HONORING THE LIFE AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF 19TH CENTURY ITALIAN-AMERICAN INVENTOR ANTONIO MEUCCI
(House of Representatives - June 11, 2002)

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[Pages H3308-H3311]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




  HONORING THE LIFE AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF 19TH CENTURY ITALIAN-AMERICAN 
                        INVENTOR ANTONIO MEUCCI

  Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the 
rules and agree to the resolution (H. Res. 269) expressing the sense of 
the House of Representatives to honor the life and achievements of 19th 
century Italian-American Inventor Antonio

[[Page H3309]]

Meucci, and his work in the invention of the telephone.
  The Clerk read as follows:

                              H. Res. 269

       Whereas Antonio Meucci, the great Italian inventor, had a 
     career that was both extraordinary and tragic;
       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;
       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;
       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;
       Whereas Meucci never learned English well enough to 
     navigate the complex American business community;
       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;
       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;
       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;
       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;
       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
       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
       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.

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentlewoman from 
Virginia (Mrs. Jo Ann Davis) and the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. 
Davis) each will control 20 minutes.
  The Chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Virginia (Mrs. Jo Ann 
Davis).


                             General Leave

  Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent 
that all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and 
extend their remarks on House Resolution 269.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentlewoman from Virginia?
  There was no objection.
  Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time 
as I may consume.
  Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the House consider House Resolution 
269, important legislation introduced by my distinguished colleague, 
the gentleman from New York (Mr. Fossella).
  This resolution expresses the sense of the House of Representatives 
in honoring the life and achievements of the 19th century Italian-
American inventor, Antonio Meucci. We have all grown up believing that 
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. However, history must be 
rewritten if justice is to be done to recognize Meucci as the true 
inventor of the telephone.

                              {time}  1445

  Bell was issued a patent for the telephone in 1887. However, 17 years 
earlier, in 1860, it was Meucci who successfully demonstrated his 
electronic communications link in his Staten Island, New York home, an 
invention he later called the teletrofono. Meucci was a poor man who 
never learned English and was unable to navigate the business world. He 
did not have the $10 needed to apply for a patent for his invention and 
was never able to get the financial backing needed to pursue a patent. 
Later, following a tragic accident in which Meucci was severely burned, 
the laboratory where he worked on his invention supposedly lost his 
working models needed to get a patent. Just a few years later, Bell who 
worked in the same laboratory, earned the patent for the telephone.
  The story of Antonio Meucci is not well known. While he has not 
received credit for his invention in our history books, the House of 
Representatives will today honor the genius of the Italian American 
inventor Antonio Meucci.
  Mr. Speaker, I ask all Members to support this resolution.
  Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  Mr. Speaker, Antonio Meucci was born in Florence, Italy in 1808. He 
was fond of chemistry and at the age of 17 conceived an improved 
powerful propeller to be used in fireworks, so powerful that his little 
rockets lost control, caused damage to properties in the vicinity. This 
was the beginning of a life filled with experiments and discoveries.
  Meucci spent the first 27 years of his life in Florence, Italy, 15 
years in Havana, Cuba, and 39 years in Clifton, New York. While in 
Havana, Meucci discovered the latest discoveries in electricity, 
electrochemistry and electrotherapy in his laboratory which was next to 
his apartment. In 1865 Meucci wrote, ``At Havana, by means of some 
little experiments, I came to discover that with an instrument placed 
at the ear and with the aid of electricity and a metallic wire, the 
exact word could be transmitted holding the conductor in the mouth . . 
. ''. Meucci had discovered electrical speech transmission.
  Meucci and his wife, Esther, moved to New York in 1850 where he 
established a very successful candle business. However, in 1854, his 
wife aggravated her rheumatoid arthritis to the point where she could 
seldom leave her bedroom in the third floor of the house.
  Esther's illness stimulated the resuming of Meucci's speaking 
telegraph, as it allowed her to communicate with him and others from 
her bedroom. Meucci established a telephone link from Esther's room to 
the basement as well as to a larger laboratory in the yard. To call 
attention, a mechanical call bell was used, its wires running parallel 
to those of the telephone. Only one instrument was used at each end, 
that was alternately brought to the ear or mouth of the user. Meucci 
received little credit for the invention he later called the 
teletrofono.
  This resolution recognizes his work, the importance of his efforts, 
and I am pleased to not only support it, but I also want to commend the 
gentleman for bringing it to the attention of all of the Members of 
this House and to the American people.
  Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he 
may consume to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Fossella), the chief 
sponsor of this bill.
  Mr. FOSSELLA. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding me 
time. I thank Members on both sides, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. 
Davis), as well as the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pascrell) for 
supporting this resolution.
  Mr. Speaker, it is my strong belief that Italian Americans have 
contributed greatly to the United States and continue to contribute 
proudly as well. We know Columbus discovered America. Two Italians 
signed the Declaration of Independence. Enrico Fermi split the atom, 
and Captain Don Gentile, the fighting ace, was described by General 
Dwight Eisenhower as a ``one-man force.'' He, like so many other 
Italian-Americans, did and were willing to give their life in defense 
of freedom and liberty and supporting these great United States.
  Mr. Speaker, I wanted to spend a few minutes today to honor an 
Italian American and former Staten Island resident who is often 
overlooked, as announced already, and his name was Antonio Meucci.
  The 19th century was a time of great technological innovation, as its 
birth heralded the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. However, 
unlike the century just ended and the new one we are beginning to 
explore, the rough-and-tumble of our young Nation had yet to develop 
information exchange to the extent we enjoy today.

[[Page H3310]]

  The Founding Fathers made America a guarantor of unprecedented and, 
to this day, unmatched liberty. This liberty included again an 
unprecedented appreciation for intellectual property rights. Today with 
our study of historical records and ability to examine many disparate 
sources of information, we now know it is likely the invention of what 
we know today as a telephone took place in the middle of the 19th 
century rather than its end, and its creator is believed to be Antonio 
Meucci. He worked for years to develop a new system of electronic 
communication. However, poor and sick, he was unable to keep the 
patents enforced and died before the courts could decide with finality 
whether he or Alexander Graham Bell was the true inventor of the 
telephone.
  It is known that Meucci demonstrated his device in 1860, that a 
description appeared in New York's Italian language newspaper, and that 
Western Union received working models from Meucci but reportedly lost 
them.
  It is also known that Meucci, due to his limited means, settled for a 
caveat, a one-year renewable notice of an impending patent, first filed 
in 1871, but which he was unable to pursue after 1874, while Alexander 
Graham Bell was not granted a patent until 1876.
  Finally, it is known that the Supreme Court of the United States 
directed the case to proceed to trial but Meucci died a short time 
later, rendering the case moot.
  So with these facts before the House today, I ask for the passage of 
this resolution to honor the life and achievements long overdue of 
Antonio Meucci, a great Italian American and a former great Staten 
Islander.
  Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of 
my time.
  Mr. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may 
consume to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pascrell), one who 
represents the feisty tradition of Italians and of Italian Americans, 
and a great spokesman not only for Italy and Italian Americans, but a 
great spokesman for all of America.
  Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from 
Illinois (Mr. Davis) for yielding me time.
  Mr. Speaker, first I want to commend my good friend, the gentleman 
from New York (Mr. Fossella). How refreshing it is to talk about an 
Italian American out of the Hollywood spotlight and an Italian American 
not recognized. If only we took the time in this society to deal with 
all ethnics, people of all racial persuasions in fairness, and that is 
what this resolution is all about: Fairness, honesty, breaking the 
stereotypes that many of us have learned; in fact, probably, taught 
without our even knowing.
  We recognize today the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci. He 
was a pauper. He had nothing. He came here with nothing. He could not 
even put $10 up for a patent application. And yet his life is one of 
brilliance in science, particularly. He is only a footnote in our 
history books. We all know those great publishers that steer the 
education process of America. He earns, if he is lucky, a footnote. 
Indeed, many local libraries, if you search for his name in a card 
catalog, you may come up empty. Yet, substantial evidence exists that 
he indeed developed the first telephone. It is Alexander Graham Bell 
who is most commonly given credit. After all, it was he, and not 
Meucci, who was awarded one of the most valuable patents in American 
history. But the fact remains that Meucci's scientific discoveries 
concerning human voice transmission as well as his tangible teletrofono 
preceded those of Bell.
  In fact, when you examine, Mr. Speaker, how this all happened in a 
place where Meucci heard an exclamation of a friend who was in another 
room over a piece of copper wire running between them, he realized 
immediately that he had something that was more important than any 
discovery he had ever made. But that realization also came with the 
understanding that to succeed as an inventor, he would need an 
environment that truly fostered his inquisitive mind and his vibrant 
spirit.
  I believe that it is proper to honor the far-reaching contributions 
that Antonio Meucci made to our society, and I am not the only one. The 
Government of the United States and the Supreme Court agree with me. In 
this Supreme Court document, Mr. Speaker, it is very clear in the many 
pages laid out across the record that this is no ordinary young man in 
his struggle. In 1887 the Government moved to annul the patent issued 
to Bell on the grounds of misrepresentation, an indication that the 
Supreme Court found viable and remanded for retrial. This is only one 
of many published documents during the time, the late 1800s that 
outlined the case being made for Meucci, indeed, the case we are making 
today on both sides of the aisle. In 1860 a description of his first 
telephone model was published, as the gentleman from New York (Mr. 
Fossella) pointed out, in an Italian language newspaper in New York 
City, 16 years before Bell's patent.
  Indeed, Meucci's extraordinary career flourished upon immigrating to 
New York in 1850. His poor finances, his limited English, his grasp of 
the language was not very good. It plagued him throughout his life. 
Yet, he worked tirelessly to bring long distance communication to a 
practical stage.
  When his wife fell paralyzed in 1855, Meucci set up a telephone 
system which joined several rooms of his house with his workshop in 
another building. This was the first such installation anywhere; 
anywhere. Unfortunately, Meucci was unable to raise those funds to pay 
his way through the arduous patent application process. Instead, he had 
to settle for a caveat, which is a one-year renewable notice of an 
impending patent. He first filed this on December 28, 1871. Three years 
later his finances were absolutely zero.
  Living with the aid of public assistance and unable to get a 7-A 
loan, which today we have available through small business, Meucci was 
forced to allow the caveat to lapse at the end of that year. Two years 
after the expiration of his caveat, Alexander Graham Bell performed 
experiments in the same laboratory that Meucci worked, and he took out 
a patent for his own voice-transmitting device. The same laboratory.
  It is possible that sometimes several inventors have the same idea at 
roughly the same time. In this case, what has mattered is not who had 
the idea for the telephone first, but who first turned the idea into a 
viable commercial enterprise. Let us not forget that if Antonio Meucci 
could have paid the $10 fee to maintain his caveat, the Bell patent 
could not have been granted. Ten dollars.

                              {time}  1500

  Let us not forget that the Supreme Court of the United States found 
that Meucci's case was viable and warranted a trial at a circuit court. 
It is unfortunate that Meucci died before his case could even be 
continued and before a resolution could be reached as to who truly 
invented the telephone; but most importantly, let us not forget that 
Antonio Meucci's great contributions to science have had a profound 
impact on our modern society.
  Mr. Speaker, many people from many different nations have contributed 
to this greatest of all democracies. Antonio Meucci was one such 
person. He is a reflection of our brothers and sisters from all over 
the world who came to this country with nothing and worked hard to make 
this a better place for mankind. Some heralded, some not even a 
footnote in the library.
  It is fitting that his efforts are recognized here today, and I thank 
the gentleman from New York for allowing me to work with him on this 
important resolution.
  Mr. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  We have no further requests for time, and I would just like to close 
by thanking both the gentleman from New York (Mr. Fossella) and the 
gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pascrell) for this tremendous depiction 
of history that they have given us this afternoon, which reinforces my 
desire to be a strong supporter of this resolution; and it also 
reinforces how great and how much opportunity there is that exists in 
this country. Every time we pass one small measure, in this instance, 
it might have been a microbusiness loan that could have changed the 
history of our understanding of telecommunications.

[[Page H3311]]

  Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
  Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to yield 1 
minute to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Fossella).
  Mr. FOSSELLA. Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to add and commend the two 
gentlemen, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Davis) and especially the 
gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pascrell) for a very strong and 
passionate defense in support of the life of a great American and great 
inventor and merely add to the course, so to speak, that he was 
emblematic and remains so as a representative of all those who have 
come to this country to seek a better life and an opportunity and, in 
particular, to those Americans of Italian descent who have and will 
continue to make this the greatest country in the history of the world 
and in a small way and a long overdue way but in a small measure. I 
would ask my colleagues to support it.
  Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, the story of Antonio 
Meucci is a tragic one, and although he successfully demonstrated his 
electronic communication years before Alexander Graham Bell received a 
patent for the telephone, Meucci has been all but forgotten.
  This resolution attempts to remedy this oversight and give credit to 
one of history's great inventors. Meucci should be remembered with 
other innovators, like Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Marconi, whose 
vision and tenacity changed our lives for the better.
  Mr. Speaker, I urge all Members to support this resolution.
  Mr. ISRAEL. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor a great New Yorker and 
a great inventor, Antonio Meucci. As the first member of the House to 
join with our colleague from New York, Mr. Fosella, on this resolution, 
I am gratified that it is coming before us today.
  House Resolution 269 honors the life and achievements of Antonio 
Meucci, who came to New York in 1950. Born in San Frediano, near 
Florence, Italy in April 1808, he was an inventor through and through. 
He constantly read scientific tracts and conducted experiment after 
experiment. He went to Havana in 1835 to work as a stage technician. It 
is there that he had the first inkling of his greatest invention.
  Meucci developed a type of electro-shock treatment for the ill. While 
preparing to administer one of his treatments, Meucci heard his patient 
say something from the next room over the piece of copper wire running 
between them. This was the event that sparked his breakthrough.
  Meucci spent the next ten years bringing the idea of voices being 
transmitted over wire to a practical stage. With this goal, he left 
Cuba for New York in 1850. There he found many other Italians who had 
left their native land, including the great revolutionary Garibaldi, 
who stayed in Meucci's Staten Island home.
  During his time in New York he had success with his invention. After 
his wife became ill in 1855, he installed a kind of intercom system in 
his house, the first installed anywhere in the world. Five years later, 
he was arranging demonstrations to attract financial backing. 
Unfortunately, nothing came of this, and he spent a considerable time 
in poverty. His poverty forced him to sell rights to his inventions to 
others, and he never filed for a patent on a telephone. After an 
accident left the inventor hospitalized, his wife sold all of his 
inventions, including the telephone prototype, to help pay for his 
treatment. The ``secondhand dealer'' resold the items to an ``unknown 
young man.'' To this day, we do not know the identity of this unknown 
young man.
  Meucci tried to reconstruct his invention, but unable to raise the 
$250 needed for a patent, a considerable sum in 1871, he filed a 
``notice of intent'' on December 28, 1871, which he renewed for two 
years, but not after. He tried to sell his ``Talking Telegraph'' to the 
newly established Western Union Telegraph Company, asking permission to 
demonstrate it over their wires. That test never got set up, and in 
1876, Alexander Graham Bell filed a patent.
  Meucci instructed his lawyer to protest to the U.S. Patent Office, 
but his lawyer failed to do so. A friend did contact the office, only 
to learn that all the documents filed by Meucci had been lost. Later 
investigation produced evidence of illegal relationships linking 
certain employees of the Patent Office and officials of Bell's company.
  Antonio Meucci was a brilliant inventor but a poor businessman. 
Despite his lack of success in business, he most certainly invented the 
telephone. He is honored in my district with a road named for him in 
Copiague. I am proud that we, the entire House of Representatives, 
today will honor this man who has been overlooked by history for too 
long.
  Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I add my voice to the praise 
and honor of Antonio Meucci who, through his work toward the invention 
of the telephone, has brought the world together as few others have. 
Through his ingenuity and perseverance, this Italian-American changed 
the way the world communicates, although as a newcomer to America, he 
was often thwarted by his own inability to communicate with those who 
could have, and should have given him the recognition he deserved.
  Antonio Meucci came to America, pursuing his dream of introducing his 
``Talking Telegraph'' to the world, and hoping to make a living doing 
so. Instead, he struggled against his own meager beginnings--not having 
the money or verbal skills he needed to protect his intellectual 
property. He also struggled against the incompetence and greed of 
others. Tragically, this extraordinary man's decade-long struggle for 
justice ended in poverty and frustration. I am pleased that we are 
finally helping him attain his rightful place in history.
  I strongly support H.R. 269, honoring a man who embodies the travails 
of the American Immigrant experience--Antonio Meucci, the true inventor 
of the telephone.
  Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance 
of my time.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Dan Miller of Florida). The question is 
on the motion offered by the gentlewoman from Virginia (Mrs. Jo Ann 
Davis) that the House suspend the rules and agree to the resolution, H. 
Res. 269.
  The question was taken; and (two-thirds having voted in favor 
thereof) the rules were suspended and the resolution was agreed to.
  A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

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