Hearing Through Wires:
Antonio Meucci ~ The True Father of Telephony

Gerry Vassilatos


Antonio Meucci is the forgotten and humble genius whose inventions precede every revolution in communication arts which were achieved during this century. The time frame during which his notable discoveries were made is a most remarkable revelation. How Meucci developed his accidental discoveries into full scale working systems is a true wonder in view of this time reference.

The culturing of technology from the simple sparks of vision is a feat of its own distinct kind. As the earliest chronicled inventor of telephonic arts he is justly applauded as the true father of telephony by afficionadi who know his wonderfully touching biography. But he invented far more than the telephone with which we are familiar. Meucci discovered two separate telephonic systems. His first and most astounding discovery is known as physiophony, telephoning through the body…hearing through wires. His second development was acoustic telephony, preceding every other legendary inventor in this art by several decades.

Meucci powered telephones with electricity taken from the ground through special earth batteries, and from the sky by using large surface area diodes to draw static from the air. Eliminating the need for employing batteries in his telephonic systems, Meucci first conceived of a transoceanic vocal communication system. His notion was grand and achievable. Marconi later employed methods pioneered by the forgotten Meucci.

He developed ferrites, with which he constructed true audio transformers and loudspeaking transceivers. He invented marine ranging and undersea communication systems. His numerous achievements in chemical processing and industrial chemistry are too numerous to mention in such a brief treatise. All of these wonders were conceived and demonstrated well before 1857.

Sr. Meucci was a prolific inventor, engineer, and practical chemist. Living in Florence, he worked as a stage designer and technician in various theaters. Antonio Meucci and his wife left Florence to flee the violence of the civil insurrections which raged throughout Italy. Many immigrants who wished for a peaceful life thought they might find some measure of solace in the New Land which lay to the west.

Unhappily restricted by law from entering The United States, persons such as Meucci and his family chose the route into which most other Mediterraneans were forced at the time. Being turned southward, they were literally compelled to dock in Caribbean or South American ports. There sizable populations of European immigrants remain to this day, legally restricted from North American shores. Most found that their presence there was received with an acceptance and warmth equal to a homecoming. It should have been in these lands that their legacies were written.

New arrivals in Cuba, the Meucci family made Havana their home. They found the warm and friendly nation a place for new and wonderful opportunities. Sr. Meucci pursued numerous experimental lines of research while living in Havana, developing a new method for electroplating metals. This new art was applied to all sorts of Cuban military equipment, Meucci gaining fame and recognition in Havana as a scientific researcher and developer of new technologies.

Several special electrical control systems were designed by him specifically for stage production in the Teatro Tacon, the Havana Opera. Electrical rheostats served the safe and controlled operation of enclosed carbon arclamps. Mechanical contrivances hoisted, lowered, parted, and closed heavy curtains. The automatic systems were a wonder to behold.

A young and dreamy romantic, Meucci found the beauty of theater work quite entrancing and inspirational. There, dreams became realities, if only for the short time during which hardened pragmatism was suspended. Fantasy and wonder were magickal liquids which perfumed the soul and opened the mind’s eyes. As in childhood, one could receive the elevating epiphanies of revelation necessary for discovering unexpected phenomena, and for developing unequalled technologies.

The decision to move to Havana was indeed a good one. Genuine acceptance, and loving recognition added joy the lives of the bittersweet exiles. Meucci’s wife was often amused by his more outlandish inventive notions. But, as their stay in Havana continued, she scolded that he had better develop something solidly practical on which to “make a living”.

A long time fascination with physiological conditions and their electrical responses, Meucci was prompted to begin study of electromedicine. With just such a practical view in mind, he established and maintained an experimental electromedical laboratory in backrooms of the Opera House. Investigating the art of “electro-medicine”, as popularly practiced throughout both Europe and the Americas, Meucci investigated the curative abilities of electrical impulse. Applying moderate electrical impulses from small induction coils to patients in hope of alleviate illness, Meucci learned that precise control of both the “strength and length” of electrical impulse held the true secret of the art.

As viewed by Meucci, pain and certain physical conditions were treatable by these electrical methods provided that very short impulses of insignificant voltage were employed. Impulses of specific length and power were necessary to rid suffering patients of their pain. In addition, Meucci imagined that tissue and bone regeneration could be stimulated by such means.

What really intrigued Sr. Meucci was the length of impulse time involved in body-applied electricity. To this end, he developed special slide switches which were capable of specifying the impulse length. It was possible to slide a zig-zag contact surface over a fixed electrical source. By varying the spacings between such slide contacts, Meucci could mechanically generate very short electrical impulses.

Rheostats could also be employed to control the current intensity. By the employment of these two control features, he was able to apply the proper impulse “strength and length”. Meucci wished to chart a specific impulse series which would neutralize each specific kind of pain or illness. Developing catalogues of electrical impulse cures was his real aim. Such a technology, if developed thoroughly, could arm medical practitioners with new curative powers.

Sr. Meucci applied continual experimental effort toward these medical goals. He often applied these same impulses to theater employees and stage artists alike. These people came to regard such electric cures as definitive. Meucci’s method was known to reverse conditions completely. He paid special attention to the placement and size of electrodes on the body. Tiny point-contacts were often held to the body at specific neural points, effecting their analgesic effects. He was especially careful with “shock strength”, applying only millivolt surges to his patients. Pain could be gradually made to retreat by the proper impulse administration.