Some promising flying machines, a love letter, and how a great inventor spent New Years Eve

“Some very promising flying machine experiments made tonight just
before the close of the New Year. New boiler gave 192 rotations per
minute. As machine was 30 inches between wings — the nozzle travelled
three times this distance — or 90 inches at each rotation. And as 192
rotations around each minute — the nozzle moved at the rate of 192
times 90 inches per minute. That is a velocity of 1440 feet per minute
— or 24 feet per second. This is promising.” ~Alexander Graham Bell, December 31, 1891

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New Years Eve is hyped as the night to go all out and PARTY. But some of us prefer to celebrate in quietude and reflection.

And we’re in good company: On December 31, 1891, inventor Alexander Graham Bell spent the night doing what he loved most–quietly working away on ideas for a “flying machine” at his beloved estate on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Over the next ten years, his work in aeronautics took flight in the form of “man-lifting” kites, the Silver Dart (the first powered, heavier-than-air flight in Canada) and the invention of the hydrofoil.

Source: Parks Canada
The Bell Estate in Baddeck, Nova Scotia (Source: Parks Canada)

Bell often worked late into the night, writing and sketching in his journal:

Source: Library of Congress
Source: Library of Congress

Bell preferred to work is solitude, without interruption, and so did not have a telephone in his office (I wonder what he would have thought of the computer?). His wife Mabel wrote:

“Of course, he never had one in his study. That was where he went when he wanted to be alone with his thoughts and his work. The telephone, of course, means intrusion by the outside world…Mr. Bell did like to say in fun, “Why did I ever invent the Telephone,” but no one had a higher appreciation of its indispensableness or used it more freely when need was…”

An avid writer, Bell wrote this letter to Mabel (who was in Italy) on New Years Eve:

Beinn Bhreagh, C. B.,
Thurs., Dec 31st, 1891.

Mrs. A. G. Bell,
% Macquay & Hooker & Co.,
Florence, Italy.

My darling Mabel:

It is now three o’clock a. m. of January 1st, 1892 — I am tired out
— but I cannot let New Year’s eve pass entirely away without writing
at least a few lines to wish you and Elsie and Daisy — a Happy New
Year and many of them.

I send you a violet plucked at Beinn Bhreagh today — to show you this
is not a very dreadful climate after all.

Some very promising flying machine experiments made tonight just
before the close of the New Year. New boiler gave 192 rotations per
minute. As machine was 30 inches between wings — the nozzle travelled
three times this distance — or 90 inches at each rotation. And as 192
rotations around each minute — the nozzle moved at the rate of 192
times 90 inches per minute. That is a velocity of 1440 feet per minute
— or 24 feet per second. This is promising.

Spent evening with Ladies Club — Grand meeting. Then Laboratory till
12 o’clock. Mr. McCurdy and Mr. McInnis have finished up accounts for
year — and both of them stayed up — giving me the items till
half-past two. I had to send them away — but I am tired out and must
defer all journal details until tomorrow.

A Happy New Year to you all not forgetting Charles.

Your loving husband,
Alec.

A rather romantic gesture to write your beloved (violet included) when apart on New Years Eve, don’t you think?

Dog-Violet-Common-2

Here is the original hand-written letter:

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Picking flowers, thinking, dreaming, inventing, writing…not a bad way to spend New Years Eve. How are you planning to spend yours?

Sources:

The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress, 1862-1939

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

5 comments

    • I think from his heart and his mind…he was known to be very curious, hard working, kind, compassionate, and driven to do good for people. And I believe he found much inspiration in nature, and his wife & partner Mabel.

  1. What a fascinating post. Thanks for sharing this with us. I hadn’t any idea he worked in such a way, and it’s interesting to see a different way of spending NYE. We will be having a quiet one here – I have flu unfortunately. Here’s wishing you all the best for 2013!

  2. A beautiful post!
    I went to a party, it was nice, but I must admit I’m glad its a year to next NYE. Hope to spend most of my 2013 nights in peaceful quietude.
    Wish you all the best for the year to come!

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