The Story of Alexander Graham Bell

Study Guide 2: Entrepreneurship

The study guide for The Story of Alexander Graham Bell by Shaun O’L. Higgins and Colleen Striegel can be purchased as an instant PDF download for $5.95. After reading the description below, if you wish to purchase this study guide, just click the “Add to Cart” button and follow the simple instructions. Don’t worry – if you change your mind mid-order, simply exit the browser. Once payment is completed you will receive a link that allows you to download the guide to your computer right away. You may save it to your computer’s hard drive and print it out when and if you need to.  

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Guide overview:

The Guide begins with an introductory statement, followed by a plot summary of the movie. The commentary then verifies and, in many cases, corrects historical aspects of the movie. Along the way, breakout boxes deal with key lessons, using examples from the 1980s thru 2000s to supplement and update the Bell experience.

Guide opening:

Alexander Graham Bell, the Scots-born inventor of the telephone, ranks with Thomas Edison as one of the most creative minds of all time. Bell’s life and researches illustrate the synergistic qualities required to connect seemingly unrelated scientific concepts and link them to produce technologies that change the world. Like Edison, with whom he competed for patents on several ideas, Bell had a keen sense of business which served him well not only in getting his ideas launched in the marketplace, but also in protecting them from encroachment. His life, too, illustrates the full range of elation and frustration that face the would-be entrepreneur: poverty, long hours, lucky breaks, unfortunate setbacks, claim jumpers, family turmoil, self-doubt and the doubt of investors.

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell is widely considered to be one of the best biopics in Hollywood history. It captured, as had no prior film, the spirit of entrepreneurship and scientific discovery. Despite the movie’s opening claim to be a fully accurate account of Bell’s invention of the telephone, the film is riddled with major errors of both omission and commission. Time constraints, and the need for dramatic moments and romantic subplots to heighten consumer appeal, required the filmmakers to oversimplify not only Bell’s life, but also the nature and resolution of the lawsuits which attacked Bell’s patents and threatened to take his invention from him.

Excerpt from the plot summary:

March 1876. Sanders has provided money for batteries. Work on the telephone is again underway. A test is in the works. Bell sends Watson into another room to listen, while he speaks into the latest version of his apparatus. After several attempts in which nothing happens, Bell adds two drops of sulfuric acid to a transmitter cup full of water. Bell spills some of the acid on himself and, in anguish, speaks the words which have since become famous: “Mr. Watson, come here! I want you!” The words are heard through the receiver, and Watson rushes into the room to tell Bell the news and assist him with his burns.

At the Lyceum Hall in Salem, Massachusetts, Bell stages a public demonstration of the telephone. Watson is connecting from Boston. Receivers have been posted around the room. Investors and potential investors are present. Watson and Bell converse over the phone, a barbershop quartet sings through the wire and a cornet solo is transmitted. The solo irritates Watson’s landlady, who angrily enters the transmission room in Boston, demanding an end to the demonstration. Watson puts the landlady on the phone, where she complains loudly and much to the amusement of the assembled hearers in Salem. Audience members are skeptical of what they have heard. “In my opinion,” says one potential investor, “the telephone will never be more than a toy . . . I’ll advise all my friends to have nothing to do with it.”

Excerpt from the commentary:

It takes time for many technological innovations to find a marketable application. The telephone was originally conceived by Bell as an entertainment device, one through which concerts could be heard — musicians performing on one end of the line, with the other end hooked to loudspeakers that would enable an audience to hear the amplified performance while gathered in traditional concert halls. The history of invention is filled with examples of similar false starts. Cable television was originally perceived as a way of improving the quality and available quantity of broadcast TV by enabling the reception of more and purer signals than those provided by “rabbit ears” and housetop antennas. Of course, cable eventually claimed its pot of gold not as an incremental improvement in signal reception, but as an entertainment and, increasingly, an advertising medium.

The search for “killer applications” and successful business models also plagued the early development of radio. John Stevens, a professor of communication studies at Concordia University in Montreal, has noted that radio’s early days were dominated by amateurs communicating among themselves. As late as 1926, 50 percent of U.S. radio stations were owned and operated by non-profit organizations; another third were used for publicity purposes only; and fewer than five percent of the stations described themselves as commercial enterprises.

The commentary is supplemented by BREAKOUT BOXES dealing with these topics:

  • A Brief Biography of Alexander Graham Bell
  • Read More About It
  • Key Dates in the Development of the Telephone (The “Real” Chronology)
  • A Customer Service Note

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Movies for Business book now available!

The Study Guide for The Story of Alexander Graham Bell: Finding the “Killer App” is also available in trade paperback book format under the title of MOVIES FOR BUSINESS: Big-Screen Lessons in Corporate Vision, Entrepreneurship, Logistics and Ethics.

Information on how to purchase your copy of the book can be found here.