Today in 1880, Alexander Graham Bell showed off a new way to make calls.

Four years after being granted a patent for the telephone, Bell was promoting the photophone.

The name comes from the Greek words for light and sound, which pretty well describes how it works.

Bell’s original recipe telephone could transmit sound by wire.

You’d talk into a phone, and that phone would convert the sound into an electric current and send it on down the line until another phone could convert the current back into sound, and the person at the other end could hear it, unless they were distracted by a temperance rally or something.

The photophone, on the other hand, didn’t need any wire at all.

It sent sound toward a mirror that vibrated along with the sound.

Bell shone a highly focused light beam off that same mirror, and the reflection could be picked up by another similar device and turned back into sound.

Bell was thrilled by his early successes making photophone calls.

He said it was by far his most important invention, way more important than the telephone.

He wrote poetic letters to his dad, telling him how wonderful it was that he was the “grandfather of the photophone.”

When his second child was born, he tried to name her Photophone Bell (!)

But his wife reportedly talked him out of it, and thank goodness, because the photophone never really took off.

Bell could prove that the technology worked, but only for a few hundred yards, not over long distances.

And that’s if it wasn’t hindered further by weather or other external forces.

Eventually another wireless technology, radio, came along, and it did everything the photophone was supposed to do and more.

But other scientists never fully gave up on the idea of using light to transmit sound.

That’s more or less how fiber-optics work today.

And of course most of us make our calls on wireless smartphones rather than traditional landlines.

If only Bell had come along a little later, he would have had so many great tech-related names for his kids!

Happy World Bicycle Day.

A company in Japan, Souki Socks, set up a special deal for customers back in 2022.

For 2200 yen, you could order a special set of socks that would be knitted by a bicycle-powered knitting machine.

Customers got to choose the color and an employee would ride until the socks were ready.

Photophone: How Alexander Graham Bell Transmitted Sound by Sunlight (Amusing Planet)

Japanese Factory Lets You Knit Your Own Socks by Riding a Bicycle (Oddity Central)

We’re calling on you to back our show today on Patreon

Illustration published by Barcelona Montaner y Simón, 1882, via Wikicommons