The Substance of My Latest Research: An Address by Professor Alexander Bell Before the Empire Club of Canada

Media Type
Item Type
November 1, 1917 The Substance of My Latest Research: An Address by Professor Alexander Bell Before the Empire Club of Canada
Date of Publication
1 Nov 1917
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.

Views and Opinions Expressed Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the speakers or panelists are those of the speakers or panelists and do not necessarily reflect or represent the official views and opinions, policy or position held by The Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text

November 1, 1917

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

The Substance of My Latest Research: An Address by Professor Alexander Bell Before the Empire Club of Canada

Distinguished Guest Speaker
Professor Alexander Bell, L.L.D., sc.D., PH.D.

Dr. Bell's fame is universal as the original inventor of the telephone, whose benefits have put the modern world under lasting obligation to his inventive genius. His photophone, induction balance and telephone probe for painless detection of bullets in the human body have done much to relieve the victims of warfare. As founder and ex-president of the American Association to Promote Teaching Speech to the Deaf, Dr. Bell has rendered inestimable humanitarian service.

Professor Alexander Bell, L.L.D., sc.D., PH.D.
Mr. President and gentlemen—While listening to the introductory words of your chairman, I could not help thinking that at the time the telephone appeared I was a resident of Salem, Mass., where the witchcraft delusion appeared in such force—(Laughter)—and I was very glad indeed that I did not live there 150 years before. (Laughter) When I come to look back upon the history of the telephone, it seems almost like a dream that I was connected with it at all, so long is it since I have had anything to do with telephones—and I do not have a telephone in my own house within reach of my ears. (Laughter.) So much of the practical development of the telephone has been in the United States that I think the fact that the telephone was invented in Canada should be more widely known than it is—at least in the United States. (Hear, hear.)

Until within the last few days, I have never been able to give a more definite date of the conception of the telephone than that it was somewhere in the summer of 1874. At that time, I was residing in Salem, and went to Boston every day for my professional work in the Boston University. I spent the summer vacations, and also the Christmas vacations, at my father's home on Tutela Heights, near Brantford, Ontario, and all that I have been able to say hitherto has been that the telephone was invented in Brantford sometime during that summer vacation of 1874. But in looking over some old material, I came across a little pocket journal—a sort of day-a-line book—kept by my father, and I looked for any reference to his only son's appearance at Tutela Heights. Of course, when I went home, I discussed with my father all the various ideas of which a young man's brain is full, and I very well remember that I had a great electric motor which was to revolutionize everything ; then I had this telephone, and I found that my father had made a little note in his diary on the occasion of this conversation. It was dated July 26, 1874. It contained very few words :—"New motor ; hopeful. Electric speech?" (With a big query mark on it)— (Great laughter.) However, that gives us the date. I had described the telephone to my father on July 26, 1874, and many friends in Boston have preserved little drawings of the telephone that were made during the autumn of 1874. The telephone devised in Brantford was not made until 1875, when it appeared in Boston ; so that the telephone was conceived in Brantford in 1874, and born in Boston in 1875. (Laughter.)

But Canada was also associated with a very important development of the practical telephone in the early days. It was in Brantford that the first transmission of speech to a distance occurred.—Hear, hear.) That was in August 1876. Previous to that, speech had been transmitted from one room to another in the same building, but the attempts to get speech on the rural telegraph line with one instrument in one place and the other in another place miles away, had been unsatisfactory ; however, in Brantford, for the first time, speech was actually transmitted to a distance. The experiments on the 10th of August, 1876, were especially important, for they enabled me then to work out the division of parts that fitted the telephone to work on the long line. (Hear, hear.)

I can remember very well that by the kindness of the Dominion Telegraph Co. we had the loan of a line from Brantford to Paris, with a battery in Toronto here—a pretty long journey! The transmitting instrument was in Brantford under the charge of Mr. Griffin, who was manager, I think, of the local office at that time, and who is still living. The receiver was in Paris, eight miles from Brantford. I put my ear to the receiver, and arranged for people to sing and speak into the transmitter in Brantford. The instruments I had were only adapted for transmission one way, so we had to use two lines, transmission from Brantford to Paris being by phone, and transmission from Paris to Brantford being on another line by telegraph. When I put my ear to this receiver in Paris, I heard a perfect storm of noises— explosive sounds like distant artillery—in fact a hurricane of noises, all due to some peculiar electrical condition of the atmosphere. All persons connected with long distance telephoning now know what these noises mean. But mixed up with those storms, I heard the faint sound of a singer's voice in Brantford. The sounds were very faint. I could understand the words because I knew the song, but when sentences were uttered which were unknown to me before, it was a little difficult to make out the sense. Still, there were these faint human voices mingled with the electrical storm to which I was listening. The purpose of the experiment was to ascertain the conditions that would yield the best results. It is all very well to try parlor experiments, but the practical thing is to get on a long line. So I came, provided with coils of varied sorts—coils with a few turns of thick wires, coils with many turns of fine wires, and so on, and I had arranged with Mr. Griffin to change the coils in his instrument when I gave the signal. So I tele graphed to Brantford to change the coils, and instead of putting on the thick, coarse wires we had been employing, to put on coils with many turns of fine wires. I did the same thing in Paris. Then I listened again, and the vocal sounds came out loud and distinctly, and I could even recognize the speakers and the singers by their voices. (Hear, hear and applause.) I had been told by my father that he would not be there, and yet one of the voices sounded so like my father's voice that I telegraphed to Brantford, inquiring whether my father was there, and it turned out that the voice was recognized by telephone.

All these things occurred a long time ago, and I do not want to take up your time talking about the telephone. I had intended to talk about one of my latest researches —for I am not done with research work yet—(Hear, hear and applause)—and it occurred to me that considering the short time at our disposal and the fact that we are in the city of Toronto, it might be more interesting to you if I told you a little of an almost unwritten chapter of history connected with another subject, but as big as the telephone—the development of aerial locomotion. (Hear, hear.) As far back as I can remember I have always been interested in the impossible things—(Laughter)—and one of the most impossible .in all the world was that of flying. It is only a few years ago when one would say to express the height of impossibility—"Why, I could no more do this than I could fly!" Yet here you have men flying in Toronto all the time.

I look back upon the origin of the art of flying as one that interests me profoundly, and it should interest you, because Canada has something to do. It so happens that although I have been a citizen of the United States for over forty years, I have spent a great deal of my time in Canada, (applause) —even to-day I have a summer place in Nova Scotia—and as amusement, I devoted myself to the flying of kites, with the idea that here we had an aerial vehicle heavier than air, supported in the air; and I used to dream of the day when we would have flying machines. Then it so happened that in Washington I was connected very closely with the late Professor S. B. Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and was present at the historical experiment he made in May, 1896, when he flew a steam engine, and I saw the steam engine flying in the air with wings like a bird.

It was that experiment that convinced the world of the practicability of mechanical flying, and that formed the prelude to the development of modern aviation. (Hear, hear.) That convinced me that mechanical flying was at hand. I was also aware of Professor Langley's attempt to make a man-carrying flying machine, with an appropriation from the War Department of the United States, and of its failure to get into the air. In 1903 two attempts were made, but the machine—which has since turned out to be a perfectly good flying machine—caught in the launching ways and was precipitated into the Potomac River, and never got into the air. Mr. Manley, the would-be aviator, also appeared in the river. (Laughter)

But it was only a few days after the accident to the Langley machine that the Wright brothers, down at Kiddihauk, put a motor on their gliding machine with which they had made many glides, and flew. They were the first men actually to get into the air and fly, but very little was said about them; they did not want to take the public into their confidence. A few notices appeared of their flying a Kiddihauk, but they took their apparatus away to Dayton, Ohio, and there for two years they continued flying in secret, flying for half an hour and even an hour at a time ; but they were very careful not to let the news of their flights get to the public. Occasionally short articles would appear giving great accounts of the flights of the Wright brothers at Dayton, but hardly any person believed them. You see, America is a country of inventors ; and the greatest of the inventors are the newspaper men. (Great laughter.) The majority of the people who read those glowing accounts attributed them to the newspapers. I did not; I felt sure even if they had not flown, that it was possible to fly ; and it occurred to me that it would be a great thing, too, if I could put a motor on one of my gigantic kites and propel it through the air as a flying machine. First I wanted to try this kite in the air and carry a man in the air; but when I came to look at the machine I did not quite like to risk a human life in a kite without some expert advice, as I am nothing of an engineer. So I sent to Toronto for two young Canadian engineers—(Hear, hear)—graduates of your University here, to come and give me their advice so that I might be sure that this structure was designed in such a way that it would be safe to send up a man. So there appeared at my summer place in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Mr. J. A. D. McCurdy, of Toronto (Applause) and Mr. S. W. Baldwin, known in Toronto as "Casey" Baldwin. (Applause,) At the same time another man turned up in Baddeck. You see, I am pretty well known down in Washington, and -there was a young army officer, the late Lieut. Thos. Selfridge, who was making a study of everything relating to aerial locomotion in the interests of the United States army. He believed that aerial locomotion was coming, and that it would not be amiss in the future for a young officer who had made a specialty of that, and he heard that I was going to make experiments in Baddeck, and he had himself detailed to go there and watch the experiments. Of course, I was glad to welcome a representative of the United States army and to give every opportunity of seeing what the experiments might be. So, along with Mr. McCurdy and Mr. Baldwin there appeared at Baddeck this young American officer, the first victim of modern aviation ; he was killed in an accident to Orville Wright's machine in Washington a year or two after.

Well, discussed this machine, and the putting of a motor on it, and converting this kite into a flying machine, Then we discovered that among the whole crowd of us we did not have much knowledge of motors ; so I decided to send to America for the best motor expert I could find, who was Mr. Glen H. Curtis of Hammondsford, N.Y., who had become celebrated for the light motors he had made for motor-cycles, So Mr. Curtis came up to consult with us about the making of a motor for this big kite.

Now, my wife has a pretty good eye for the future, and she said, "Here is an ideal combination for the development of flying machines. Here you are, an elderly man—I don't say old man yet—(Laughter)—surrounded by young, enthusiastic engineers, experts in their own lines. Why don't you come together, and work together until you get the actual flying machine in the air?" She was very proud of the fact that she has some property that does not belong to her husband—(Laughter) —and she said, "I will finance the association for a year or so, if you form an association." (Hear, hear and applause.) Well, we all agreed—(Laughter)-—and so there was organized in Canada in the winter of 1907 what we termed "The Aerial Experiment Association." There was no money in it; we did not go into it for that purpose, but simply to try to get into the air by hook or by crook, and by any means. We did not care if an invention was our own or another's. Mrs. Bell agreed to support the experiments of the Association for a little over a year, and that was all there was to it. I am glad to think that that Association introduced into the work of aviation such distinguished aviators as McCurdy and Curtis. (Hear, hear and applause.)

Now, that is a chapter in history that relates to Canada. That early Experiment Association lasted long enough from each member of it to get a machine into the air. (Hear, hear.) We agreed that each one in the Association was to have his own ideas, and build a machine according to them, and all the others would help him, so that the machines would be joint inventions. The first man to signify his wish was Lieut. Selfridge, and we all turned in to help him design and make the machine; it was called "The Red Wing," because it had red silk wings. It was tried, and in March 1908, it flew in the presence of half the people of Hammondsford. It was the first public flight in America of a heavier-than-air flying machine. (Hear, hear.) Of course, the Wrights had been flying earlier, only we did not know what they had been doing, as it was all done in private. We did not hear very much about the "Red Wing" in the United States, because the aviator was a Canadian, Mr. Baldwin. (Applause.) He was the first man to get into the air in public in America.

In process of time the usual fate of the earlier flying machines attended the "Red Wing," and it disappeared in fact, there was hardly anything left of it except the engine and the man. But we immediately went to work to build the second machine, which was Baldwin's, called the "White Wing," and that immediately got into the air, and many flights were made with it, and it ultimately became extinguished through the strenuous efforts of our friend, McCurdy. (Laughter.) Then we went to work and built the third machine, which was Curtis's, known as the "June Bug," and it gained the Scientific American trophy for flying the first measured kilometer in America. The machine we built after the "'June Bug" was never demolished; it actually exists to-day, at least in part. Then we turned to work and built McCurdy's machine, the "Silver Dart," at Hammondsford. That flew very successfully there. Flying had by that time become a common thing with those flyers, and McCurdy being a Canadian resident at Baddeck, the machine was picked up and sent off to Nova Scotia, where the "Silver Dart" flew over the Brass d'Or Lakes, and that was the first appearance of a flying machine in Canada, if nog in the British Empire. (Applause.)

Now I would like to talk about the future rather than the past. It is obvious that the flying machine is going to take an important part in the conclusion of the war. (Hear, hear.) It is going to be the deciding influence in all wars, yet it is not more than about ten years old. We are only at the beginning of aerial flight. What are going to be the developments of the future? Already we have flying machines in Europe that make 130 miles an hour. Just think of that—a thing that would have been inconceivable only a year ago; and that probably is not the limit.

I only want to touch on one or two points that may set some of you men thinking, because Toronto is the centre of aviation in Canada, I believe. (Hear, hear.) You are accustomed to hear the whirr of aerial propellors in the air, and there are many men here who are engaged in the practical work of flying. I want you to engage in the practical work of thinking as to what may be accomplished. Men are now flying 20,000 feet in the air. The point I want to make is, that theoretically a machine should be more efficient at 20,000 feet in the air than near the surface; it should fly faster with the satue power; it should be more economical of fuel flying high in the rarified air. The few practical aviators with whom I have discussed the subject said, "Well, it is not so; it does not fly faster; it is not more efficient." I replied, "Why not? Theoretically it should be so. I will give you my line of reasoning, in the hope that some practical aviators in Toronto may perhaps be won over and may make experiments in that direction."

You are up 20,000 feet in the air, nearly four miles; of course, the air is very much rarer than it is here. Now, supposing your propellor should have the same push up there as it has down here, the machine should go faster, because there is less resistance in the way ; so that the question is, do you get the same push. That is problematical. If you get the same push, you will get faster speed in the rarified air than in the denser air below, everybody admits that who comes to think of it. The only question is, do you get the same push? Well, I cannot say you do, but I will give you the line of reasoning that leads me to think you can. Suppose you get a flying machine on the ground here ; you start up your propellor; it commences to rotate; increases and increases, and comes to a steady rotation, giving a certain push to the air. That push just balances the power of the engine—a certain power, a certain push. Now, imagine the air to be a little rarified, —say half the density of what it was before—what would happen? Why, the propellor would raise up, but it would not raise indefinitely ; it would raise up until the shock of the propellor again balanced the power of the atmosphere. Whether that would be the same shock as before, is open for question ; but at all events it will come to a balance with the power of the engine. And if you do have the same push, in the rarified air you go faster, undoubtedly, than you will in the lower air. The reason why it is doubtful whether you get the same push is a mechanical point; it does not affect the theory at all; it is, that the engine has its great efficiency at a certain rate of rotation. So, while it is obviously necessary that a propellor must revolve very much faster in the rarified air, if your engine revolves very much faster you lose your efficiency. Therefore, at whatever height you fly, the efficiency of the engine must be preserved, but the rate of rotation of the propellor must be according to the rarity of the atmosphere in which it plays. So that it is obvious that the machines we now use, most of them being driven by what we know as direct drive, will not accomplish the result, because the propellor can only go faster when the engine has to go faster also. It requires indirect drive and gear. Just as a man going uphill has to change his gear, so a man going up in the air must change his gear, but allow the engine to go at the usual rate and allow the propellors to go very much faster. (Hear, hear and applause.)

Then another thing: it necessitates that your propellors must rotate much more slowly when you are flying near the ground than when you are flying up in the air. The most of our propellors are so arranged that they have pretty nearly the maximum rotation when they are flying quite close to the ground. As it is impossible for them to go any faster, you could not get them up to a stage of rotation that would be theoretically sufficient for the high flying.

However, I hope that these ideas may perhaps bear fruit here, for I am fully convinced that it is possible to get a greater speed at a high altitude with the same power, and that will be of very great consequence.

I will just put one or two more little cranky notions into your heads. If you go up three miles in the air, the air is pretty rare. How about breathing? Would you suffer from the rarefaction of that air? A little theoretical consideration will show that it is possible to prevent the effects of the rarefied air upon a person's breath. Suppose, for example, you put an aviator inside a cabin which is closed in everywhere except in front; then you know that as the machine advances through the air, the air is compressed in that cabin. Now if you study the matter out, imagining that to be the case, you are flying near the ground, and you have got a certain comfortable pressure of the atmosphere inside that cabin. Now, if you go up into the rarer air, you have to go faster in order to have support, so that the air is packed in at a greater rate, and if you come to calculate it you will find that the atmospheric pressure inside that cabin should be the same whether you fly low or fly high; just simply, you are going faster in the upper air, which is crammed there. And so with the difficulties of engine propulsion where the atmospheric pressure affects your carbureter, all you have to do theoretically is to put your carbureter or engine in a hood in front, and you will get the same pressure, theoretically, when you are flying low as when you are flying high.

Now as to high flying, it is pretty cold up there, but in every machine you have surplus heat going to waste ; you have an exhaust pipe, and exhaust heat is just let out into the atmosphere. Instead of that, you can use it through the pipe to warm your car, and there is no reason why you should not go up as high as you want and be quite as warm as you like. (Hear, hear.)

I am simply looking ahead into the impossible things that are going to be possible in the future. As you go faster in the air you find that the wing surface needed for support diminishes. Now, if you go fast enough why should you not fly without wings at all? (Laughter.) That is the effect that is usually produced—laughter; but that is one of the things that is surely coming. (Hear, hear.) A bullet flies very well without wings; an arrow flies very well without wings ; and these things would be only impeded in their advance if you put wings on them. It would take too long to enter into this, but we have got in our minds a thought that prevents advance ; and that is the theory that the flying machine is supported in the air by the pressure of the air on the under surface of the wing. We do not realize that there is another element of support in the inertia of the machine itself. A stone thrown by the hand will, while its motion is in an upward direction, support itself in the air, and if you could keep on that motion, it would be supported indefinitely. Now, suppose you had a flying machine flying up a grade of one in ten, with a speed that flying machines now make, say over 100 miles an hour, if you make the theoretical component of its moving, going uphill, the ratio of 1 to 10, and it is flying at 109 miles an hour under those circumstances, you will find that it is rising 16 feet in one second, which is just the amount that it drops under gravitation in one second. And I submit that point that if you have a machine going on an upward slant so that the theoretical elevation is greater than the theoretical downward tendency of gravitation, which is only 16 feet per second, it would be self-supporting. We run away with the idea of acceleration, but the acceleration is not due to gravitation at all. It is due to other things. For instance, suppose you start a stone falling, you will find that it falls 16 feet in one second. Now, cut off gravitation ; don't consider it at all ; what will happen at the end of that one second? At the end of that second the stone will be dropping with twice 16 feet velocity, that is 32 feet; so that without any further exertion of gravitation the stone would drop 32 feet in one second — not on account of gravitation, but simply its inertia preserving the velocity it had before ; and during that second second, it will allow gravitation again to act, and will add another 16 feet, and all that gravitation can do is to give a drop of 16 feet in one second. Now, suppose you have a machine that is driving upwards at the rate of 16 feet in one second, gravitation is balanced. At the end of the first second you don't have any accelerated velocity to contend with. So that we have machines now that, mixed up with this suspended flight of supporting wings, have reached projectile flight; and I anticipate great changes in the future in relation to projectile flight' (Hear, hear.)
Just one other idea I would put into your minds, and I will not expand it. It is possible that we will have a development of flight with engines without any wings— flying without wings. How about flying without engines? (Laughter.) Now, I will not expand this, but simply direct your attention to the fact that all the flying creatures of the world fly without engines, by their own muscular power ; and there are more things in aerial locomotion than we have yet found out. I can tell you of a thing that is actually done, that every theoretical man will at once say is absolutely impossible. On a voyage from Australia, in the South Seas I had the opportunity of watching the albatrosses and I studied them specially in relation to aerial locomotion, to satisfy myself concerning the truth of a thing that I had often heard about. We were going against the wind, and a mile or two behind there were albatrosses that had caught sight of our ship, but in order to reach it they had to go against the wind. Well, those albatrosses came along steadily, without a flap of the wing, and apparently on an even course—they did not go down and upward—and they overtook the ship against the wind without once moving their wings. Now, this is a thing that any theoretical man would declare impossible, but it is actually done by the birds, and it opens up a new chapter in science. How do they do it? (Laughter, applause, cheers and waving of handkerchiefs.)

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit
Privacy Policy

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


The Substance of My Latest Research: An Address by Professor Alexander Bell Before the Empire Club of Canada

November 1, 1917 The Substance of My Latest Research: An Address by Professor Alexander Bell Before the Empire Club of Canada