Abstract

This essay review examines Seth Shulman's The Telephone Gambit , A. Edward Evenson's The Telephone Patent Conspiracy of 1876 , Burton Baker's The Gray Matter: The Forgotten Story of the Telephone , and Charlotte Gray's Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention . Baker, Evenson, and Shulman argue that Bell inserted a clause in his 1876 patent application describing a variable-resistance (liquid) transmitter that he had improperly learned about from Elisha Gray's caveat application. Although Finn agrees with their basic claim, he contends it was irrelevant to the patent's validity. The liquid transmitter was worthless. Bell received no patent credit for it or for the broader claim to a variable resistance transmitter. He was, however, granted sweeping credit for voice transmission by “undulating” electrical currents. Finn praises amateur historians (Baker and Evenson) for research efforts, and popularizers (Shulman and Gray) for helping to disseminate the work of professional historians. He criticizes Shulman (in particular) and Gray for errors and for not giving proper acknowledgment to predecessors. He proposes steps that professional historians of technology might take to improve the quality of popular writings through guidelines for writers and publishers.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Pages
pp. 193-201
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-24
Open Access
No
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