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

Fact & Fiction

"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.



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More Comments:

James John King - 11/25/2010

I'm sick of pathetic people like you who have accomplished nothing trying to leech off the accomplishments of others. It's funny that you even mention the Romans since they conquered and subjugated your Tuscan ancestors. Regardless their accomplishments are not yours. I don't know that Meucci became an American citizen. If he did, he is rightly judged Italian-American just as Bell was originally Scottish but became a Canadian and later American citizen.

James John King - 11/25/2010

You knew this, despite a total lack of evidence? Well, actually, back in the day everyone knew Bell was the true inventor. Many people were working on similar devices. His was the best. He didn't steal it. Meucci's, Gray's, they wouldn't have worked.

blue - 10/4/2003

Not One person ever invents one thing.
It is an evolutionary process that cannot be pinpointed, a string of events that cannot be summed up. Invention itself is a human thing that is molded out of haphazardness. I believe that experimentation can create these haphazard events. On the basis of scientific progress it takes one person to find a question and another to answer it. Even Einstein did not invent from within a vacuum!

MAGRI', GABRIELE - 8/28/2003



Gabriele Magri'

The Rev. Michael P. Forbes - 7/3/2003

We are looking for a short biography of this gentleman with dates. He plays a minor role in a study we are doing of Martha Louise Raynem American journalist, who might have taught him in high School.

Thank you

James E. White - 4/30/2003

The Honorable Representative Fossella's distortions and errors in both his presentation (and those of his primed Honorable lackeys) and his resolution are so egregious that he ought simply be shot forthwith. He is a disgrace to all Americans, to the Honorable Congress, and most definitely to Italians. Edwin Grosvenor's somewhat sloppy presentation much more accurately presents the real facts and all hard evidence suggests that Mr. Meucci was an opportunist, flake, and fraud, if not a simpleton, of long standing.

Paolo - 2/11/2003

Dear Sirs:

How dare you call Antonio Meucci American! Antonio Meucci was 100% Florentine and therefore Tuscan, like, just to name a few, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante Alighieri, Galileo Galilei, Giotto, Petrarca (Petrarch), Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Giacomo Puccini, Donatello, Carducci, Masaccio, Cellini, Piero della Francesca, Cimabue, Guicciardini. All these great people, better to define them as genius, were born in my region, Tuscany. You're a young country with not history. Where were your civilization when the Romans built streets, bridges, and set up the hugest empire of all time? If Bill Gates is considered a genius, what adjective should we use to describe people like Leonardo da Vinci? And remember that Florence is where the Reinassance began.

Proud to be born in Tuscany. No other place in the world can list as many great people as we do.

Edwin Grosvenor - 9/17/2002

It is a sad day, indeed, when Congress can overlook fact and, for the purpose of currying favor with constitutents, can pass resolutions inventing their own version of history.

The resolution HR 269 is contrary to the findings of numerous U.S. court cases, and contradicts the evidence cited by a Congressional committee appointed in 1886 to investigate these matters.

I've written a memo with the evidence at:

Contrary to the implications in HR 269, the courts have looked into Meucci’s claims extensively and were very unequivocal in their findings. Meucci was a defendant in American Bell Telephone Co. v. Globe Telephone Co. and others. (The court’s findings, reported in 31 Fed. Rep. 729, are attached to my memo.)

The judge was scathing in his criticism of Meucci’s claims and his behavior, and concluded that Meucci was deliberately involved in attempts to defraud investors. HR 269 serves to perpetuate Meucci’s deceit.

The question of whether Bell was the true inventor of the telephone is perhaps the single most litigated fact in U.S. history, and the Bell patents were defended in some 600 cases. Bell never lost a case. HR 269 directly contradicts findings of courts in New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Ohio, Maryland, and numerous others states. (See among others American Bell Telephone Co. v. Dolbear, 15 Fed. Rep. 448; American Bell Telephone Co. v. Spencer, 8 Fed. Rep. 509, and American Bell Telephone Co. v. Molecular Telephone, 32 Fed. Rep. 214.)

The Meucci matter had little or nothing to do with the court case in which it was alleged that Bell committed fraud in obtaining his patent. That action, known as the “Government case,” led to one of the largest scandals of the Grover Cleveland administration. By 1885, eight years after Bell had patented the telephone, the only way to beat his patent was to allege it had been obtained by fraud. The US government joined with the Pan-Electric Telephone Company and several other would-be infringers and brought suit to try to have the patents annulled.

Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World revealed that millions of dollars worth of shares in Pan-Electric Telephone were owned by the US Attorney General Augustus Garland (whose office brought the case), another member of the Cleveland cabinet, two senators and a former member of Congress. The case against Bell ended when President Cleveland ordered Garland not to continue.

The U.S. Congress itself has already investigated these matters, and HR 269 in effect overturns the findings of the Congressional committee appointed by the Speaker of the House on March 4, 1886, which met from March 12 until May 27 and produced “1,278 closely printed octavo pages of testimony.” The implications in HR 269 directly contradict both the report for the majority and the report for the minority.

Edwin Grosvenor

Pierre S. Troublion - 6/20/2002

According to today's CBC radio story (where the curator at Staten Island was interviewed), there is a trail of circumstantial evidence linking Meucci's gadget to Western Union and via them to Bell. But, I suppose it is a technical question of where to draw the line between "two tin cans" and two phone receivers. Any engineers or physicists following this website ?