Explanation Hans Christian Ørstedt Philipp Reis Alessandro Volta Enrico Fermi Mario Corbino
Ettore Majorana Luigi Galvani Marija Aleksaite-Gimbutiene Carl Auer von Welsbach


Philipp Reis - Wöhlerschule
1834 - 1874

The telephone was invented by four different people in three different countries. Although the Scottish-American Alexander Graham Bell is generally credited as the "winner" in the race to invent the telephone in the period between 1850 and 1876, his invention was preceded or paralleled by Philipp Reis, the Italian Antonio Meucci and the American Elisha Gray.

In his short life Philipp Reis accomplished a remarkable feat that brought him neither wealth nor fame. In 1852 Reis began work on his project by gathering some common materials found around his house in Friedrichsdorf, Germany near by Frankfurt.
In a homemade lab in a shed in his backyard and on a very limited budget Reis assembled components that few people would associate with the construction of a telephone: a violin, a knitting needle, a large cork, a coil of wire, and a sausage.

It is the microphone that is key to any telephone device. Without the microphone there would also be no radio, no sound movies or TV, and no recording industry. That is where both Bell and Reis began. For his first experiments in the 1850s Reis used a sausage skin stretched across a hollowed-out cork as a membrane for his crude microphone. Using wax, he attached a metal contact to the membrane. This contact was linked to the strings of a violin, which served as a receiver or speaker. Later he would use an electromagnetic receiver.

After nine years of work Reis had refined his device to the point that he could present it to Frankfurt's Physics Association on 26 October 1861. His lecture on "Telephony Using Galvanic Current" did not result in as much enthusiasm as Reis might have hoped for. But two years later 50 copies of his "Telephon" were manufactured by a German firm and a few more in England.

Unfortunately the Reis telephone was not practical enough to be a commercial success. It could transmit sound, music, but it was difficult to understand the spoken word. Reis would die of tuberculosis two years before Bell's U.S. patent was filed in 1876.

In his patent fight with Bell Elisha Gray used the legal defense that it was Reis and not Bell who had invented the telephone and thus Bell was not entitled to his patent. But the court ruled that the Reis version could not be considered a real telephone and Bell won the patent struggle.

Today the former Reis home in Friedrichsdorf is a museum dedicated to the inventor and operated by the Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation. Since 1987, the Philipp-Reis-Preis has been awarded every two years to a promising German inventor under the age of 40.