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News Flash: U.S. House of Representatives Says Alexander Graham Bell Did Not Invent the Telephone

"Bell, Alexander Graham (b. Edinburgh, Scotland, 1847; d. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, 1922), inventor of telephone."
Dictionary of American Biography

    "Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be recognized, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged."
    United States House of Representatives, June 11, 2002


On June 11, to little fanfare, the United State House of Representatives declared that the telephone was invented by an Italian-American named Antonio Meucci, a sausage and candle maker. Forget Alexander Graham Bell. The House declared that Bell's patent for the telephone was based on"fraud and misrepresentation."

News of the House resolution was slow to circulate. When the media contacted the curator of the Bell Homestead Museum in Brantford, Ontario, he said he was surprised. He hadn't heard of the resolution. In Italy the news was greeted warmly, an Italian paper referring to"Bell as an impostor, profiteer and a 'cunning Scotsman' who usurped Meucci's spot in history, while Meucci died poor and unrecognized."

Is it true that Meucci not Bell invented the telephone? HNN asked Robert Bruce, the Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer of Bell, to comment on the House action. Bruce tersely dispatched the Meucci claim."It's ridiculous," he said.

Meucci claimed that"by means of some little experiments, I came to discover that with an instrument placed at the ear and with the aid of electricity and a metallic wire, the exact word could be transmitted holding the conductor in the mouth." Bruce says he was deluded. Meucci's patent, says Bruce, was"essentially the same as connecting two tin cans with a string."

Italian-Americans have long claimed that Meucci had been cheated of the honor as the telephone's inventor. Only one historian, however, took his claims seriously, Giovanni E. Schiavo, in a book published in 1958. Bruce says that Meucci not only failed to invent the telephone, he"did not understand the basic principles of the telephone either before or after Bell's invention."

The resolution honoring Meucci was introduced by Staten Island Representative Vito Fossella. Fossella, claiming he based the resolution"on our study of historical records," said he pressed for its passage"to honor the life and achievements long overdue of Antonio Meucci, a great Italian American and a former great Staten Islander."


The House allotted forty minutes to debate the measure. Five members of Congress spoke in favor; none spoke against. The resolution was approved by voice vote.


Mr. Fossella Mr. Speaker, it is my strong belief that Italian Americans have contributed greatly to the United States and continue to contribute proudly as well. We know Columbus discovered America. Two Italians signed the Declaration of Independence. Enrico Fermi split the atom, and Captain Don Gentile, the fighting ace, was described by General Dwight Eisenhower as a ``one-man force.'' He, like so many other Italian-Americans, did and were willing to give their life in defense of freedom and liberty and supporting these great United States. Mr. Speaker, I wanted to spend a few minutes today to honor an Italian American and former Staten Island resident who is often overlooked, as announced already, and his name was Antonio Meucci.

Mr. Pascrell Mr. Speaker, first I want to commend my good friend, the gentleman from New York (Mr. Fossella). How refreshing it is to talk about an Italian American out of the Hollywood spotlight and an Italian American not recognized. If only we took the time in this society to deal with all ethnics, people of all racial persuasions in fairness, and that is what this resolution is all about: Fairness, honesty, breaking the stereotypes that many of us have learned; in fact, probably, taught without our even knowing.

Mr. Fossella Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to add and commend the two gentlemen, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Davis) and especially the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pascrell) for a very strong and passionate defense in support of the life of a great American and great inventor and merely add to the course, so to speak, that he was emblematic and remains so as a representative of all those who have come to this country to seek a better life and an opportunity and, in particular, to those Americans of Italian descent who have and will continue to make this the greatest country in the history of the world and in a small way and a long overdue way but in a small measure. I would ask my colleagues to support it.

Mr. Israel Antonio Meucci was a brilliant inventor but a poor businessman. Despite his lack of success in business, he most certainly invented the telephone. He is honored in my district with a road named for him in Copiague. I am proud that we, the entire House of Representatives, today will honor this man who has been overlooked by history for too long.

Ms. Jackson-Lee of Texas Mr. Speaker, I add my voice to the praise and honor of Antonio Meucci who, through his work toward the invention of the telephone, has brought the world together as few others have. Through his ingenuity and perseverance, this Italian-American changed the way the world communicates, although as a newcomer to America, he was often thwarted by his own inability to communicate with those who could have, and should have given him the recognition he deserved.



H. Res. 269

In the House of Representatives, U.S.,

June 11, 2002.

Whereas Antonio Meucci, the great Italian inventor, had a career that was both extraordinary and tragic;

Whereas, upon immigrating to New York, Meucci continued to work with ceaseless vigor on a project he had begun in Havana, Cuba, an invention he later called the `teletrofono', involving electronic communications;

Whereas 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;

Whereas, 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;

Whereas Meucci never learned English well enough to navigate the complex American business community;

Whereas Meucci 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;

Whereas 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;

Whereas 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;

Whereas 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;

Whereas 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; and

Whereas if Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain the caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be recognized, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged.