Tidbit is honored to remember Antonio Meucci, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth.
Antonio Meucci (Florence, April 13, 1808 – October 18, 1889) is the forgotten and humble genius who developed a form of voice communication apparatus in 1857: the telephone
Upon immigrating to New York, Meucci worked with ceaseless vigor on a project he had begun in Havana, Cuba, an invention he later called the "teletrofono", involving electronic communications. Antonio Meucci set up a rudimentary communications link in his Staten Island home that connected the basement with the first floor, and later, when his wife began to suffer from crippling arthritis, he created a permanent link between his lab and his wife's second floor bedroom. Having exhausted most of his life's savings in pursuing his work, Meucci was unable to commercialize his invention, though he demonstrated his invention in 1860 and had a description of it published in New York's Italian language newspaper.
Antonio Meucci never learned English well enough to navigate the complex American business community. He was unable to raise sufficient funds to pay his way through the patent application process, and thus had to settle for a caveat, a one year renewable notice of an impending patent, which was first filed on December 28, 1871. Meucci later learned that the Western Union affiliate laboratory reportedly lost his working models, and Meucci, who at this point was living on public assistance, was unable to renew the caveat after 1874.
In March 1876, Alexander Graham Bell, who conducted experiments in the same laboratory where Meucci's materials had been stored, was granted a patent and was thereafter credited with inventing the telephone. On January 13, 1887, the Government of the United States moved to annul the patent issued to Bell on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation, a case that the Supreme Court found viable and remanded for trial. Meucci died in October 1889, the Bell patent expired in January 1893, and the case was discontinued as moot without ever reaching the underlying issue of the true inventor of the telephone entitled to the patent. In 2002 the US House of Representatives passed a bill recognizing Meucci's accomplishment and stating that "if Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain the caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell."
So, who really invented the telephone?