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Philipp Reis: inventor of the telephone

Did you know that the IET Archives hold records related to one of the first inventors of the telephone? Not Alexander Graham Bell, as many would immediately think, but Philipp Reis, a German school teacher. 

Portrait of Philipp Reis

The invention of the telephone has long been a disputed matter, and as with many inventions it is usually a development of ideas and experiments from a number of people that have contributed to objects that we take for granted today. The reason Bell is credited as the main inventor of the telephone is because he was the first to be awarded a patent for a telephone device. However, there were many others who experimented with transmitting sound along wires, including Philipp Reis. 

Philipp Reis was born in 1834 and was the science master of Institut Garnier, a large boarding-school for boys in the village of Friedrichsdorf, near Frankfurt in Germany. In 1860 he invented the telephone while working for the school and exhibited the instrument at a meeting of the Physical Society at Frankfurt in 1861. 

Image of Friedrichsdorf previous to 1877, The birthplace of the telephone. On the left is a large boarding-school, the Institut Garnier A hand-bound volume of a number of editions of the Institut Garnier school magazine held by the IET Archives celebrates the link between the school and Reis, explaining how he strung the worlds-first telephone lines across the school campus, connecting two classrooms. A legend has it that boys were afraid to make disturbances for fear that Professor Reis would be listening on the telephone! Unfortunately Reis’ invention was never accepted by his scientific contemporaries, and he died before he could be credited with the invention of the telephone.