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Much speculation and intrigue surrounds the invention of the telephone, the subject matter of the first patent issued by the U.S. Patent Office.

While Alexander Graham Bell is listed as the inventor of U.S Patent Number 174,465, issued March 7, 1876 for an “Improvement in Telegraphy”, many people as well as the United States House of Representatives, have recognized Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant, as the true inventor of the telephone.

The below excerpt from House Resolution 269, dated June 11, 2002, tells Meucci’s story:

Antonio Meucci, the great Italian inventor, had a career that was both extraordinary and tragic. Upon immigrating to New York, Meucci continued to work with ceaseless vigor on a project he had begun in Havana, Cuba, an invention he later called the `teletrofono', involving electronic communications. Meucci set up a rudimentary communications link in his Staten Island home that connected the basement with the first floor, and later, when his wife began to suffer from crippling arthritis, he created a permanent link between his lab and his wife's second floor bedroom.

Having exhausted most of his life's savings in pursuing his work, Meucci was unable to commercialize his invention, though he demonstrated his invention in 1860 and had a description of it published in New York's Italian language newspaper.

Meucci was unable to raise sufficient funds to pay his way through the patent application process, and thus had to settle for a caveat, a one year renewable notice of an impending patent, which was first filed on December 28, 1871.

Meucci later learned that the Western Union affiliate laboratory reportedly lost his working models, and Meucci, who at this point was living on public assistance, was unable to renew the caveat after 1874.

In March 1876, Alexander Graham Bell, who conducted experiments in the same laboratory where Meucci’s materials had been stored, was granted a patent and was thereafter credited with inventing the telephone.

On January 13, 1887, the Government of the United States moved to annul the patent issued to Bell on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation, a case that the Supreme Court found viable and remanded for trial. Meucci died in October 1889, the Bell patent expired in January 1893, and the case was discontinued as moot without ever reaching the underlying issue of the true inventor of the telephone entitled to the patent.

If Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain the caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell.

Now, therefore, be it resolved, that it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be recognized, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged.

H.R. Res. 269, 107th Cong. (2002).