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Philipp Reis: Inventor of the telephone, by Silvanus Thompson. 2 ALS from Thompson to William Frazer laid in
London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1883.

Did Reis Invent the Telephone?

[Reis, Johann Philipp (1834-74).] Thompson, Silvanus P. (1851-1916). Philipp Reis: Inventor of the telephone. A biographical sketch, with documentary testimony, translations of the original papers of the inventor and contemporary publications. ix, 182pp. Frontispiece and 2 wood-engraved plates, text illustrations. London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1883. 214 x 139 mm. Original blindstamped cloth, gilt-lettered spine, slightly shaken, corners and extremities worn.

Lightly sewn in at the front of the book are two Autograph letters signed from Thompson to William Frazer, dated March 8 and March 13, 1883 respectively, regarding Frazer's presence at a demonstration of Reis's telephone in the fall of 1865; Frazer's letter to Thompson describing the demonstration (not included here) is printed on pp. 129-30 of Thompson's book. Frazer's marginal annotations on pp. 129-30 (the one on p. 129 signed "WF") correcting some of the information in the printed letter. Manuscript sheet, most likely in Frazer's hand, containing a memorandum of the 1865 demonstration and a list of names, laid in. Ownership signatures of A. Q. Keasbey on flyleaves.

First Edition of what remains the only English-language biography of Philipp Reis, inventor of a telephone transmitter and receiver capable of reproducing music and-under certain circumstances-intelligible speech. Reis's telephone transmitter worked by alternatively making and breaking connection with a battery, while his receiver was designed to operate on the principle of magnetostriction-the property of ferromagnetic materials such as iron to change shape on application of a magnetic field. Neither of these principles is adequate for constructing a successful speech-transmitting telephone; however

"if the sound entering a Reis transmitter is not too strong, contact between the metal point and the metal strip will not be broken. Instead, the pressure of the former on the latter will fluctuate with the sound, causing fluctuations in the electrical resistance and therefore in the current. Similarly, the receiver will respond to continuously fluctuating as well as to intermittent currents (but not by magnetostriction). The sensitivity, however, is extremely low. . . . "(Enc. Brit., 15th ed. [1990]).

The above explanation accounts for the partial, but real success of Reis's telephone in transmitting intelligible speech.

Between 1858 and 1863 Reis constructed three different models of his telephone, the third and best known of which was demonstrated in scientific societies throughout Europe and America. One of those who saw the machine was Alexander Graham Bell, who was shown Reis's telephone at the Smithsonian Institution in March 1875, and who might have seen an earlier model demonstrated in Edinburgh as early as 1862 (Bell's own telephone, constructed on different principles, was patented in 1876). Unlike Bell, Reis had no interest in profiting from his telephone, freely giving out information about it to anyone who asked, and selling models of it at a reasonable price. It is very likely that Reis would have continued his work in telephony, had he not died shortly after his fortieth birthday.

Thompson, a distinguished British physicist and historian of science, considered Reis the true inventor of the telephone, and wrote the present biography as a means of championing Reis's cause. To that end, he published a detailed account of Reis's telephone, provided English translations of Reis's communications on the subject, and solicited testimonials from those who had attended demonstrations of the instrument, attesting to its ability to transmit the spoken word. Nine of these testimonials can be found in Chapter V, including that of William Frazer, an Irish physician, who saw Reis's telephone demonstrated by Stephen M. Yeates at a club meeting in Dublin in 1865. Thompson's two letters to Frazer, the first requesting "any information about that which occurred on that occasion" and the second thanking Frazer and asking permission to include Frazer's letter in his book, are sewn loosely into this copy. Frazer's letter to Thompson is printed on pp. 129-30; his autograph notes on these pages correct erroneous dates in the printed letter. Catania, Basilio, "The 'Telephon' of Philipp Reis," (web refernce) DSB.


      [Bookseller: Jeremy Norman's Historyofscience.com]
Last Found On: 2014-10-02           Check availability:      Biblio    

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