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Antonio Meucci

Antonio Meucci

Antonio Meucci (1808 - 1889) was an Italian inventor, candle maker and known friend of Italian general Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi.

Meucci is best known for inventing a voice communication apparatus known as the first form of the telephone. He was also responsible for many inventions and discoveries in his lifetime including a process for making paper from wood fibre, oil treatments for paint, candle moulds and a lamp burner, amongst many others.

Meucci was born in Florence, Italy, the oldest of nine siblings. Aged just 13, he attended the Florence Academy of Fine Arts to study mechanical and chemical engineering. Meucci could not afford to study full-time and had to work throughout his studies. His poor finances would become a fixture throughout his life and ultimately, contribute to his legal struggles after the invention of the telephone.

Aged 22, he began to work as a theatre stage designer and technician, then moved to the famous Teatro della Pergola opera house as an assistant mechanic. The opera house would prove to be a huge influence on his life. It was here he developed the first acoustic pipe telephone, which he used for communication between the control room and the stage. It was also at this location he met his wife, Esterre.

In 1835, they both moved to Cuba so Meucci could work as the chief engineer of a theatre. Whilst here he helped to modernise the theatre and developed a filtration system to improve water purity. He also developed an interest in medical inventions, discovering a way to treat migraines with electricity. He also stayed extremely busy with inventions, developing the first prototype of the telephone at this time. As his wife had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, this device was key to him being able to attend to her needs.

In 1850, Meucci and Esterre moved to the borough of Staten Island, New York City, where they would remain for the rest of their lives. They shared a house with Giuseppe Garibaldi (now the Garibaldi Meucci Museum) and formed a loving lifelong friendship. He also built a tallow candle factory, a first for America, where he employed immigrants and shelter to political exiles.

Unfortunately, however, the candle factory would only last for twenty years. In 1871, a fire broke out in the factory, bankrupting his company and placing him in financial ruin. Meucci was dogged with bad luck and financial struggles throughout his life, also being severely burned in a steamboat accident.

After developing over 30 prototypes in the previous twenty years, he was finally satisfied with his electromagnetic voice communication invention. However, he could not afford to patent it.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone and was widely credited with the design. Meucci set out to sue the Scot but unfortunately, he passed away at home before legal proceedings could be heard.

However, in 2002 a landmark hearing ruled that Meucci was in fact the original inventor of the telephone, bringing some posthumous peace at last to the late inventor whose life was scarred by persistent bad luck.

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