The Truth About Who Actually Invented The Telephone

Looking for another tall tale to add to the compendium of lies you learned in history class? We're all well aware by now that Thomas Edison didn't actually invent the lightbulb and that Mark Zuckerberg yoinked the code that became Facebook from his Harvard classmates in 2004. Well, here's another to add to the list of infamous thieveries that changed the world: the guy you thought invented the telephone supposedly didn't.

At least that's what some historians and the Italian-American community said was the truth after the U.S. Congress passed a resolution in 2002 recognizing the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci, an Italian-born inventor whose "teletrofono" most likely did give Bell an idea or two. According to The Guardian, this action proved to some that Bell outright stole Meucci's invention and passed it off as his own without having done any of the tinkering or chin scratching himself.

Meucci had applied for what was called a patent caveat, an outdated licensing application that let an inventor mark a place for an invention in hopes of getting everything together to file for a full-on patent in the future. The patent caveat lasted a year before it had to be renewed, and a door opened up for Bell when Meucci was unable to renew it in 1874. Bell patented the telephone a couple years later, and that's how Snapchat started. But, was Bell's invention an outright theft? Did he really do none of the work and get all the credit?

It's a bit sensational to say that Bell stole the telephone from Meucci

While it may feel good to call out another historic injustice and give the rightful credit back to the poor, unlucky soul whose work was pilfered by an ambitious businessman -cum-world-changing inventor, a look into the nuance of Meucci's story reveals that Bell wasn't the unscrupulous idea thief that listicle sites like to portray him as.

For one thing, as Thought Co. points out, in order for Bell to have stolen the idea for the telephone from Meucci, he still would have had to invent a veritable library of falsified notes and letters to back up his claim that he had designed the telephone. Even if it had been a theft, it was one that would have taken Bell a ton of work to pull off.

Furthermore, while Meucci was indeed a low-income resident of Staten Island, he was still able to patent 14 other devices and industrial processes during his lifetime, so to say that Bell simply ran off with a poor immigrant's great idea is patently false. Neither was Meucci the only one who accused Bell of idea larceny. Inventor Elisha Grey also made claims to the telephone. In fact, none of the more than 600 lawsuits brought against Bell concerning the phone's origins found that anyone but Bell was behind the communications device that forever changed the world.