Johann Philip Reis


A Misunderstanding of Translation



Published Articles

A Comparison of Bell & Reis


Johann Philip Reis

Philipp Reis


Philipp Reis was born on January 7th, 1837 in Cassel, Germany. He was the son of a Baker who also did some farming. His mother died when he was five and his father and paternal grandmother then raised him. At the age of ten his father passed away and he was left in the care of his grandmother and a guardian.



He attended the Garnier’s Institute at Friedrichsdorf, near Hamburg where he excelled in foreign languages. At fourteen he went to Hassel’s Institute at Frankfort-on-the- Main. This is where he first became intrigued with the study of natural sciences and mathematics. His exceptional performance at this school prompted his teachers to advise his grandmother to send him onto the Polytechnic School in Carlsruhe after he completed his education at the Institute. His guardian, who was an uncle , felt Reis should study as an apprentice in mercantile and sent him to Mr. J. F. Beyerbach, of Frankfort. Reis did as he was told but declared he would pursue his studies later.

Reis proved himself with his teacher and spent his leisure time focusing on his studies. He took private lessons in Mathematics and Physics and also attended lectures on Mechanics. At the end of his apprenticeship he then entered the Institute of Dr. Poppe, in Frankfort. There was no natural history, history, or geography offered and as a result Reis and some of his peers tutored one another in these areas. This was Reis’s first experience in the role as a teacher. Dr. Poppe encouraged him to pursue teaching as a career.



In the winter of 1854-1855 he prepared to become a teacher. In 1855 he served a year in the military at Cassel. He then returned to Frankfort attending lectures on Math and sciences, worked in the lab, and studied books on education.

He then went to Heidleberg to complete his education as a teacher and planned to teach math and science in various schools. In 1858 Garnier, his old friend offered him a position at the Institute as a teacher. He accepted this position.


Marriage and Family

In 1859 Reis married and settled into a home in Friedrichsdorf where he and his wife had two children.



In 1851 Reis became a member of the Physical Society in Frankfort. Here discussions of scienftific questions more than likely influenced Reis. Its corresponding and honorary members included some of the best scientific minds of Germany. Among them were Prof. Faraday, Prof. Sturgeon and Sir Charles Wheatstone. He was a member for three years but lost touch when he left Frankfort to pursue his education in teaching. He then rejoined the Society in 1860 until 1867 when he resigned .

In 1860 he invented the telephone and spent the next years teaching school and working in his lab as often as he could. From 1861-1866 he made several presentations and public demonstrations of his "Das Telephon". The most successful of these public exhibitions occurred on the 21st of September 1864 at the meeting of the German Naturalists Association ( Versammlung Deutsche Naturforscher). Reis spoke to a spoke in detail about his original concept of the relationship of his "Das Telephon" to the human ear in front of an impressive captive audience. From this day of demonstration and discussion came several articles and essays written by Prof. Bottger, Prof. Quincke of Heidelberg, and Dr. Bohn the secretary of the section who wrote for the Tagesblatt. It is also important to note that Prof. Helmholtz was in attendance at this meeting. The By this time his phone was known and shown in various parts of the world. It turned out that the telephone was too soon for the world and Reis faced politics, which resulted from jealousy in the Physical Society. Due to these politics there was even a lack of interest from his immediate scientific community, which broke Reis’s spirit and drive. He resigned from the Society in October of 1867.

Reis never fully recovered from this blow of rejection and his health failed quickly. When there was some positive feedback on Reis’s telephone he was too ill to speak and lecture about it. In 1873 he disposed of all his instruments and tools to Garnier’s Institute. Reis remarked that he showed the world the way to great invention, which must now be left, to others to develop.



Reis died from a pulmonary consumption just two years before A.G. Bell would declare himself the inventor of the telephone at the Centennial in Philadelphia in1876. Reis was only 40 years old. Reis’s family lived in poverty for the rest of their lives receiving no financial compensation for his work.