Professor Christopher Beauchamp Featured in History Channel’s “The Machines That Built America”


Professor Christopher Beauchamp, author of Invented by Law: Alexander Graham Bell and the Patent That Changed America (Harvard University Press, 2014), was featured in the History Channel’s new docuseries, “The Machines That Built America,” which premiered in August. The series reveals surprising stories and rivalries behind the ground-breaking innovations that turned America into a superpower.

Episode 5, “Telephone Wars,” focuses on the battle between competing inventors Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell to be the first to invent and patent the telephone. The episode depicts Gray delivering his patent application in person early one morning in 1876. Bell arrives later that day, and the patent examiner improperly allows Bell to look at Gray’s designs before Bell submits his application.

“One of the questions about what happened that day has to do with how Bell’s patent changed as a result,” Beauchamp said in the interview.

What happened on that day and the legal battle that ensued are the focus of Beauchamp’s book. He challenges the popular myth of Bell as the telephone’s sole inventor, exposing that story’s origins in the arguments advanced by Bell’s lawyers. More than anyone else, he argues, it was the courts that anointed Bell father of the telephone, granting him a patent monopoly that decisively shaped the American telecommunications industry for a century to come.

Beauchamp teaches and writes in the areas of intellectual property and legal history. Prior to teaching, he was a Microsoft/LAPA Fellow at Princeton University’s Law and Public Affairs Program and a Samuel I. Golieb Fellow in Legal History at New York University School of Law. Beauchamp’s work has received numerous awards, including the Cromwell Dissertation Prize of the American Society for Legal History, the Yorke Prize of the Cambridge University Faculty of Law, and the Levinson Prize of the Society for the History of Technology.


Watch “Telephone Wars