Photophone: How Alexander Graham Bell Transmitted Sound by Sunlight

Alexander Graham Bell’s greatest invention was the telephone. But if you told that to Mr. Bell, he would have disagreed.

On June 3, 1880, Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first wireless telephone message on his newly invented “photophone,” a device that allowed the transmission of sound on a beam of light. This took place 19 years before the first wireless radio transmission.

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Bell described the invention of the photophone as his life’s greatest achievement, but the significance of Bell's work was not entirely recognized at that time. It would be another century before Bell’s work would be fully appreciated.

Illustration of the photophone's transmitter.


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