Alexander Graham Bell: The Spirit of Invention


138 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55439-006-0
DDC 621.385'092




Reviewed by Alex Curran

Alex Curran is a former member of both the National Advisory Board on
Science and Technology and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research
Council. He was chair of the Telecommunications Sectoral Advisory
Committee on Free Trade and the first recipien


Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, which changed the conduct
of business and social interactions, and in doing so provided employment
for tens of thousands of people. The story of the telephone’s
outstanding success has been told in many books and reports. What makes
this book stand out is the author’s decision to tell the much richer
story of Bell’s need to invent, the stages of his learning about the
process of innovation, and the adaptations made as he learned of the

Stage 1 is the altruistic stage. As a teacher, Bell chose the challenge
of teaching deaf students to lip-read and to speak. He saw the need to
improve quality of teaching through technology. His invention of visible
speech was driven not by thoughts of rich financial rewards, but by the
prospects for better teaching results.

But money is important. Its pursuit led Bell to stage 2: invention for
profit. He invented harmonic telegraphy in direct response to a need
perceived by the telegraph industry. In this stage, he was exposed to
the harsh environment of business—the need to protect intellectual
property and to depend upon and reward investors. That led directly to
stage 3, innovation, where that term implies commercial application
rather than invention only.

Stage 3 provided Bell with such large rewards that he “invented”
stage 4—corporate R&D—by creating a self-funded organization that
allowed him to pursue his hobby of heavier-than-air flight.

Alexander Graham Bell will be valued by readers of diverse interests.
It is a biography of a person whose determination sustained him through
adversity, a historical record of the birth pangs of one of the most
successful innovations ever conceived, a social study of the transition
from individual invention to corporate innovation, and an introduction
to the factors that demanded a new business model. Groundwater’s book
is part of a very complex story. I hope others will be encouraged to
address other parts.


Groundwater, Jennifer., “Alexander Graham Bell: The Spirit of Invention,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024,