Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who Is Antonio Meucci?

Every school child knows that Antonio Meucci invented the telephone. Oh wait, that was Alexander Graham Bell, at least that's what the history books would have you believe. Meucci, a gifted Florentine scientist and inventor, filed a patent "Caveat" with the U.S. Patent Office in 1871 for his telephone invention. The law required the Caveat to be renewed every year for a fee of $10.00. In 1874, a penniless Meucci failed to renew the Caveat for lack of funds. Twenty days later Bell applied for his patent. A friend of Meucci's contacted the Patent Office in Washington, only to learn that all the documents relevant to the "Talking Telegraph" filed in Meucci's Caveat had been "lost." Later investigation produced evidence of illegal relationships linking certain employees of the Patent Office and officials of Bell's company. Click for more on Antonio Meucci: ANTONIO MEUCCI.

I'm not saying Bell was not a brilliant man, just that another man, Antonio Meucci, discovered and demonstrated his telephone invention years ahead of Bell, but got very little for his trouble. Here was Bell, a Scot whose family had money and was well-connected, and Meucci, an Italian who spoke no English. Who do you think the WASP aristocracy would favor in this controversy? Meucci filed numerous other patents, but died in obscurity without the fame and wealth that should have been his, but went to Bell instead. I learned all this today after visiting the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum in Staten Island.

Antonio Meucci came to America in 1850 and lived in Staten Island in a home that now houses the museum. He befriended Giuseppi Garibaldi, "the George Washington of Italy" when Garibaldi fled to America after failing in his initial attempt to unify Italy's Papal states and gain independence from France. Garibaldi lived on Staten Island for about six months, and eventually returned to Italy and achieved success in the second war for Italian reunification. Ironically, the town in which Garibaldi was born, Nizza, then part of Italy, was ceded to France and is now the beautiful coastal resort of Nice. Click for more on Giuseppi Garibaldi. -Giuseppe Garibaldi -

One of the sad realities we as Italians face today is the gradual but steady decline of interest in our culture and heritage by the younger generations. If you asked any Italian- American high school kid to name a famous Italian, you might hear "Christopher Columbus", but even Columbus has come under attack by those who teach "revisionist history". It's fashionable today for guilt-ridden white liberals to attack the achievements of Western Europeans in an effort to aggrandize the achievements of other races and cultures. I'm not against recognizing and celebrating any one's accomplishments, but to do it by tearing down the genuine deeds of great explorers, scientists, writers and artists is plain criminal and a disservice to our children.

We had a nice conversation today with John Dabbene, President of the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, who just happened to encounter us touring the facility. He spoke enthusiastically about their outreach efforts with schools and other organizations to help keep Italian culture alive. He also spoke of how many organizations, founded ostensibly to promote the cultivation of Italian culture, are diverting their donations to other worthy causes, making fundraising more difficult than ever. The museum relies heavily on unpaid volunteers who share a passion for keeping this work alive.

The bottom line is that if you are an Italian-American who cherishes the rich history and culture of Italy, the land of our ancestors, it will fall to YOU to pass this interest on to your children. Honor the traditions you grew up with and share them with your family. Find out something of where your family came from and pass the information along to your kids and grand kids. My son has had some success contacting possible family members still living in Italy on Facebook of all places. Immigration records kept by Ellis Island are amazingly complete and detailed, and their data base is free and easy to search. Ellis Island - FREE Port of New York Passenger Records Search

Be proud of your Italian heritage. The next time someone mentions Alexander Graham Bell and what a great inventor he was, be sure to point out, in your best imitation of tough guy Robert DiNiro, that he stole his ideas from Antonio Meucci. "Are you talkin' to me!"


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Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Great blog! I visited two "Little Italy" conclaves recently, Arthur Avenue and Mulberry Street, and saw the new museum before it was opened. There is a great tour called: Get Up And Go. It did an Italian American tour by a great tour guide who happened to be Jewish! Meucci and Garabaldi were both highlighted.
Joe Del Broccolo

Jim Pantaleno said...

Three friends have an annual lunch at Dominick's on Arthur Avenue. Like Little Italy, it is shrinking every year. Where did you do the tour? Is there a new museum on Mulberry Street?

The Whiner said...

Well aren't you a little fountain of information! Next time i get together with my in-laws I will mention the fact that their Scottish ancestors robbed my Italian acestors of the patent on the telephone. That'll get the conversation going!

Jim Pantaleno said...

Maybe we can learn from our black brothers and ask for reparations.

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

There is a new museum that was scheduled to open, but I don't recall if it was Mulberry Street. The tour comes off of Long Island, but there may be one where you live. look it up on the net.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Thanks Joe, will do.