Antonio Meucci

gigatos | February 19, 2022


Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci (Florence, April 13, 1808 – New York, October 18, 1889) was an Italian inventor, famous for the development of a device for voice communication at a distance, which he called “teletraphone” and that several sources credit as the first telephone.

In addition to the invention of the teletraphone, Meucci proposed several innovations including stearic candles, oils for varnishes and paints, sparkling drinks, pasta and rice seasonings and a technique for obtaining good quality cellulosic pulp.

Life in Florence

Antonio Meucci was born in Florence, in the densely populated district of Borgo San Frediano, care of Cestello, in Via Chiara n. 475 (today Via de” Serragli n.44), at five o”clock in the morning on Wednesday 13th April 1808. On May 16, 1996 was affixed a plaque, by the City of Florence to commemorate the death of Meucci. He was the eldest son of thirty-two-year-old Amadigi di Giuseppe Meucci, and twenty-two-year-old Maria Domenica di Luigi Pepi. His great-grandfather had been the painter Vincenzo Meucci. The next day, the infant, first of 9 children, received baptism at the Baptistery of S. Giovanni.

On November 27, 1822, at the age of thirteen and a half, Antonio Meucci was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts, at the school of Elements of Figure Drawing, where he studied for six years in addition to the basic subjects, chemistry and mechanics (which included all the physics then known, including acoustics and electrology), introduced into the Academy during the French occupation.

At the age of 14 years he found his first employment, thanks to his father Ciro Esposito who, being a custodian of the Good Government, turned to his superiors to grant a place to his son allowing him to meet the numerous expenses of the family. On October 3, 1823 the head of the garrisons in charge of the gates of Florence received the following communication:

On May 12, 1824, after applying for the position of assistant doorman on the advice of his father and waiting about 7 months, Antonio was assigned to the Porta di S. Niccolò.

A year or so after his promotion to assistant doorman, at the beginning of April 1825 Antonio found extra work preparing and launching fireworks at the impresario Girolamo Trentini, to celebrate the imminent birth of the Grand Duchess Maria Carolina of Saxony. Everything went well for the first two evenings, but the third, on April 4, 1825, there was an accident that injured 8 people. The results of the investigation sent Antonio Meucci, Giuseppe Franci and Vincenzo Andreini to the Ruota Criminale, which gave them the benefit of the doubt. But on June 4 of that year Antonio was imprisoned following the accidental fall in a ditch of his colleague Luigi Ficini, who fractured his leg. It was established that Meucci had been negligent and had forgotten to nail the door in front of the ditch. The incident with the fires did not help the outcome of the sentence, which was eight days, the first three of which were on bread and water. Thanks to his father who wrote a letter of plea to the Good Government, Antonio was released from prison three days earlier than expected.

At the beginning of 1826 he was transferred to the Porta di S. Gallo, closer to home, but on May 2, 1829 he was imprisoned again, for having fallen in love with the daughter of the tractor who openly corresponded, but had rejected more than once other young men, including Gaetano del Nibbio, also a doorman at the Porta di S. Gallo. Since a certain Teresa Paoletti was jealous of this relationship, del Nibbio took advantage of it to rage against Antonio, provoking him with ferocious insults and making him leave the service. Nibbio was able to accuse him of abandoning his job, revealing the love affair. Meucci was therefore imprisoned from May 2, 1829 to June 1, 1829 and suspended from pay with condemnation of expenses and with the impossibility of dealing with the women involved.

He was then imprisoned 2 more times, the first for talking to one of the women for whom he had been imprisoned, and the second for being late for work. On July 13, 1830 he resigned, but later tried to be rehired as an assistant doorman by writing a plea to the Good Government. Antonio joined the Carboneria and took part in the revolts from 1831 to 1833, the year in which he spent three months in jail together with Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi.

According to Carlo Lucarelli: “He was 23 years old when, inflamed by the insurrectional movements of ”31 that were shaking Italy, he tore up the photos of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold II under the eyes of the police”.

Having resigned, Meucci found work for a few evenings at various theaters including the Teatro della Quarconia, the Alfieri and the Goldoni. Since he had already worked occasionally as a boy at the Teatro della Pergola as a props helper, he tried here as well and the custodian advised him to return towards the end of October 1833 to meet the impresario Alessandro Lanari and told him that the first stagehand, Artemio Canovetti, was looking for someone who had attended the academy and had an understanding of mechanics. In fact, the Teatro della Pergola was a prodigy of theatrical technique; furthermore, behind this theater there was a group of Carbonari who kept in touch with Genoa to support the actions of Giuseppe Mazzini.

In July 1834, Meucci had become not only the assistant props maker, but also Lanari”s trustworthy man, as proven by 4 letters exchanged between the two, preserved in the National Library of Florence. The work at the Teatro della Pergola was for Antonio an experience of the highest professionalism. In this theater he did a little bit of everything, from mechanics to chemistry, from optics to electricity and in general all physics, as well as figurative arts.

It was in the theater that Antonio put to use the technical training received in the Academy. In a small closet assigned to him, he set up his first laboratory; here he built an acoustic telephone to communicate through a mouthpiece from the stage floor to the maneuvering grid, located about 18 meters high, thanks to an acoustic tube that ran embedded in the wall.

This innovation Meucci brought to the theater was appreciated by the entire staff and particularly the ceiling crew, not so much for the need to transmit orders silently, but more to allow them to work safely and easily.

It was here that he met Maria Matilde Ester Mochi, with whom he married on August 7, 1834 in the church of S. Maria Novella. The two asked to be dispensed from the publications of their marriage, avoiding in this way to reveal the domicile of Antonio, given his problems with the law.

At that time, Italian opera was perhaps at the height of its celebrity throughout the world and many foreign impresarios were coming to Italy to cast Italian companies. Don Francisco Marty yTorrens, a theatrical impresario from Havana, thought that he could put together a troupe in Italy, have them debut and perform for a couple of seasons at the Teatro Principal, the most important theater in Havana, and use them, later, to give prestige to the new Gran Teatro de Tacón, when its construction was completed.

He hired 81 people, for a wide variety of roles and at every level, with a 5-year contract, including Antonio Meucci and his wife Ester. Ester would have been hired as the director of the theater”s tailoring department and Antonio would have assumed the functions of engineer, stagehand and designer. In addition, they would be able to stay, once the construction was completed, in one of the apartments that were planned in the annexes of the new theater. The offer was willingly accepted by the Meucci couple, who were induced to leave Florence also because of the problems they had with the justice system and which, among other things, did not allow them to obtain a passport, thus forcing them to leave the Grand Duchy more or less clandestinely.

Don Francisco rented a Sardinian brig called Coccodrillo at the port of Livorno which was approved for the transport of goods, but could easily be adapted to the transport of passengers. For that ship, the captain was not required to deposit the list of passengers with the captain”s office since, formally, he was not supposed to have any. Thus gave news of the departure from Livorno of the crew of Don Francisco the Journal of Commerce of the Port-Franco of Livorno of October 7, 1835:

As you can see, no mention of the 81 passengers; on the contrary, this is how the newspaper El Noticioso y Lucero of Havana reported the arrival, on December 17, 1835:


The fifteen years in Havana were for Mr. and Mrs. Meucci the happiest and most profitable of their lives. The contract was for 5 years renewable and included, in addition to salary, accommodation and free service personnel. Here Antonio had the opportunity to speak with Don Manuel Pastor, chief technical and mechanical engineer and inspector of the island”s fortifications.

Given his lack of knowledge in the field of chemistry, Pastor consulted Meucci on the problem of water in relation to the problems that were occurring in the brand new Fernando VII aqueduct, built under his direction. Antonio”s intervention aimed to solve the problems related to the hardness of the water and the presence of various pollutants that the mechanical filters were not able to retain. The problem was solved with constant chemical analysis and subsequent calibrated additions of appropriate substances such as soda.

This intervention led him to be so successful that, in 1885, Domenico Mariani at the Bell process

In the spring of 1838, having completed the premises of the dependency of the Gran Teatro, Antonio and his wife moved there. Here Meucci had at his disposal a large laboratory-workshop for the tools and machinery of the theater and Ester had at her disposal a large workshop for theatrical tailoring. Antonio was fascinated by chemistry and one of the first techniques he tried was the preservation of dead bodies. In fact, with the development of navigation across the ocean, the preservation of the bodies of the dead assumed a considerable commercial importance, especially for the need to bring back home, in good condition, the bodies of people who had died in the new world. It was therefore a good business that, given the investment made in the purchase of expensive materials and equipment, did not go well.

At the beginning of 1842 Antonio became interested in reading some books dealing with electroplating, that is the electrochemical coating, by means of special batteries, with gold or silver of objects made of less valuable metals such as iron, brass or copper. In October 1843, a new governor, Leopold O”Donnell, was sent from Spain. In order to save time and money on supplies for the Spanish army, he stipulated a contract with Meucci for about 4 years, to galvanize everything that was requested, including some private objects. Antonio Meucci was the first to introduce electroplating to America.

Meucci”s popularity in Havana increased so much that, on December 16, 1844, an evening of honor was dedicated to him at the Gran Teatro de Tacón, which, after a violent hurricane and a brief reopening, was restructured thanks to the general direction of the works entrusted to Antonio Meucci. He introduced a new set of curtains and a new ventilation system that he designed, and also installed a new machine imported from the United States with which the stage could be raised and lowered in a few minutes. It is also said that Antonio has been close to the insurgents, helping with money the revolution of 48 ”.

It was during the course of electrotherapy experiments that Antonio Meucci discovered, in 1849, the transmission of voice by electrical means, thus becoming, by far, the first pioneer of the electric telephone in history. Antonio immediately gave his system the name of “talking telegraph”, later renamed teletypephone.

Since the Tacón theater had been inactive since February 1, 1848, and the contract with O”Donnell had expired, Antonio did not have much to do except galvanize objects for private individuals. It happened that some of his medical friends, discussing with him the electrical therapeutic systems of Mesmer, on which Meucci had been documenting, asked him to do a test on some patients, mostly suffering from rheumatism.

During the Bell process

Meucci also stated, again during the Bell trial

The expression I put the same instrument to my ear should not be understood, at least for that first time, to mean that Meucci deliberately put his instrument to his ear, but that he heard the cry coming from the instrument accidentally close to his ear, since the instrument was held in his left hand in such a way that he could move the clamp between the various batteries thus allowing the voltage regulation necessary for therapeutic purposes. Therefore, if Meucci had not followed Mesmer”s and Bertholon”s absurd prescription to place himself in electrical communication with the patient (most likely to regulate the voltage to the most appropriate voltage), he would not have discovered his talking telegraph.

New York

In 1850, the third renewal of Meucci”s contract with Don Francisco expired, as did the government concession for the exclusive management of theatrical performances in Havana. Many of Meucci”s friends advised him, especially after hearing the story of his experiments, to move to New York, because at that time there was no better terrain to exploit his ingenuity. In addition, there was a real possibility that the governor had come to know about the money sent to Garibaldi, which was not very worrisome given Antonio”s good reputation, but not to be underestimated.

On March 23rd, 1850, all the members of the Italian Opera, together with the whole family of the impresario who had decided to dedicate himself to organizing shows in the United States, given the growing interest in opera among Americans, left for Charleston. Antonio did not leave with them, most likely because of the death of his daughter, which occurred close to the planned departure. This news would result from a single source considered reliable, the “The Sun”, which reported in the obituary of Antonio Meucci published on October 19, 1889: “In 1850 Meucci come to New York from Cuba, where his only child, a girl of 6, had just died”. The fact that no children were born by the couple in the 10 years before, could be explained by the serious form of syphilis contracted by Antonio at the age of 21 years, which could have induced a certain degree of sterility.

On Sunday, April 7, 1850, the Diario de la Marina gave the news of the imminent departure of the Meucci couple. The departure of the Norma, an American ship, was initially scheduled for April 16, but instead left on Tuesday, April 23, 1850.

The move away from Havana also benefited his wife Ester, given the significant presence of moisture that was detrimental to her health.

On May 1, 1850 Mr. and Mrs. Meucci landed in New York, settling almost immediately in Clifton, a small neighborhood on Staten Island, where they remained until their death. Here in the same year Meucci visited with Giuseppe Garibaldi the Masonic Lodge “Tompkins”. Antonio bought a cottage (now transformed into the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum) and opened a factory of stearic candles, according to a project of his own conception. Garibaldi, who also came to New York, was hosted by Meucci between 1850 and 1853, as we can see from his Memoirs in which he writes:

The factory, although it was the first of its kind in the Americas, was not very successful and Antonio later turned it into a lager brewery, very popular in the area. Even this last attempt was not successful, because of a certain J. Mason, to whom Meucci had entrusted the administrative and commercial direction.

On November 13, 1861, Mr. and Mrs. Meucci”s cottage, with all its contents, was sold at auction, but fortunately the buyer allowed them to live there without paying any rent. From that moment on, their economic situation continued to deteriorate further.

In 1854 his wife Ester was bedridden by a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis, which left her permanently disabled, until her death on December 21, 1884. In order to communicate with his wife on the second floor of their cottage, Antonio put his 1849 Havana discovery to good use and made a permanent telephone connection between the bedroom and the cellar, then from there to his outside laboratory.

Later, from 1851 to 1871, Meucci tried on the connection more than thirty telephones of different types of his own conception. He succeeded in obtaining a first satisfactory result between 1858 and 1860, using a permanent magnetic core, a coil and a diaphragm, but it was only between 1864 and 1865 that he succeeded in making a practically perfect one.

This phone had all the requirements of a modern one; in fact had been solved the problem of the diaphragm in leather, replaced with one made entirely of metal that could be blocked along the entire circumference thanks to a shaving box whose cover was drilled to obtain an acoustic cone, and also solved the problems concerning the long-distance communication, that Bell laboratories would have identified many years later. In the same year, was given by the press the news of the invention of a telephone by Innocenzo Manzetti from Valle d”Aosta. Antonio in this occasion claimed his priority, with a letter sent to the Director of Commerce of Genoa on October 13, 1865 and which was published on December 1. Moreover, on July 30, 1871, to the already difficult economic situation, a further disaster was added due to the explosion of the Westfield ferry, which connected New York to Staten Island, and which made Meucci ill for many months. Nevertheless, still convalescent, he committed himself with all his strength to make his invention operative.

On December 12, 1871, Meucci founded with three Italians the Telettrofono Company, whose primary objective was to carry out all necessary experiments for the realization of the teletraphone. The contract also provided for the extension of the company”s activities to every state in Europe and the world, in which the Telettrofono Company proposed to obtain patents, form subsidiaries and grant licenses. However, the company dissolved within a year and, failed the previous attempt in 1860 to propose the sponsorship of the invention to some Italian entrepreneur, on December 28, 1871 Antonio Meucci filed at the U.S. Patent Office, in Washington, the caveat No. 3335 entitled Sound Telegraph in which he described his invention, waiting to find the $ 250 to file a regular patent.

In the summer of 1872, Antonio Meucci approached the Vice President Mr. Edward B. Grant of the American District Telegraph Co. in New York, of which Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray were consultants, for permission to test his telephone in the telegraph lines of that company. Since Grant, after promising his help, was prevaricating under various pretexts, after two years Meucci requested the return of the descriptions and drawings delivered, but was told that they had been lost. In December 1874, Antonio was no longer able to find someone who would lend him the $10 needed to pay the annual fee for maintaining his caveat and therefore, it lapsed on December 28, 1874, according to the US patent law of the time. However, some critics have questioned this aspect of the story, as Meucci was able to patent other inventions (unrelated to the telephone) at a cost of $35 each in the years 1872, 1873, 1875 and 1876.

Mason, awarded the 33rd degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, on August 8, 1888 he presided in New York, by proxy of the Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy Adriano Lemmi, the initiation on sight of an Italian diplomat.

Friday, October 18, 1889 at 9:40 am, Antonio Meucci died in his home in Clifton, Staten Island, shortly before the Globe Telephone Company presented its verdict, still confident in the full recognition of his invention. His ashes are at the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum in New York, along with the grave of his wife Ester.

In addition to the “electric voice transfer”, Meucci invented and patented many other instruments based on chemical and mechanical processes. He was the holder and depositary of no less than 22 patents, including:

After Johann Philipp Reis (1860), Meucci”s failure to renew the $10 caveat due to his financial difficulties allowed Bell in March 1876 to file a patent application for the electric telephone he developed.

As soon as he learned that Bell had obtained a patent for the telephone, Antonio Meucci claimed priority in every forum and on every occasion. This priority was based on the fact that his invention was in the public domain in the New York area and therefore, according to the law in force, the Bell patent did not constitute a “new and useful art… not first known or used in this country…”.

As Antonio Meucci was a respected member of the Italian immigrant community in New York and a person well liked by all, many asked the US government to cancel the two Bell patents on the telephone. On September 29, 1885, Globe Telephone Co. of New York acquired Antonio Meucci”s rights and petitioned the Attorney General of the United States claiming Antonio Meucci”s priority in the invention of the telephone. The American press gave a lot of prominence to Globe Telephone Company”s action, openly supporting Antonio Meucci.

The Bell Telephone Company, which held the patents, played it by ear, and on November 10, 1885, sued Globe and Meucci in New York District Court for patent infringement. The U.S. Government initiated a series of public hearings in the Department of the Interior, headed by Lucius Q. C. Lamar, to ascertain the merits of the various petitions.

On December 22, 1885, the assistants to H. L. Muldrow and G. A. Jenks, prepared a conclusive report in which they stated that they had gathered sufficient evidence in favor of Antonio Meucci. In 1886, in the first of three trials in which he was involved, Meucci went on the stand as a witness in hopes of establishing his priority in the invention of the telephone. The evidence presented by Meucci on this occasion was challenged due to the lack of material evidence, as it was allegedly lost at the American District Telegraph (ADT) laboratory in New York. The ADT merged with Western Union to become a subsidiary only in 1901.

On January 13, 1887, the U.S. Government sued the Bell Company in the state of Massachusetts, where it was headquartered. While this lawsuit was in progress, the Bell Company obtained from the District Court of New York a local victory over Globe Telephone and Meucci, thanks to a ruling by Judge William J. Wallace, issued on July 19, 1887, according to which Meucci would have made “mechanical” telephones and not electric ones. This ruling was defined by Italian-American historian Giovanni Schiavo as one of the most glaring judicial errors in the annals of American justice.

The Globe appealed and, subsequently, the case was sent back to the Supreme Court in Washington DC. There, on November 12, 1888, the Honorable William H. H. Miller reversed the judgment of the District Court of Massachusetts and definitively reaffirmed the lawfulness of the action of the United States Government. Confident in a favorable outcome to the Government”s action against the Bell Company, the Globe Telephone Co. abandoned its appeal from the first degree judgment of the District Court of New York.

The “United States vs. Bell” trial was postponed several times until 1897, when, in order to avoid the U.S. government from further increasing the already enormous costs borne up to that moment, but also because of the death of Antonio Meucci, it was closed.

The device described in Meucci”s original patent application described a mechanical (not electric) telephone capable of transmitting acoustic vibrations mechanically through a taut cable, a conclusion reached by several scientific publications (“The court further held that Meucci”s caveat did not describe any element of a talking electric telephone…” and “The court held that Meucci”s device consisted of a mechanical telephone consisting of a mouthpiece and an earpiece connected by a cable, and that beyond that Meucci”s invention was pure imagination”).

Christopher Beauchamp, wondering who invented the telephone, notes that the granting of patent rights “far from being a mere matter of scientific curiosity became the key to controlling the entire telephone industry, but that in fact this is a matter of broader historical interest.”

Subsequently, an investigation by the Italian-American historian Giovanni Schiavo argued the groundlessness and irregularities of the process. The judge of the Supreme Court D.R. Massaro invited the engineer Basilio Catania (telecommunications expert and former general director of the research center CSELT) to present in a public conference at the University of New York the evidence he had found.

On June 11, 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for recognition of his “life and achievements” as well as his contribution in the invention of the telephone.> The interpretation of the resolution is controversial, because he is not credited as the actual inventor of the telephone, but as having made a contribution. A similar resolution was proposed in the U.S. Senate, but not voted on. The Canadian House of Commons, ten days after the U.S. resolution, voted unanimously a parliamentary motion recognizing Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the electric telephone.

Text of the Resolution of the House of Representatives

(Seven autograph letters from Meucci to Prof. Carlo Paladini are preserved at the State Archives of Lucca, where the writer found them by chance)


  1. Antonio Meucci
  2. Antonio Meucci
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