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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Italy celebrates its 'telephone inventor'

By David Willey
BBC Rome correspondent

A postage stamp has been released in Italy to commemorate the Italian who is now officially credited with the invention of the telephone, Antonio Meucci.

Few Italians who pick up their telephone today would be able to tell you the name of its inventor.

A new stamp mark's Meucci's achievement
Antonio Meucci - not Bell - invented the telephone
Antonio Meucci was an Italian emigrant who left his native Florence in 1835 for the New World, never to return to Europe.

After working in Cuba for some years he arrived in New York in 1850 and became a friend there of Giuseppe Garibaldi, later the unifier of Italy.

Meucci lived on Staten Island until his death in poverty at the age of 81.

A prolific inventor but a failure as a businessman, Meucci invented a device he called the telectrophone for communicating with his bedridden wife from his workshop.

He patented his invention in 1871 but failed to find a commercial backer.

Five years later a Scots-born American, Alexander Graham Bell, successfully patented the instrument we now know as the telephone.

Nicholas Negroponte, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, flew over to attend the Rome celebrations.

'Bell died a pauper'

He recalled that Meucci wasn't alone in his failure to make money out of his invention.

"None of the Bell family made money - there are no rich Bells, historically," he said.

"He may have patented it but he certainly didn't get wealthy. It's not like some of the other inventions that netted a great deal of fortune for the heirs."

Italy issued a postage stamp to mark the official recognition of Meucci as the inventor of the telephone and President Ciampi honoured him at a ceremony at the telecommunication ministry, commenting that both the telephone and radio were invented by Italians.




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