The Newfangled Telephone Doesn’t Work!

The AEA Silver Dart in flight, J.A.D. McCurdy ...
The AEA Silver Dart in flight, J.A.D. McCurdy at the controls, c. 1910. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone knows that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone but few realize that he ranks with the Wright brothers as an inventor of the airplane.  Alexander Graham Bell did his developmental work on the airplane at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, and established the Aerial Experimental Association there on September 30, 1907, helped by money contributed by his wife.

There is a charming story about how the Bells found Baddeck.  While they were on a summer cruise their ship put into Baddeck.  Bell visited the local newspaper office where the editor had installed one  of those newfangled telephones.  This one wasn’t working properly and the editor, not knowing who Bell was, complained that there wasn’t anyone nearer than Halifax who could fix it.  Bell took off the mouthpiece and removed a dead fly, after which the telephone worked perfectly.  The incident led to the Bells establishing a summer home at Baddeck.  It was while watching seagulls there that Bell told an incredulous newspaper reporter that men would fly within ten years (The Wright brothers flew exactly ten years later.)

Bell first experimented with rocket propulsion, then with kites. In 1908, he developed the kite Cygnet, big enough to carry Thomas Selfridge who lay face-downward in it.  The kite took off from the water, towed by the steamer Blue Hill, and rose 160 feet into the air.  Selfridge brought it down gently but was nearly run down by the steamer.

Then came experiments with gliders taking off from the ice.  Bell was helped by Selfridge, F. W. Baldwin, J. A. D. McCurdy and Glen Curtiss who were members of the Aerial Experimental Association.  Curtiss, an American motorcycle expert, studied Bell’s models to if a motor could be installed.  In March 1908, “Casey” Baldwin went along the ice at 32 kmp (20 miles per hour), pulled a lever, and flew 48 metres (318 feet).  Tests were made with other “drones” until they were ready for the first public flight in the British Commonwealth.  J. A. D. McCurdy flew the Silver Dart for half a mile on February 23, 1909.  It was one of the great steps forward in aviation.  McCurdy eventually became Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia and attended the fiftieth anniversary of his flight in 1959 at Badeck.

To learn more today’s post, I suggest the American Library of Congress for a reproduction of the Association’s Mission Statement, and then the Encyclopedia Brittanica. There is more to learn from the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the bio True Story, the Canadian Encyclopedia, and the Parks Canada‘s Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada. If you are just that bit more curious, it is worth a visit at Wikipedia to read about the Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers.

“”Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before. Follow it up, explore all around it, and before you know it, you will have something worth thinking about to occupy your mind. All really big discoveries are the results of thought.” – Alexander Graham Bell


  1. There’s definitely scope for some sort of steampunk story here. Who knows what other famous inventors may have collaborated on groundbreaking ideas?
    Think about the possibilities of an Einstein/Tesla partnership, or a Watt/Edison device.
    I can see a “League of Extraordinary Scientists” movie now…


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