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Amos E. Dolbear Papers

Call Number: MS016

Scope and Contents

The collection includes letters, publications, writings, personal papers, a commemorative Ballou Hall plaque, photographs, notebooks, and apparatus connected with Dolbear's academic work and with experiments regarding the invention of the telephone.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1877 -- 1910
  • Creation: 1872 -- 1969


Language of Materials



This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material in this collection may be protected by copyright and other rights. Please see “Reproductions and Use” on the Digital Collections and Archives website for more information about reproductions and permission to publish. No documentation is available regarding the intellectual property rights in this collection.

Biographical / Historical

Amos Emerson Dolbear (1837-1910) was born in Norwich, Connecticut on November 10, 1837. Following his father's death, he and his mother moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where he remained with his mother until her death in 1847. He then went to live on a relative's farm in New Hampshire and eventually was sent to Worcester, Massachusetts, to learn a trade. He was employed briefly at a pistol-making factory. At the age of eighteen, he headed west, finding employment as a school teacher in Missouri. Suffering from poor health, he soon returned to New England and continued to carry out physically strenuous jobs in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Desiring a better education in order to advance professionally, Dolbear enrolled in Ohio Wesleyan University. As a result of his outstanding performance, he soon became an assistant in both the Physics and Chemistry Departments. He graduated in 1866 following two years of study and became an assistant instructor in the Chemistry Department the University of Michigan. He received two degrees, an MA and a ME, from Michigan. Dolbear then assumed the position of assistant professor of Natural History at Kentucky University. After two years he moved on to become professor of Physics and Chemistry at Bethany College in 1868. In 1869, he married Alice Hood, with whom he had six children. Before leaving West Virginia, he served as the mayor of Bethany from 1871-1872.

In 1874, Dolbear arrived at Tufts College, accepting the chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department and continued to pursue his interest of the study of the convertibility of sound into electricity. He stayed at the college for the remainder of his academic career.

Dolbear contributed many notable inventions to the scientific world, including the static telephone, the electric gyroscope used to demonstrate the Earth's rotation, the opeidoscope, and a new system of incandescent lighting. In 1876, Dolbear patented a magneto electric telephone, in 1879 a static telephone, and three years later he managed to communicate over a distance of a quarter of a mile without wires in the Earth and obtained a patent on the wireless telegraph before Hertz or Guglielmo Marconi. His research on the static telephone was conducted in his laboratory on the top floor of Ballou Hall, and the first transmissions using the device were made from Ballou Hall to his house on Professors Row. In 1876, Dolbear patented a magneto electric telephone, in 1879 a static telephone, and three years later he managed to communicate over a distance of a quarter of a mile without wires in the Earth. It is interesting to note that the Tufts professor was ahead of Hertz and Marconi. He received a U.S. patent for a wireless telegraph in March of that year.

Dolbear was a member of the American Association of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and worked as an examiner at the World's Fair. He was recognized for his contributions to science at both the Paris Exposition in 1881 and the Crystal Palace Exposition in 1882. He published several books, articles, and pamphlets, including "The Art of Projecting" (1876), "The Speaking Telephone" (1877), "Sound and its Phenomena" (1885), "First Principles of Natural Philosophy" (1897), "Modes of Motion" (1897) and "Matter, Ether, Motion."

Dolbear was one of only three faculty members to offer unqualified support to the College's decision to admit women beginning in 1892. In 1905-6, he became the first faculty member to be granted permission for a full academic year's leave with pay prior to the establishment of a sabbatical leave program at Tufts in 1908. Dolbear died on February 23, 1910 following a long illness.


15.75 Linear Feet

12 Volumes

1 Artifact(s)


This collection is organized into five series: Letters, publications, and writings; Telephone prototypes, models, and inventions; The Telephone Appeals and patent related documents; Photographs; and Personal and family papers.

Processing status

This collection is processed.

Repository Details

Part of the Tufts Archival Research Center Repository

35 Professors Row
Tisch Library Building
Tufts University
Medford Massachusetts 02155 United States