Clara Dennis, renowned author, wrote down stories told to her by an older friend, a gentleman who had spent many years with Alexander Graham Bell at his Baddeck home, Beinn Bhreagh (Gaelic for Beautiful Mountain), in Baddeck, Victoria County, Nova Scotia.
The following is one of the stories this elderly gentleman shared with
Miss Dennis (and recorded by her in her book, "Cape Breton Over").
Mr. Bell told me once, of the first thing he ever invented and how it came about. He was around fourteen years old at the time. Alexander -- as his baptismal name was (he added the Graham later himself), -- was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and his father, Melville Bell, was a teacher. One of Melville's pupils was a little boy called Benjamin Herdman. Benjamin's father owned a mill outside the City. The two boys, Alex and Benjamin, used to frequent the mill continually, often getting into mischief there.
"One day the exasperated miller called them into his office and gave them a good talking to, winding up with the taunt, "Why don't you boys do something useful?"
"What?" bluntly enquired Alex.
"Why?" said the somewhat taken-aback miller, "Er" -- he ran his hand absently through some wheat nearby. "Why," he said, with sudden inspiration, as he eyed the grains escaping through his fingers, "take the husks off this wheat. You'd be doing something useful then, all right!"
The boys made no reply, but the germ of an idea had been planted in that bright young mind of Bell's. Through Benjamin, the boy secured a sample of wheat and after working diligently with brushes, succeeded in removing the husks from the grain.
"Why not provide the large rotary machine in the mill with brushes?" he thought. He repaired with his idea to the mill. The miller was greatly taken with the suggestion and ordered the experiment made. It proved an immediate success and it's in use to this day.
"Mr. Herdman's injunction to do something useful was my first incentive to invention," Mr. Bell often told his friend.
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