I have discovered that my interest in my dear pupil, Mabel, has ripened into a far deeper feeling than that of mere friendship. In fact, I know that I have learned to love her very sincerely.Alexander Graham Bell
Mabel Gardiner Hubbard is not a name any of you will ever recognize. However, Mabel was one of the greatest influences in technology in the history of the world.
She was born in 1857 in Boston. Her father was a highly respect Boston lawyer. So, her life was good. She was rather average until she turned five years old and contracted scarlet fever. She suffered a near-fatal bout of scarlet fever close to her fifth birthday in 1862 while visiting her maternal grandparents in New York City, and was thereafter left permanently and completely deaf. The disease also destroyed her inner ear’s vestibular sensors, additionally leaving her with a greatly impaired sense of balance, to the extent that it was very difficult for her to walk at night in the dark.
Because of Mabel’s hearing disability, her father was influential in starting the first oral school for the deaf in the United States. Mabel was highly educated in both the United States and in Europe. She learned to talk and lip-read with great skill in multiple languages.
She passed away at 65 years old in 1923, and is buried next to her husband in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in Canada. They had a lifelong summer home there.
However, none of this explains her tremendous influence in the world of technology, but it all played a significant role.
It was her profound impact on her Scottish born husband that created Mabel’s true legacy. He was the inventor, scientist, and engineer, Alexander Graham Bell. They married when she was just 19 and Bell was 29.
They met at Bell’s new school for the deaf. Bell’s Mother was also deaf, so he dedicated his life to research, always searching for cures to deafness and hearing loss.
Bell rose to world fame and seeded his greatest fortunes, all because of Hubbard’s influence. It was in 1876 during the US Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia that Bell’s world class genius status caught on. It was at this exposition that he won the Gold Medal for Electrical Equipment and a second Gold Medal for Visible Speech. These two successes immediately thrust Bell onto the world stage.
Bell was not going to attend the exposition as he was too busy at his school. But, Mabel understood her husband’s reluctance to attend the event and to show off his inventions. She secretly bought his train ticket to Philadelphia, packed his bag, and then took the unknowing Bell to Boston’s train station where she told her shocked fiancé that he was going on a trip. When Bell started to argue, Hubbard turned her sight away from him, thus becoming literally deaf to his protests.
The Bell Telephone Company was incorporated in 1877 by Mabel’s father. Her father owned 1,387 of the 5,000 issued shares and the title of ‘trustee’. Hubbard’s husband Alexander Bell owned 1,497 shares. Bell immediately transferred all but 10 of his shares as a wedding gift to his new bride. A short time later, just prior to leaving for an extended honeymoon of Europe, Hubbard signed a power of attorney giving control of her shares to her father. This made Gardiner Hubbard the de facto president and chairman of the Bell Telephone Company, which later evolved into American Telephone & Telegraph (aka AT&T) at times the world’s largest telephone company. Mabel inherited her father’s assets when he passed away making her wealthy. She was a savvy businesswoman and philanthropist supporting a variety of worthy causes.
If that was not enough, Mabel remained in the background on Wednesday nights when Bell held weekly meetings with his noted peers to discuss ideas, inventions, and scientific discoveries. Mabel was a great supporter of aviation and provided the funding for the development of the Canadian aviation first aircraft, the Silver Dart, one of the earliest known airplanes following the Wright Brothers. She sold some of her real estate holdings to fund the Aerial Experimental Association created by Bell and four of his colleagues. Based on their scientific experiments, the aircraft they designed and built incorporated several technical innovations not previously invented for flight, including lateral control by means of ailerons. Partly because of her founding of the AEA, but also for founding social and educational institutions, she was named a National Historic Person in 2018.
The AEA came into being when John Alexander Douglas McCurdy and his friend Frederick W. Baldwin, two recent engineering graduates of the University of Toronto, decided to spend the summer in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. McCurdy had grown up there, and his father was the personal secretary of Dr. Bell. He had grown up close to the Bell family and was well received in their home. One day, as the three sat with Dr. Bell discussing the problems of aviation, Mabel suggested they create a formal research group to exploit their collective ideas. Being independently wealthy, she provided a total of US$35,000 (equivalent to $1,010,000 in 2020) to finance the Association, with $20,000 made available immediately by the sale of property.
Glenn Curtiss, the American motorcycle designer and manufacturer and a recognized expert on gasoline engines, was recruited as a member of the association, and his associate Augustus Post assisted as representative from the Aero Club of America. Curtiss had visited the Wright Brothers to discuss aeronautical engineering and offered them use of a 50 hp engine. Wilbur cordially declined, saying that a motor of their own development met their power needs, unaware that the AEA was about to become a serious competitor in powered flight.
Bell wrote to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to have an interested young officer who had volunteered his help, US Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, officially detailed to Baddeck. Selfridge was assigned to the Aeronautical Division, US Signal Corps on 3 August 1907, two days after its formation, and was sent to Nova Scotia. A year later, on 17 September 1908, while riding as a passenger with Orville Wright on a demonstration flight for the U.S. Army, he became the first person killed in an aircraft accident.
Her role and direct involvement as a smart businesswoman would have been enough to make Mabel notable in the history of technology. But, please allow me to share another story of her influence. One that is even more profound.
Alexander Graham Bell needed a means to measure the level of audio signals in order to calibrate these signals and to make repeatable experiments for the deaf, specifically for his own mother and his wife, Mabel. He needed to classify sound pressures and to understand what could be heard, what could not be heard, and what sounds might harm human hearing.
He invented the decibel scale. The word is a contraction of ‘deci’, meaning ten, and ‘Bel’, derived from Bell’s own last name. It is a logarithmic scale. The unit decibel is used because a one-decibel difference in loudness between two sounds is the smallest difference detectable by human hearing.
While there are mathematical equations and scales to compute decibels, it is a very basic scale that you can easily calculate in your head. Let us use money as an example.
If you have $1.00 and you double it, you have $2.00. If you double the $2.00, then you have $4.00, and if you double it again, then you have $8.00. The same is true of sound levels. If you increase a signal by 3 decibels (dB), then you double it. A signal of 100 watts of power increased by 3 dB becomes 200 watts, if you increase it again by 3 dB, it is 400 watts, and if doubled again, it is 800 watts.
Now, if you have $1.00 and you reduce it by half you have $0.50, cut it in half again, and you have $0.25 and again, you have $0.125. The same is true for amplified power. If you have an output of 100 watts and reduce it by 3 dB, it is 50 watts, reduce it by another 3 dB and it is 25 watts, and finally another reduction of 3 dB leaves you with 12.5 watts.
For smaller changes of 1 dB, you can subtract 20% or add 20%. If $1.00 is just $0.80 when reduced by 20% and it is $1.25, if increased by 20%.
Now, some will jump in and say, “Hey, wait a minute”. The increase should be $1.20 and not $1.25. That seems to be so obvious. But, please remember, this is a logarithmic scale, so it is not linear.
So, if we consider the new increased amount of $1.20 and reduce it by 20% then it removes $0.24 leaving $0.96 and not $1.00. If we use the $1.25 and reduce it by 20% which subtracts $0.25, it results in $1.00 again. Perfect. So, we use gross dollars and not net dollars. It is exactly the same as calculating gross profit in business, we amplify the currency by a factor that permits the gross profit to be correct when looked at from a top-down perspective. Thus, a change of +/- 1 dB is a reduction of 20% or an increase of 20%, but always from a top-down perspective.
The decibel is based upon a factor of ten, so a change to a 100 watt output is a great example to demonstrate the x10 factor. If we increase the power by 10 dB it is 1,000 watts. If we decrease the power by 10 dB then it is 10 watts.
Since Alexander Graham Bell created this decibel scale so he could help his wife, Mabel hear his words, it was with this major influence that she left her greatest mark on the world of technology. The decibel scale is one of the most important aspects of engineering and technology today. Mabel was Bell’s influence to create this scale.
Alexander Graham Bell, who could not complete the university program of his youth, received at least a dozen honorary degrees from academic institutions, including eight honorary LL.D.s (Doctorate of Laws), two Ph.D.s, a D.Sc., and an M.D. With all of these accolades, tributes, and business successes, Alexander Graham Bell might have never know these outcomes without the love, support, and intelligence of his wife, Mabel.
So, now you know!
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.
NOTE: All images belong to the originators and are used under the common licence.