Patent no. 8371. Filing year 1878.
"Improvements on Telephones," Cyrille Duquet.
Alexander Graham Bell may have invented the telephone, but it took another Canadian to make it recognizable to modern users. Cyrille Duquet's telephone handset, pictured here, has stood the test of time as a brilliant piece of industrial design.
Bell's first models of the telephone weren't much to look at, and the first commercial versions were scarcely better. In both cases, the transmitters and receivers were fixed in place and required the user to constantly change position. The first commercial Bell phone, in 1877, was a box with one opening that served as both transmitter and receiver: callers had to speak into the opening and then put their ears to it to hear the reply. Bell's subsequent design was better, a wall-mounted phone with separate handheld transmitter and receiver, but it still required two hands to use.
Meanwhile, inventors throughout the Western world were working overtime to add their own twist to Bell's concept. The Canadian patent office registered dozens of variations on "Improvements to the Telephone," including designs by Henry Pole of Nova Scotia (no. 9055), Abner Rosebrugh of Toronto (no. 9068, no. 9069 and no. 46713), James Wright of Montreal (no. 19958 and no. 19959), and Thomas Ahearn of Ottawa (no. 9936), the last a prolific inventor better known for the streetcar heater and the electric oven. Among the deluge of patents was one filed in 1878 by Cyrille Duquet of Québec.
Duquet, a jeweller and clockmaker, had already proven himself to be a capable amateur inventor. In 1870 he had patented a device that registered the exact time at which watchmen reached various points in their rounds while checking a fire alarm telegraph. Duquet closely followed the development of the telephone and even reportedly corresponded with Bell. His 1878 patent was not for the handset itself, but for a new transmitter based on a cluster of permanent magnets that improved signal clarity, and a new mouthpiece design. Once these sections were patented, Duquet worked on a system for combining a transmitter and receiver in one unit, which he eventually arranged on a short board with a receiver at one end and a mouthpiece on the other. The first telephone installed in Montréal was one of these designs, and Duquet began to install phones and phone lines in the area.
Duquet's activites soon came to the attention of the Canadian Telephone Company, holder of Canadian patents to Bell's invention and not shy about enforcing its intellectual property rights. The company sued Duquet for patent infringement in 1881, and won the following year. However, the company immediately reduced its claim for damages from $5000 to $10 -- as it turns out, the company was interested in Duquet's improvements.
A few days after the judgment, Duquet sold all his patents and equipment to the Canadian Telephone Company for $2,100 and got out of the telephone business. He soon made a new name for himself in a completely different field -- politics. Over the next three decades, Duquet would serve off and on as an alderman in Québec. In the late 1880s he also oversaw the city's conversion from gas to electricity for its street lighting. But he remains best known for his practical improvements to the telephone.
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Grosvenor, Edwin S., and Morgan Wesson. Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.
Nostbakken, Janis, and Jack Humphrey. The Canadian Inventions Book: Innovations, Discoveries and Firsts. Toronto: Greey de Pencier Books, 1976.
Vaugeois, Denis. "Duquet, Cyrille." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
(accessed October 17, 2005).