10 People With Incredibly Bad Luck


4

He Invented the Telephone, Didn't Profit

Antonio Meucci
Antonio Meucci lacked the funds to patent his telephone invention and lost out to Alexander Graham Bell. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Don't dare utter the name Alexander Graham Bell in Italy. There, schoolchildren have been taught for over a century that the rightful inventor of the telephone was in fact Antonio Meucci, an Italian inventor who filed a preliminary patent for his "teletrofono" in the United States five years before Bell, but then tragically died before winning credit for his world-changing invention.

And it's not just Italians and Italian-Americans who believe Meucci had a case against Bell. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2002 recognizing Meucci's contributions to the invention of the telephone. As early as the 1830s, while living in Havana, Cuba, Meucci discovered that sound could be transmitted as electrical impulses through copper wire. In 1850, Meucci and his wife moved to New York City to further develop the technology.

Arriving in the U.S., Meucci was plagued by a series of setbacks. His wife fell sick and became paralyzed. To stay in touch with her, he rigged a short-distance telephone device from his workshop to her bedroom, which he demonstrated publicly in 1860 but received no attention from the English-speaking press.

Meucci was burned in a steamship accident and fell upon hard economic times. At one point, his wife sold all of his telephone prototypes for $6 to a secondhand shop, so he started from scratch. In 1871, without the funds to file a permanent patent on his invention, he paid $10 for a "caveat," which is a notice of an impending patent. Sadly, he didn't even have the $10 to renew the caveat after 1874.

Bell, who shared a lab with Meucci, filed his own patent in 1876 and then got a lucrative deal with Western Union. Feeling that Bell had stolen his ideas, Meucci sued him. The case was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court when Meucci died in 1889. The case died with him, and Bell was considered the inventor of the telephone [source: Carroll].