, but a caveat, a kind of provisional patent. Anybody could get a caveat, even if the invention was worthless.
- Meucci's caveat does not describe any kind of a diaphragm--none whatever.
- There is no United States Supreme Court decision either in favor or against Meucci, and the reference in the October Term of the 1888 U. S. Reports (or in any other volume), exists only in the imagination of some irresponsible people.
- In the thousands of pages of manuscript and printed records dealing with Meucci consulted by me, there is no such description of the telephone as given in the Italian encyclopedia. Least of all, is there any reference to any substance "capable of inductive action" precisely defined. We have, of course, documentary evidence that Meucci constructed an electric telephone with material capable of inductive action, such as iron, as well as Meucci's description of the effect of the diaphragm on the magnet, but Meucci never used the precise scientific definition quoted in the Treccani article. Least of all in the caveat.
- The various detailed articles on the Meucci telephone which appeared in the 1880's in American and British journals, such as the Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review of London and the Electrical World of New York, with accurate drawings of the various instruments constructed by Meucci, have no legal value whatsoever.
- The only court decision about Meucci's telephone in existence was rendered by Judge Wallace of the U. S. Circuit Court in 1887 in the case of the Bell Telephone Company against the Globe Telephone Co., Meucci et Al. That decision was against Meucci.
I have mentioned the above facts so as to clear the air of all the nonsense that has been written and is still being written about Meucci. As for the facts, the true facts, they will be found in the following pages.
Note of the Editor
On p. 195 of his book, Schiavo notes the following, in reference to Alfredo Bosi's book: Cinquant'Anni di Vita Italiana in America (Fifty Years of Italian Life in America), Bagnasco Press, New York, 1921:
Mr. Bosi, a member of the editorial staff of Il Progresso Italo-Americano of New York until his death in 1920's, seems to have originated the myth about the U.S. Supreme Court decision to the effect that "the Bell telephone should be called Meucci as the Bell Telephone Company acquired the patent illegally" (p. 79).
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