Does name Meucci ring any Bell?
has been proven that Meucci was the inventor of the telephone."
Saturday, October 19, 2002
Gucciardo is holding up a replica of the 1857 model of Antonio Meucci's
To many Montrealers, it was a
splendid, crisp, sun-soaked autumn day. To Franco Gucciardo, though,
yesterday was the dawn of an era.
As you, too, may be aware, yesterday
marked the 113th anniversary of the death of Antonio Meucci. And Gucciardo
wasn't about to let the occasion go by unnoticed. No, Meucci, in life and
in death, had endured far too many indignities. Basta!
So, Gucciardo officially inaugurated
the Antontio Meucci Centre at the Casa d'Italia community centre in the
heart of Little Italy on Jean Talon St.
On that note, should you happen to be
strolling through the area this weekend, don't be flying your Alexander
Graham Bell flags, if you catch my drift.
It is the contention of Gucciardo, an
information-systems analyst, and many other wise men around the world, that
Meucci and not Bell was the father of the telephone. And they have scads of
compelling documents and diagrams to prove their point.
Like most scientifically challenged
Canucks, I was led to believe by my flag-waving elders, teachers and
politicos that Bell, actually a Scottish-born American citizen who spent
time in beautiful Brantford, Ont., and more beautiful Baddeck, N.S., was
the inventor. Otherwise that would be a Meucci calling card in my wallet,
Gucciardo, bookish, bearded and
bespectacled, suggested it was only a coincidence that yesterday's
conference was taking place across the street from a Bell office building.
"No matter. The Casa d'Italia was here first," he joked.
"Just like Meucci."
loves irony. But he loves
"pursuit of truth" more.
It is generally conceded that Meucci,
who was born in Italy in 1809 and moved to the U.S. in 1850, was a
brilliant inventor, but a bad businessman. Having tinkered with telephone
technology since 1849, Meucci apparently took steps to patent the device in
1871 - five years before Bell did. His defenders say Meucci couldn't raise
the cash for the patent rights.
It should be said that other
scientists had also toyed with the technology. But then as today, it's the
entrepreneur who gets to the market first who gets all the glory. One
distinguished-looking gent at yesterday's briefing had a theory why Meucci
is being denied his due. "It's always the same," he said.
"To many, Italians are all Al Capone."
Regardless, Bell's immortalization has
rankled not just Italians. Indeed, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution in
June "to honour the life and achievements of the 19th-century
Italian-American inventor Antonio Meucci and his work in the invention of
And wouldn't you know that just 10
days later, the House of Commons adopted a motion, proposed by Heritage
Minister Sheila Copps, to officially recognize Alexander Graham Bell as the
inventor of the telephone?
Gucciardo insists he's not trying to
stir anything up. He believes Bell, because of a superior publicity
machine, gets all the credit. "But today there exists new information
to prove otherwise, to prove that Antonio Meucci first developed the
telephone. In Europe, Meucci is already acclaimed as the inventor."
Gucciardo does allow that perhaps
cultural pride is at play here. What's not at play, however, is a lawsuit.
There are no Meucci descendants to file a claim.
It turns out, though, that it's not
only the Italians, Americans and Canadians laying claim to the invention.
Even the Cubans are getting into the act. That's because it was in Havana,
back in 1849, that Meucci noted how a human voice can travel and be heard
along an electric wire.
So let's cut to the chase here. Was
old Alex a thief?
Gucciardo dodges - although he does
point out that the U.S. government had once taken Bell to court on fraud
But Gucciardo doesn't want you to take
only his word. To that end, he arranged a tele-conference with Basilio
Catania, a retired fibre-optics pioneer and Meucci supporter in Turin.
"My goal is not to discredit the
memory of Bell," Catania said. "I just want to show it has been
proven that Meucci was the inventor of the telephone."
Gucciardo was ebullient as the
conference wrapped. As fate would have it, we were standing in front of a
bust of one Christoforo Colombo. So, while still on the theme of propriety,
I asked him who really discovered America.
"Why, Columbus did, on Oct. 12,
1492," a smiling Gucciardo responded without missing a beat.
That's what it says in our history
2002 Montreal Gazette