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This Day in Boston History
March 7th, 1876
Dueling Patents for the Telephone
On this day Elisha
Gray, an inventor from Ohio, filed notice that he had invented the telephone.
Unknown to him, Boston's Alexander Graham Bell had submitted a full
patent application several hours earlier.
The documents filed that day differed in two substantial ways. Bell
filed a full patent, while Gray filed only a caveat -- an technical
description of what he intended to patent, a move to prevent other inventors
from registering his idea. The other difference is that the device outlined
by Gray worked. Bell's diagram would not work, except that he wrote
the words "variable resistance" and later introduced this
Some think Bell was told of Gray's application which drew heavily on
variable resistance, and was allowed to modify his application. This
would never be proved, despite over 600 legal challenges to the patent.
Gray would go on to found the Western Electric Company. He retired to
continue independent research and invention and to teach at Oberlin
College. He died in Newtonville, Mass., on Jan. 21, 1901