Canadian Parliamentary Motion on Alexander Graham Bell
The first session of Canada's 37th Parliament unanimously passed a Canadian Parliamentary Motion on Alexander Graham Bell on June 21, 2002, to affirm that Alexander Graham Bell was the inventor of the telephone.
The symbolic motion was a response to the 107th United States Congress' earlier resolution (HRes 269) of June 11, 2002, which recognized the contributions of Antonio Meucci. Due to a misleading press release issued by U.S. Congressman Vito Fossella, this was interpreted by some as establishing priority for the invention of the telephone to Meucci. The House of Representatives' Resolution and the Parliamentary Motion which followed were both opinions and did not carry any legal weight. The resolution also did not annul or modify any of Bell's patents for the telephone.
The Canadian Parliamentary Motion and Resolution HRes 269 were both widely reported by various news media at the time of their proclamations. Resolution HRes 269 is still cited by Meucci advocates as proof that he has been acknowledged as the first inventor of the telephone. The U.S. resolution has equally been criticized for its factual errors, inaccuracies, biases and distortions.
The Canadian legislative motion was a quick "tit-for-tat" response to the U.S. House of Representatives' HRes 269, passed 10 days earlier by only a single Congressional body to recognize the "...work in the invention of the telephone" made by Antonio Meucci”, but also impugning the character of Alexander Graham Bell. The perceived attack on Bell’s primacy and character did not sit well with many Canadians and their parliamentarians, in a country where the inventor-scientist is often viewed as a native son. Only days after the U.S. resolution was announced, Major Chris Friel of Brantford, Ontario near the site where Bell invented the telephone's theoretical concept, dismissed the U.S. resolution out of hand, stating “"Absolutely, the credit [for the phone] remains with [Bell]…”.
Responding to the House of Representative's assault on Bell, Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps issued a comment to the Canadian news media: "I'm sure we can come in with our own legislation". After a number of in camera consultations over the next several days with members of the Conservatives, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Québécois in Canada’s federal parliament, Liberal M.P. Bob Speller (Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant) rose in the House on June 21, requesting that the Deputy Prime Minister advise the U.S. House of Representatives it had erred, by asking: "I am wondering if the Minister will take the time to inform the U.S. Congress that indeed, yes, Virginia, Alexander Graham Bell did invent the telephone?" 
After the House's formal Question Period, the Deputy Prime Minister tabled the motion in the Commons affirming Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone. The Canadian motion made no derogatory comments of Antonio Meucci, unlike the U.S. resolution’s treatment of Bell. Copps’ motion asserting Bell’s primacy of invention was met with the unanimous approval of all four political parties, and a copy of the legislative motion was directed to the U.S. Congress.
Later, addressing the media, Deputy Prime Minister Copps commented on the House motion by stating that Bell was a "visionary" and "...an inspiring example of a Canadian inventor who, by his ingenuity and his perseverance contributed to the advancement of knowledge and the progress of humanity."
Full text of the Parliament of Canada motion on Bell
Hon. Sheila Copps (Minister of Canadian Heritage, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the House for unanimous consent on the following motion, which has been discussed with all parties, regarding Alexander Graham Bell. I move [that]:
- This House affirms that Alexander Graham Bell of Brantford, Ontario and Baddeck, Nova Scotia is the inventor of the telephone.
The Speaker: Does the hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
- (Motion agreed to)
Hon. Sheila Copps: Mr. Speaker, might I suggest that we forward a copy of this to the congress in the United States so they get their facts straight?
Full text of the U.S. House of Representatives Resolution 269
|Intro.||H. Res. 269
In the House of Representatives, U.S.,
|¶ 1||Whereas Antonio Meucci, the great Italian inventor, had a career that was both extraordinary and tragic;|
|¶ 2||Whereas, 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;|
|¶ 3||Whereas 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;|
|¶ 4||Whereas, 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;|
|¶ 5||Whereas Meucci never learned English well enough to navigate the complex American business community;|
|¶ 6||Whereas 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;|
|¶ 7||Whereas 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;|
|¶ 8||Whereas 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;|
|¶ 9||Whereas 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;|
|¶ 10||Whereas 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; and|
|¶ 11||Whereas 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|
|¶ 12||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.|
Critical views on the Motion, Resolution and the Patent Caveat
In 2003, the distinguished Italian telecommunications inventor and Meucci book author Professor Basilio Catania, interviewed on the parliamentary Bell motion and the congressional Meucci resolution, first commented on Bell's record as an inventor and scientist:
- "I am not the kind of man who can make statements without proofs. I did not do it with Meucci and I do not see why I should do it with Bell... ...I can, however, state that the theoretical description of the electrical transmission of speech in Bell's first patent is nearly perfect and appears to me as the first clear treatise ever written."
Professor Catania later went on to note the straightforwardness of the follow-up parliamentary motion compared to the seaminess of the initial congressional resolution:
- "The Canadian reaction to an unfortunate passage in Resolution No. 269 of the US House of Representatives is quite understandable. In my opinion the insinuation against the morality and scientific stature of Alexander Graham Bell, in the above resolution, was both unnecessary and unproven, though there had been suspicions that Bell might have fished something from Meucci's ideas. Personally, I would have refrained from stating anything that is not fully proven. I do, however, appreciate that, in the Canadian motion pro Bell, nothing [derogatory] is said against Antonio Meucci... "
However, intellectual property law author R.B. Rockman was more critical in his view of HRes 269. After first reviewing the essential details of American Bell Telephone Company v. Globe Telephone Company, Antonio Meucci, et al. (31 Fed 728 (SDNY, 1887)), where he noted major inconsistencies in Meucci's various testimonies, the paucity of direct evidence that both the Globe and Meucci brought forward in support of their defenses and the court's definitive rejection of those defenses in favour of Bell, Rockman then compares the 'Bell v. Globe and Meucci' court decision (of July 19, 1887) with HRes 269:
- "I conclude that the comments of Mr. Grosvenor [who wrote a memo highly critical of HRes 269 by comparing it with Bell v. Globe] are more likely correct in comparison to the statements [within the preamble of HRes 269] by the United States House of Representatives."
Rockman then proceeded to dissect and parse the U.S. Government's 1887 legal challenge to Bell's telephone patent, which had been brought by United States Attorney General Augustus H. Garland. The Attorney General had earlier been given 500,000 shares of stock and was thus a major shareholder of the Pan-Electric Company, which was the instigator of the suit. Pan-Electric sought to overturn Bell's patent in order to compete against the American Bell Telephone Co.
It was this very court challenge that is referenced in HRes 269's preamble, in paragraph No. 9, which inferred an immoral and possibly criminal intent by Bell ("...the Government of the United States moved to annul the patent issued to Bell on the grounds of fraud and misrepresentation"), to which Rockland wrote:
- "The United States House of Representatives in its resolution of June 11, 2002 states merely that the government of the United States filed the lawsuit, and that the Supreme Court found the complaint viable and remanded the case for trial. The House of Representatives resolution, in my opinion, leaves out many of the salient details [of the Garland-initiated suit], and presents a disjointed and incorrect view of the invention of the telephone."
The same paragraph No. 9 of the Meucci resolution also did not mention that the U.S. Attorney General, plus another cabinet member, two senators, two key congressmen and a number of government officials had been given or owned millions of dollars of stock in Pan-Electric, as revealed by Joseph Pulitzer in the New York World, a fact which many viewed as a strong incentive for them to try to overturn Bell's patent.
U.S. President Grover Cleveland subsequently decided not to investigate his own administration and ordered the Attorney General not to "pursue the matter" after the court case stalled out. One of several biographies on the controversial Attorney General Augustus Garland's involvement in the 'Government case' noted:
- "He did, however, suffer scandal involving the patent for the telephone. The Attorney General's office was intervening in a lawsuit attempting to break Bell's monopoly of telephone technology, but it had come out that Garland owned stock in one of the companies that stood to benefit. This congressional investigation received public attention for nearly a year, and caused his work as attorney general to suffer."
The 'Government Case', also known as the 'Pan-Electric Case', became one of the greatest scandals in Grover Cleveland's presidency, and was ended when Cleveland ordered Garland to discontinue the trial.
Other factual errors were also found within the preamble to the HRes 269 resolution, among them were:
- Paragraph No. 2 of the resolution referred to Meucci's invention involving "electronic communications", however Meucci's patent caveat described a 'lover's telegraph' which transmitted sound vibrations mechanically across a taut wire, a conclusion that was also noted in Rockman's review ("The court further held that the caveat of Meucci did not describe any elements of an electric speaking telephone…..", and "The court held that Meucci's device consisted of a mechanical telephone consisting of a mouthpiece and an earpiece connected by a wire, and that beyond this the invention of Meucci was only imagination.")
- Paragraphs Nos. 7 & 8 implied that Bell had access to Meucci's works prior to patenting the telephone ("….Meucci later learned that the Western Union affiliate laboratory reportedly lost his working models", followed by: "Alexander Graham Bell, who conducted experiments in the same laboratory where Meucci’s materials had been stored was granted a patent…. with inventing the telephone"). The same inference in the resolution was also described by Rockman. However there is no record of Bell ever working in that laboratory, or even having heard of Meucci before the telephone patent was issued. All of Bell's notes only mentioned Meucci's name a single time, in 1886, when he was advised of a new court challenge. Research by Professor Catania himself showed that Meucci's samples were reportedly lost at a laboratory of American District Telegraph (ADT) of New York, but ADT was an independent company and did not become a subsidiary of Western Union until 1901. Writer and publisher (and Bell's great-great-grandson) Edwin S. Grosvenor also noted that with Bell living and working in the Boston and Brantford areas, and with Meucci living and working in the Staten Island, New York area, there was no overlap where Bell would have had access to Meucci's works prior to Bell's patent application. Grosvenor further pointed out that in 1878, two years after Bell received his patent, the American Bell Telephone Company, not Bell, was awarded a Western Electric laboratory as part of a patent infringement settlement with the Western Union Telegraph Company. With Bell never having worked in that laboratory, the timing of the 1878 transfer made it irrelevant in any event to Bell's patent application in February 1876. Additionally, the American Bell Telephone Company and Western Union were both competitors to each other and did not share facilities both prior to, and subsequent to the patent lawsuit settlement.
- Paragraph No. 11 stated that "…if Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain [his] caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell". However Grosvenor noted in a memo that Bell had succeeded in building a telephone based on a sound knowledge and understanding of its principles, whereas Meucci had been found by the court not to have understood the basics of the electric telephone's operation, with that court case having been conducted some 10 years after Bell was awarded his patent. Since Meucci's caveat didn't describe any of the principles of electric telephony, it would therefore have been irrelevant to Bell's application even had the caveat been renewed.
In total Grosvenor listed 10 errors in detail found within the congressional Meucci resolution, and was highly critical of both its intent and accuracy. He also asked two salient questions in Section "C" of the same report: "1) Should Congress overrule the US courts and its own committee, which looked at evidence extensively, and without reviewing any evidence in the matter?", and "2) Should [the U.S.] Congress pass resolutions on historical facts without checking with legitimate historians or their own library?" The same document also noted that HRes 269 contradicted the findings of its own Congressional committee's investigation, which had, in 1886, produced a report of 1,278 printed pages.
Grosvenor concluded that: "The historical “facts” stated in HR 269 were obtained from highly biased sources, and [were] based on shoddy, cursory research."
The motion was widely reported across Canada over the next three weeks. Canadian news sources detailed the motion’s birth and its underlying historical dispute. One notable review was in an Edmonton Journal opinion piece which admonished politicians for legislating ‘truth by decree’. A Vancouver Sun editorial also asked: "But since when are the minutiae of history a matter for the attention of our legislators?" Several reports wrote that the motion, like the U.S. "historical jingoism" which preceded it, was only an expression of opinion by a legislative body which did not carry any legal weight. However “…many saw the [American] declaration as an… attempt to rewrite history”. The motion was prominent on all major Canadian television news, with lede stories typically stating "Ottawa rose to the defense of Bell after the US Congress passed a resolution..... "
The Canadian Motion was also reported by media in several other countries, where the response was described as providing "heavy condemnation" of the U.S. resolution. Asked his opinion on the Canadian 'tit-for-tat' legislative motion, Italian telecommunications researcher and Meucci author Professor Basilio Catania stated on several occasions that the Canadian response was provoked by "unfortunate passages" directed at Bell, and as such was "quite understandable". Professor Catania, who had worked with U.S. House Representative Vito Fossella to bring about HRes 269, was declined a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps to discuss the motion. Many Italian Canadians were upset by the motion due to long held beliefs that Meucci was the telephone's inventor, according to the Italian-language weekly L'Ora Di Ottawa.
The motion was still referred to years after its passage, in reference to Bell’s primacy in the invention of the telephone. In an article on author Charlotte Gray's new book Reluctant Genius, the Ottawa Citizen noted "…Bell invented the telephone company… [and] thanks to a 2002 motion, the Parliament of Canada continues to recognize Bell as the [telephone's] inventor".
- Antonio Meucci
- Augustus H. Garland -U.S. Attorney General
- Bell Telephone Memorial
- Elisha Gray
- Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell telephone controversy
- History of the telephone
- Invention of the telephone
- Johann Reis
- The Telephone Cases – U.S. court cases related to telephone patents
- "House of Commons of Canada, Journals No. 211, 37th Parliament, 1st Session, No. 211 transcript". Hansard of the Government of Canada, June 21, 2002, pg.1620 / cumulative pg.13006, time mark: 1205. Retrieved: April 29, 2009.
- Bethune, Brian. "Did Bell Steal The Idea For The Phone?", Maclean's, January 23, 2008. Retrieved: April 30, 2009.
- Fox, Jim, "Bell's Legacy Rings Out at his Homes", Globe and Mail, 2002-08-17;
- "Rep. Fossella's Resolution Honoring True Inventor of Telephone To Pass House Tonight. Antonio Meucci Receives Recognition 113 Years After His Death". Office of Congressman Vito J. Fossella. June 11, 2002. Archived from the original on 2008-05-04. Retrieved 2011-02-26. Resolution's sponsor Vito J. Fossella's press release quote: Antonio Meucci never received the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, but this evening – 113 years after his death – the House of Representatives is expected to pass a Resolution honoring his contributions and recognizing him as the true inventor of the telephone. The Resolution was authored by Congressman Vito Fossella (R-NY13).
- Estreich, Bob. Antonio Meucci: (section) The Resolution. Retrieved from BobsOldPhones.net website, February 25, 2011. Quote: "It should be noted that the text of the Resolution DOES NOT acknowledge Meucci as the inventor of the telephone. It does acknowledge his early work on the telephone, but even this is open to question."
- Rockman, Howard B."Intellectual Property Law for Engineers and Scientists." IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society, Wiley-IEEE, 2004, pp. 107–109. ISBN 978-0-471-44998-0.
- United States Senate. Bill Text: 108th Congress (2003-2004) S.RES.223.IS, U.S. Congress' Thomas website, September 10, 2003. Retrieved February 28, 2011.
- U.S. Senate. "SUBMISSION OF CONCURRENT AND SENATE RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - September 10, 2003)", U.S. Congress Thomas Website, Page: S11349, September 10, 2003.
- GovTrack.us. S.Res.223 (108th Congress), Retrieved from GovTrack.us website on February 28, 2011.
- "News Flash: U.S. House of Representatives Says Alexander Graham Bell Did Not Invent the Telephone." History News Network, George Mason University, June 20, 2002. Retrieved: April 30, 2009.
- Grosvenor, Edwin S. "Memo on Misstatements of Fact in House Resolution 269 and Facts Relating to Antonio Meucci and the Invention of the Telephone." alecbell.org website, June 30, 2002.
- Bethune, Brian. "Did Bell Steal The Idea For The Phone?", Maclean's Magazine, February 4, 2008.
- "Brantford's Favourite Son Defended", The Globe and Mail, June 20, 2002. pg. A11.
- Malbon, Joy; CTV Television Network staff. "Disputing Alexander Graham Bell's Claim To Fame (transcript)", Toronto: CTV Television, June 20, 2002. Proquest Document ID: 438947501.
- Mofina, Rick. House Of Commons Backs Bell As Telephone Inventor, National Post, June 22, 2002, pg. A4.
- Cape Breton Post. "Copps Rallies To Bell's Defense: Controversy Over Telephone Inventor Hits Ottawa", Cape Breton Post, June 22, 2002, pg. B4, eLibrary: March 5, 2011.
- Press, Canadian. "Alexander Graham Bell Invented Telephone, Canadian MPs Tell Americans", Truro Daily News, June 22, 2002, pg. A1.
- "HRes 269: In the House of Representatives, U.S." US Government Printing Office, June 11, 2002. Retrieved: May 1, 2009.
- Cusmano, Domenic. "Interview with Basilio Catania." Accenti.ca, July 16, 2003, Retrieved: April 30, 2009.
- Grosvenor & Meyer, 2008. Pg. 52-53.
- "Augustus Hill Garland (1832–1899)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture website. Retrieved: May 1, 2009. Note: according to this article: "Garland soon found himself embroiled in scandal. While Garland was in the Senate, he had become a stockholder in, and attorney for, the Pan-Electric Telephone Company, which was organized to form regional telephone companies using equipment developed by J. Harris Rogers. The equipment was similar to the Bell telephone, and that company soon brought suit for patent infringement. Soon after he became attorney general, Garland was asked to bring suit in the name of the United States to invalidate the Bell patent. He refused...." However, in Rockman (2004), there is no mention of Garland refusing to do so, and moreover Garland had been given his shares in Pan-Electric by the company, for free.
- "Augustus Hill Garland (1874-1877)", Old Statehouse Museum website. Retrieved: May 1, 2009. Note: According to this biography: "He did, however, suffer scandal involving the patent for the telephone. The Attorney General's office was intervening in a lawsuit attempting to break Bell's monopoly of telephone technology, but it had come out that Garland owned stock in one of the companies that stood to benefit. This congressional investigation received public attention for nearly a year, and caused his work as attorney general to suffer."
- Leader, Jessica. "U.S. 'Assault' On Bell Riles Hometowns: Brantford And Baddeck: Suggestion He Stole Idea For Telephone 'Just Appalling,' Great-Grandson Says", National Post, June 21, 2002, pg. A3. Proquest document No. 330091638.
- Catania, Basilio Antonio Meucci - Questions And Answers: What Did Meucci To Bring His Invention To The Public?, Chezbasilio.org website. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
- History of ADT, ADT.com website. Retrieved July 8, 2009.
- "U.S. Has Rung Wrong Number On Phone History, MPs Say: Motion Naming Bell As True Inventor Passes", Toronto Star, June 22, 2002, pg. A06.
- Boswell, Randy. ‘’We Don’t Need Truth by Decree”, Edmonton Journal, July 2, 2002, which is derived from:
- Boswell, Randy. Ottawa Citizen, June 29, 2002, pg. B7.
- "Legislator's Strange New Busy Signal", Edmonton Journal, June 26, 2002, pg. A14. Derived from:
- Southam Publications.
- Cape Breton Post. "Conspirators Assail History: Nova Scotia Ensnarled In Attacks On Heirlooms Of Popular History". Cape Breton Post, June 24, 2002, pg.A6, eLibrary March 5, 2011.
- Fitzgerald, Tony. "Brantford Mayor Wants To Right History", Hamilton Spectator, July 4, 2002, pg. A9.
- Kelly, Mark; CBC staff. "House Of Commons Affirms Bell As Inventor Of Telephone (transcript)", Toronto: The National, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, June 21, 2002. Proquest Document ID: 439602621.
- Telecom Asia. "History: The U.S. Government Passed A Resolution Last Month (Backpage Briefing)", Telecom Asian, July 2002, Vol.13, Iss.7, pg.48(1). Gale CENTRAGE Article # A90427810.
- Basilio, Catania; Gaspari, Franco; Gucciardo, Franco. Canada Greets Meucci!. Retrieved from ChezBasilio.org website March 3, 2011.
- Hutchinson, Alex. ‘’What's The Big Idea?: Who Invented The Telephone? You Make The Call”, Ottawa Citizen. September 17, 2006, pg. B2
- Black, Peter. "Bras To BlackBerrys – Canadian Inventions", Plattsburgh, NY: Press-Republican, December 23, 2005.
- Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8014-9691-8.
- Evenson, A. Edward. "The Telephone Patent Conspiracy of 1876: The Elisha Gray - Alexander Bell Controversy. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-7864-0138-9.
- Gray, Charlotte. Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-55970-809-3.
- Grosvenor, Edwin S.; Meyer, Ralph O. Did Alexander Graham Bell Steal The Telephone Patent?, American Heritage (magazine), 2008, Vol. 58, Iss. 4 (Spring-Summer), pg. 52.
- Mackay, James. Sounds Out of Silence: A Life of Alexander Graham Bell. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 1-85158-833-7.
- Micklos, John Jr. Alexander Graham Bell: Inventor of the Telephone. New York: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 2006. ISBN 978-0-06-057618-9.
- Shulman, Seth. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Bell's Secret. New York: Norton & Company, 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-06206-9.
- Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress, 1862-1939
- Alexander Graham Bell Institute at Cape Breton University
- Antonio Meucci Centre at COPRAS (Italian-Canadian heritage website)
- BobsOldPhones webpage on Antonio Meucci (by Bob Estreich, an Australian telephone researcher and historian –includes sections of analysis on HRes 269)
- Dr. Basilio Catania Website[dead link] (website of a telecommunications researcher and historian with an extensive collection of Meucci documentation, including The Proofs Of Meucci's Priority)