Johann Philip Reis


A Misunderstanding of Translation



Published Articles

A Comparison of Bell & Reis


A Misunderstanding of Translation

A Misunderstanding of Translation

A misunderstanding of the German to English translation of the word tone is one of the major reasons Philip Reis has not received proper recognition and credit for his work. Reis did not call his instrument "Reis’s Musical Telephone" as George B. Prescott, the misinformed author of The Speaking Telephone , named it. Nor did Reis call his device

"The Telephone Musicax, as did Du Moncel in Le Telephone Le Microphone Le Phonographe, Reis never named his device the "Tone Phone" as did The Telegrapher on May 22nd 1869. What Reis did call his device was "Das Telephon", translated "The Telephone, as seen in his own note from December 1861. Reis referred to and wrote about his device reproducing tones but it is imperative to understand that in German the word ton (plural tone) is equivalent to our English word sound and includes articulate as well as musical sound depending on the context in which the word is used.

The breakdown in translation from German to English is what well-known scientific writers used to discredit Reis as the inventor of the telephone. These individuals claimed Reis did not invent an instrument for transmitting human speech nor was that his intent but rather developed a musical instrument and dubbed his device a "tone- telephone".

The issue of semantics destroyed Reis’s reputation and thus the struggle began for fame. Others longed to be recogninzed as the mind behind the invention of The Telephone.

History of Reis’s work as seen in his original memoirs and with his contemporaries as witnesses provides ample proof that:

  1. Reis intended to transmit speech.
  2. Reis’s Telephone in the hands of his contemporaries
  3. Reis’s telephone will transmit speech

The following documentations from Thompson, Silvanus P., BA, D.S.c, from Philipp Reis inventor of the Telephone, will prove the above.


Reis intended to transmit speech

Reis borrowed from the human ear the suggestion of tympanum. Through his study of acoustics he modeled after the tympanum because of its ability to respond to all complex vibrations of human speech. Varley, Gray, and Bell the very men who claimed Reis’s phone was a "tone-phone" , invented real musical phones to specifically send melodies through multiple telegraphy, which relied on the tuning fork system of vibration. It should be noted these were invented between 1870-1876, long after Reis’s Telephone. Reis’s use of the tympanum meant he had intent to transmit sound that a human ear can hear.

One of Reis’s former pupils, Ernest Horkheimer, wrote that Reis intended to transmit speech, and that music was an after thought for public exhibition. In conclusion, Reis wrote in a letter that his Telephone could transmit any sound that is appropriately loud.

Reis’s telephone in the hands of Reis and his contemporaries did transmit speech

The membrane tympanum of his transmitter could become weakened by moisture or by the different voices ,too low or too loud and thus became inaudible. Reis himself recorded the fact that his telephone did transmit speech in 1861, in his memoir "On Telephony" "The consonants are for the most part tolerably distinctly reproduced, but the vowels not yet in an equal degree." P.45

Many gave strong testimonies that they had success in transmitting voice using Reis’s Telephone. These testimonies will be noted in detail in the section on testimonies.

Reis’s Telephone will transmit speech today

Thompson, Silvanus, P. BA, D.S. author of ,Philipp Reis Inventor of the Telephone, wrote, " The writer has tested ever form of Reis’s transmitter and has found them perfectly competent to transmit speech; provided proper precautions were taken; that the contacts were clean and in adjustment , that the tympanum was tightly stretched and that the speaker did not speak too loudly; in other words, that the instruments were properly used." Page 47

Many of the very scientists who doubted, questioned, and even slandered Reis’s intentions of his telephone later retracted their statements of doubt and acknowledged him as the inventor of The Telephone. Count du Moncel, author of a work on the Telephone, once classified Reis’s instrument as a mere "tone-telephone", admitted that he was, until the year 1882, ignorant of some of Reis’s instruments and of his original papers. He hesitantly admitted Reis to be the inventor of the telephone. P.42 It is also important to note that Professor Graham Bell’s British Patent he does not claim to be the inventor, but only the improver of an invention: the exact title of his patent is, "improvements in Electric Telephony and Telephonic Apparatus. p. 40 This all unfortunately came after Reis was deceased.