The photophone: One of Bell’s best-known inventions.

Six years before Gray and Bell developed it, the Italian Antonio Meucci already had the invention of the telephone. What Alexander Graham Bell actually did was imagine a more organic infrastructure for such an invention.

Be that as it may, in addition to this invention, the photophone is more fascinating: it is actually a kind of light telephone.

The photophone consisted of a mirror that reflects sunlight, mounted on a support that vibrates with the voice, so that the reflected light is received by a parabolic mirror and concentrated on a selenium cell that translates the signal into audible sound in a telephone receiver, as Santiago Álvarez explains in his book On women, men and molecules:

Thus, the inventor of the telephone was also a forerunner of optical signal transmission, which we now call photonics.

The photophone was patented on December 18, 1880, but the quality of communication remained poor and research was not continued by Bell. Still, shortly before his death, he told a reporter that the photophone was “the best invention [I’ve] made, bigger than the telephone.”

Later this invention served as the basis for the development of communications using fiber optics and lasers.

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