Hearing Through Wires: The Physiophony of Antonio Meucci

Hearing Through Wires: The Physiophony of Antonio Meucci

    Article by Gerry Vassilatos — from Journal of Borderland Research (Vol. 51, No. 4, 4th Quarter 1995)

    Hearing Through Wires

    The Physiophony of Antonio Meucci


    Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci

    Antonio Meucci is the forgotten and humble genius whose inventions precede every revolution in communication arts which were achieved during this century. The time frame during which his notable discoveries were made is a most remarkable revelation. How Meucci developed his accidental discoveries into full scale working systems is a true wonder in view of this time reference.

    The culturing of technology from the simple sparks of vision is a feat of its own distinct kind. As the earliest chronicled inventor of telephonic arts he is justly applauded as the true father of telephony by afficionadi who know his wonderfully touching biography. But he invented far more than the telephone with which we are familiar. Meucci discovered two separate telephonic systems. His first and most astounding discovery is known as physiophony, telephoning through the body…hearing through wires. His second development was acoustic telephony, preceding every other legendary inventor in this art by several decades.

    Meucci powered telephones with electricity taken from the ground through special earth batteries, and from the sky by using large surface area diodes to draw static from the air. Eliminating the need for employing batteries in his telephonic systems, Meucci first conceived of a transoceanic vocal communication system. His notion was grand and achievable. Marconi later employed methods pioneered by the forgotten Meucci.

    He developed ferrites, with which he constructed true audio transformers and loudspeaking transceivers. He invented marine ranging and undersea communication systems. His numerous achievements in chemical processing and industrial chemistry are too numerous to mention in such a brief treatise. All of these wonders were conceived and demonstrated well before 1857.

    Sr. Meucci was a prolific inventor, engineer, and practical chemist. Living in Florence, he worked as a stage designer and technician in various theaters. Antonio Meucci and his wife left Florence to flee the violence of the civil insurrections which raged throughout Italy. Many immigrants who wished for a peaceful life thought they might find some measure of solace in the New Land which lay to the west.

    Unhappily restricted by law from entering The United States, persons such as Meucci and his family chose the route into which most other Mediterraneans were forced at the time. Being turned southward, they were literally compelled to dock in Caribbean or South American ports. There sizable populations of European immigrants remain to this day, legally restricted from North American shores. Most found that their presence there was received with an acceptance and warmth equal to a homecoming. It should have been in these lands that their legacies were written.

    New arrivals in Cuba, the Meucci family made Havana their home. They found the warm and friendly nation a place for new and wonderful opportunities. Sr. Meucci pursued numerous experimental lines of research while living in Havana, developing a new method for electroplating metals. This new art was applied to all sorts of Cuban military equipment, Meucci gaining fame and recognition in Havana as a scientific researcher and developer of new technologies.

    Several special electrical control systems were designed by him specifically for stage production in the Teatro Tacon, the Havana Opera. Electrical rheostats served the safe and controlled operation of enclosed carbon arclamps. Mechanical contrivances hoisted, lowered, parted, and closed heavy curtains. The automatic systems were a wonder to behold.

    A young and dreamy romantic, Meucci found the beauty of theater work quite entrancing and inspirational. There, dreams became realities, if only for the short time during which hardened pragmatism was suspended. Fantasy and wonder were magickal liquids which perfumed the soul and opened the mind’s eyes. As in childhood, one could receive the elevating epiphanies of revelation necessary for discovering unexpected phenomena, and for developing unequalled technologies.

    The decision to move to Havana was indeed a good one. Genuine acceptance, and loving recognition added joy the lives of the bittersweet exiles. Meucci’s wife was often amused by his more outlandish inventive notions. But, as their stay in Havana continued, she scolded that he had better develop something solidly practical on which to “make a living”.

    A long time fascination with physiological conditions and their electrical responses, Meucci was prompted to begin study of electromedicine. With just such a practical view in mind, he established and maintained an experimental electromedical laboratory in backrooms of the Opera House. Investigating the art of “electro-medicine”, as popularly practiced throughout both Europe and the Americas, Meucci investigated the curative abilities of electrical impulse. Applying moderate electrical impulses from small induction coils to patients in hope of alleviate illness, Meucci learned that precise control of both the “strength and length” of electrical impulse held the true secret of the art.

    Garibaldi-Meucci Museum

    As viewed by Meucci, pain and certain physical conditions were treatable by these electrical methods provided that very short impulses of insignificant voltage were employed. Impulses of specific length and power were necessary to rid suffering patients of their pain. In addition, Meucci imagined that tissue and bone regeneration could be stimulated by such means.

    What really intrigued Sr. Meucci was the length of impulse time involved in body-applied electricity. To this end, he developed special slide switches which were capable of specifying the impulse length. It was possible to slide a zig-zag contact surface over a fixed electrical source. By varying the spacings between such slide contacts, Meucci could mechanically generate very short electrical impulses.

    Rheostats could also be employed to control the current intensity. By the employment of these two control features, he was able to apply the proper impulse “strength and length”. Meucci wished to chart a specific impulse series which would neutralize each specific kind of pain or illness. Developing catalogues of electrical impulse cures was his real aim. Such a technology, if developed thoroughly, could arm medical practitioners with new curative powers.

    Sr. Meucci applied continual experimental effort toward these medical goals. He often applied these same impulses to theater employees and stage artists alike. These people came to regard such electric cures as definitive. Meucci’s method was known to reverse conditions completely. He paid special attention to the placement and size of electrodes on the body. Tiny point-contacts were often held to the body at specific neural points, effecting their analgesic effects. He was especially careful with “shock strength”, applying only millivolt surges to his patients. Pain could be gradually made to retreat by the proper impulse administration.

    Meucci had already developed fine rheostatic tuners for limiting the output power of his electrical device. He always applied the current to his own body in order to give completely “measured” electro-treatments. In this manner he was able to judge the parameters more personally and responsibly. It was his habit to administer treatments of this kind to his ailing wife, Esther. Crippling arthritis was becoming her personal prison, and Sr. Meucci wished to cure her completely of the malady. Watching and praying through until the dawn, Antonio struggled to perfect a means by which cures could be effected with selective impulse articulation.

    As with each of Meucci’s developments, the fulfillment of his advanced medical ideas are found throughout the early twentieth century. Each researcher in this field of medical study employed very short impulses of controlled voltage to alleviate a wide variety of maladies. Independently rediscovering the Meucci electro-medical method throughout the early twentieth century were such persons as Nikola Tesla, Dr. A. Abrams, G. Lahkovsky, Dr. T. Colson. Each developed catalogues by which specific impulses were methodically directed to cure their associate illness. Each researcher developed a method for applying impulses of specifically controlled length and intensity to suffering patients, effecting historical cures.

    More recently, several medical researchers have employed impulse generators to effect dramatic bone and tissue regenerations. They affirm that human physiology responds with rapidity when proper electroimpulses are applied to conditions of illness. These were closely regarded by government officials, eager to regulate the new science.

    Most medical bureaucrats, fearing the elimination of their own pharmaceutical monopolies, sought opportunity to eradicate these revolutionary electromedical arts. Upton Sinclair obtained personal experience with these curative systems and the physicians who devised these methodologies. He championed their cause in numerous national publications with an aim toward exposing those who would suppress their work.

    Sinclair pointed out the social revolution which would necessarily follow such discoveries. He was quick to mention that proliferations of new technologies would not come without a dramatic battle. Fought in the innermost boardrooms of intrigue, Sinclair underestimated the ability of regulators to eradicate technologies of social benefit.

    This notable literary personage wrote extensively on the work of Dr. Abrams, who was later vilified by both the FDA and the AMA. An outlandish national purge quickly mounted into a fullscale assault on these methods. But this is a story best told in several other biographies. Meucci’s electromedical methods would soon be transformed into a revolutionary means for communicating with others at long distances.


    The most central episode of Meucci’s life now unfolded. It was to be a serendipity of the most remarkable kind. Throughout his later years, Meucci recounted the following story which occurred in 1849, when he was forty-one years of age. A certain gentleman was suffering from an unbearable migraine headache. Since it was known to many that Meucci’s electromedical methods possessed definite curative ability, Sr. Meucci’s medical attention was sought.

    Meucci placed the weak, suffering man on a chair in a nearby room. His weakened condition inspired an easy pity. Antonio had already felt the thorns of his beloved wife’s pain. Her eyes, like the man before him now, begged for the cure which lay hidden in mystery. Carefully, caringly, Antonio now sought to ease this man’s suffering.

    In this severe instance, Meucci placed a small copper electrode in the patient’s mouth and asked him to hold the other (a copper rod) in his hand. The electro-impulse device was in an adjoining room. Meucci went into this room, placed an identical copper electrode in his own mouth, and held the other copper electrode to find the weakest possible impulse strength. Meucci told his patient to relax and to expect pain relief momentarily, making small incremental adjustments on the induction coil.

    Migraines of severe intensity characteristically produce equally severe reaction to the slightest irritation. The man being now highly sensitive to pain, Meucci’s insignificant (though stimulating) current impulses were felt. The patient, anticipating some horrible shock, cried out in the other room with surprise at the very first slight tickle.

    Momentarily, Meucci forgot the hurtful sympathy which he naturally felt in assisting this poor soul who sat across the hall. His focussed attention was suddenly diverted as an astounding empathy manifested itself: he had actually “felt” the sound of the man’s cry in his own mouth! After absorbing the surprise, he burst into the adjoining room to see why the man had so yelled. Glad the poor fellow had not run out on him, Meucci replaced the oral electrode of his suffering patient and went into the other room to perform the same adjustments…through closed doors this time. He asked the gentleman to talk louder, while he himself again held the electrode in his mouth.

    Once more, to his own great shock, Meucci actually heard the distant voice “in his own mouth”. This vocalization was clear, distinct, and completely different from the muffled voice heard through the doors. This was a true discovery. Here, Antonio Meucci discovered what would later be known as the “electrophonic” effect.

    The phenomenon, later known as physiophony, employs nerve responses to applied currents of very specific nature. As the neural mechanism in the body employs impulses of infinitesimal strengths, so Meucci had accidentally introduced similar “conformant” currents. These conformant currents contained auditory signals: sounds. The strange method of “hearing through the body” bypassed the ears completely and resounded throughout the delicate tissues of the contact point. In this case, it was the delicate tissues of the mouth.

    Each expressed their thanks to the other, and the relieved patient went home. The impulse cure had managed to “break up” the migraine condition. Meucci’s reward was not monetary. It was found in a miraculous accident; the transmission of the human voice along a charged wire. In these several little experiments, Meucci had determined and defined the future history of all telephonic arts.


    Excited and elated Antonio asked certain friends to indulge his patience with similar experiments. He gave individual oral electrodes to each and asked that his friends each speak or yell. Meucci, seated behind a sealed door, touched his electrode to the corner of his mouth. As each person spoke or yelled, Meucci clearly heard speech again. Internal sound reception in the very tissues of the mouth. An astounding discovery.

    Without question, Meucci’s most notable discovery in telephonics is physiophony. Meucci did not foresee this strange and wonderful discovery. Think of it. Hearing without the ears. Hearing through the nerves directly! The implications are just as enormous as the possible applications. Would it be possible for deaf persons to hear sound once again? Meucci knew it was possible.

    His first series of new experiments would seek improvement of the electrophonic effect. To this end Meucci designed a preliminary set of paired electrodes. The appearance of these devices was strange to both the people of his time and those of own. Each device was made of small cork cylinders fitted with smooth copper discs. Designed as personalized transmitters, each person was to place their own transmitter directly in the mouth! The other electrode was to be hand-held.

    Meucci verified the physiophonic phenomenon repeatedly. Upon experiencing the now-famed effect, visitors were awed. Furthermore, it was possible to greatly extend the line length to many hundreds of feet and yet “hear” sounds. The sounds were clearly heard “in the nerves” with a very small applied voltage. Sounds were being deliberately transmitted along charged wires for the first recorded time in modern history.

    The auditory organs were not in any way involved. Meucci discovered that oral vibrations were varying the resistance of the circuit: oral muscles were vibrating the current supply. Spoken sounds were reproduced as a vibrating electric current in the charged line which can be sensed and “heard” in the nerveworks and muscular tissues.

    With very great care for obvious injuries, it is possible to reproduce these remarkable results to satisfaction. The voltages must be infinitesimal. When properly conducted through the tissues, sounds are heard near the contact point the body. No doubt, the impulsed signal reproduces identical audio contractions in sensitive tissues. This is one source of the sounds internally “heard”. Nerves actually form the greater channel when impulses are arranged properly, directly transmitting their auditory contents without the inner ear.

    Physiophony is Meucci’s greatest discovery, one which he should have pursued before also developing mere acoustic telephony. Twenty-five years later in America, an elated Elisha Gray would rediscover the physiophonic phenomenon. He would develop physiophony into a major scientific theme. Long after this time, these identical experimental demonstrations conspicuously appear in Bell’s letters; copying the identical experiments taken first from Meucci, then from Gray, and Reis.

    During the early twentieth century, music halls for deaf persons were once found in certain metropolitan centers. These recital halls enabled nerve-deaf persons to hear music through handheld electrodes. Modifying the appliances in order to allow considerable freedom of movement, several such places allowed deaf people to dance. Holding the small copper rods, wired to a network on the ceiling, musical sounds and rhythms could be felt and heard directly. Physiophony, more recently termed “neurophony” holds the secret of a new technology. Physiophony, rediscovered of late, facilitates hearing in those afflicted with nerve-deafness.

    Meucci discovered two distinct forms of vocal communication: physiophony and acoustic telephony. Meucci’s next experiments dealt with the development of a means for separating the physiophonic action from the human body entirely. He developed working systems to serve each of these modes, with primary emphasis on acoustic telephony. Replacing tissues of the mouth with a separate vibrating medium required extending the cork-fixed electrodes.

    Meucci coiled thin and flexible copper wire so that it could freely vibrate in a heavy paper cone. Once more, Meucci varied the experiment. This time his own oral electrode would be enclosed in a heavy paper cone. Again each subject was asked to talk into the first cone-encased electrode as Meucci listened at the other terminal. Each time, speech was heard as vibrating air. This was his first acoustic transmitter-receiver.

    Meucci wrote up all these findings in 1849…when Alexander Graham Bell was just 2 years old. Living in Havana at the time, Meucci conceived of the first telephonic system. He imagined that American industry would allow infinite production of his new technology. A telephonic system would revolutionize any nation which engineered its proliferation.


    Freedom doors were not swung open in wide and unconditional welcome for Europeans during the latter 1800’s. Strict immigration laws forbade Europeans from even entering New York Harbor. It was more difficult, if not impossible, to find employment. New arrivals in America faced difficult, almost inhuman conditions. No support systems existed in the land of free-enterprise. No catch-nets for failed attempts in the land of the free.

    True and unresisted freedom was reserved only for the upper class, who had already begun regulating and eliminating their possible competitors. Every means by which that prized upper position might be usurped was destroyed. Forgotten discoveries and inventions flowed like blood under the heavy arm of the robber baron.

    The “New World” was not anxious to welcome these people. Discrimination against European immigrants went unbridled, unrepresented, and unchallenged. When American doors finally did open, there were no sureties for those who came to work and live in the New World. There was no promise, no meal, no housing, no job, no emergency support. To be in America meant to be on your own in America.

    Prejudice against the “foreigners” was vicious during this time period. Immigrants who imagined a better life to the northlands would be sadly disappointed at first. Many of these newcomers preferred the temporary pain of atrocious city ghettoes simply because their eyes were on the future.

    Europeans arriving in America came with trades and skills. Master craftsmen and technicians in their Old World guilds, these “unwelcomed” eventually won the hardened industrial establishment with their good works, many of them later forming the real core of American Industry. It is not accidental that Thomas Edison hired European craftsmen exclusively. In less than two generations the children of these brave individuals became leaders of their professions, giving the leukemic nation its periodically required red blood.

    Established families despised the newcomers, who were regarded first with dread, then with resentment, and finally with a firm resolve. After ruthless campaigns by bureaucrats and moguls to eliminate the foreign presence in North America, wealthy puritanical antagonists sought the supposed surety of legislation to achieve elitist isolation. Neither cultivated nor creative, this ability to manipulate the tools of liberty for the sake of domination became a theme which continually stains their history. The unbridled and impassioned expansionism of these “foreign people” was so threatening to the impotent bureaucrats that legislation was installed for the expressed purpose of limiting their unstoppable movement. Sure that these were in fact the feared usurpers of a young and recently consolidated Republic, financiers impelled legislators to create a “middle class” economic stratum which has remained in force to this very day.

    Bound to a life of tireless work and taxations, the children of immigrants no longer question the barriers to limitless personal achievement. While a very few wonder why their frustrations rarely allow escape into the true individual freedom of which America boasts, most simply satisfy themselves with banal consumer temptations.

    Nevertheless, the “American” explosion in music, art, crafts, and technological arts followed the immigrants wherever they were forced to flee. When Antonio and Esther Meucci arrived in New York City, he was now forty-two. They made their home near Clifton, Staten Island.

    Clifton was once a picturesque little town, nestled on a rocky ridge and surrounded by babbling brooks and lush forests. The year was 1850. The Meucci’s acquired a large and spacious house, filled with windows. Golden bright sunlight flooded the home in which Antonio devised the technology of the future. The rooms contained numerous pieces of striking art nouveau furniture which Meucci himself handcrafted. A beautiful four octave piano and several of these furniture pieces yet remain, the house itself having been declared a national monument.

    His poor wife, now crippled completely, was confined to their second floor bedroom. It was there in Old Clifton that Sr. Meucci developed his “teletrofono”. The device was successively redesigned and improved until several distinct and original models emerged. Mundane needs being the primary necessity, Meucci developed a chemical formula for making special chemically formulated candles and opened a small factory for their production. His smokeless candles earned a moderate income by which the small family could maintain their place in the New World. Throughout the long years to come, he also supported countless others who were in need.

    He patented this smokeless candle formula, along with several other chemical processes related to his small industry. Soon, Antonio found that his candles were sought by neighbors, parish churches, and small general stores. He therefore took his devotions, and went into production of the same. Marketing the product locally, he was now again able to supply his experimental facility. This was his encouragement. The inventions began flowing again like rich red wine.

    Meucci installed a small teletrofonic system in his Clifton house, as he had done in Havana. Esther Meucci was now completely crippled with arthritis. Connecting his wife’s room to his small candle factory, Antonio could now speak throughout the day with his wife. The system lines were loosely wrapped up and around staircase banisters, through halls, across walls, and finally spanned the long distance to the factory building, naturally running slack in several locations.

    Meucci made sure that the lines did not run tight in order to prevent wire stretching and cracking during winter seasons. In every model aspect, Meucci’s system was the prototype. Everyone of his surrounding neighbors had become personally familiar with his system, having been allowed to try “speaking over the wire.”

    Meucci and his wife took boarders from time to time in order to afford minimum luxuries…the luxuries of ordinary people. When Garibaldi was exiled from Italy as an insurrectionist, he sought out Meucci. A small factory was established near his home for the manufacture of his chemically treated candles.

    With this, his sole and sturdy financial source, Meucci continued his other beloved experiments. He had already established and regularly used several teletrofonic systems throughout his home and factory by 1852. Both he and Garibaldi walked, hunted, and fished in the lush greenery and flowing flowered hills of old Dutch Staten Island.

    Each new teletrofonic design eventually was added to a growing collection box in the timber lined cellar. Improved models were made and brought into the general use of his system. With these modified devices it was effortless to communicate with his ailing wife, employees, and friends. Distances posed no problem for Meucci. His system could bring sound to any location. Numerous credible witnesses actually used his remarkably extensive telephonic system across the neighborhood. One such highly credible witness was Giuseppe Garibaldi himself.

    Garibaldi was welcomed to live with the Meucci family in their modest Staten Island home for as long as he wished. Garibaldi, Meucci, and his wife vanquished sorrow and poverty with faith, hope, and love expressed in a myriad of ways. Each supported the other in the struggle against indignity, accusation, outrage, and all the particular little alienations imposed upon them. The Meucci household not unaccustomed to the deprivations through which character is developed.

    Both Srs. Meucci and Garibaldi continued manufacturing candles and other such products of commercial value, supporting themselves and the needs of others in the new land. Frequent financial crisis never deterred his dream quest. Never did such reversals place a halt on Meucci’s laboratory experimentation or any of his devoted attentions.

    As it happens in the course of time, new changes bring fresh opportunities and joys to lift tired hearts. The sun rose in the little windows after a long winter’s dream. An old friend from Havana came to visit Meucci and his wife. Carlos Pader wished to know whether Meucci had continued experimenting with his now famous “teletrofono”.

    Pader was shown the results, but Antonio confessed the need for new materials. Both Sr. Pader and another friend, Gaetano Negretti, informed their friend Antonio that there was an excellent manufacturer of telegraphic instruments on Centre Street in Manhatten. And so, Sr. Meucci was introduced to a certain Mr. Chester, a maker of telegraphic instruments.

    Mr. Chester was an enthusiastic and friendly tradesmen. He enjoyed speaking with Antonio. The two shared their technical skills in broken dialects. Meucci was always welcomed there on Centre Street. Meucci visited this establishment on several occasions to purchase parts and observe the latest telegraphic arts. It was here that Meucci “gained new knowledge”. He set to work, purchasing materials for new experiments. New and improved teletrofonic models began appearing in the neighborhood.

    Meucci was methodical, thorough, and attentive to the unfolding details of his experiments. Meucci kept meticulous notes; a feature which later worked to vindicate his honor. He worked incessantly on a single device before making any new design modifications. Meucci’s creative talent and familiarity with materials allowed him to recognize and anticipate the inventive “next move”. In observational acuity, inventive skill, and development of practical products he was unmatched.

    Thomas Edison, after him, most nearly imitated Meucci’s methods. Meucci searched by trial and error at times when reason alone brought no fruit. It was, after all, an accident which revealed the teletrofonic principles to him. Providence itself in action.

    Gerry Vassilatos’s “Vril Compendium, V: VRIL CONNECTION”

    “The discovery of nerve-induction telephony by Antonio Meucci in 1849 marked the true birth of telephony. In these documents, patents, and articles we read of developments whereby deaf persons could hear directly through the nerve-works of the body. These early attempts to approach true empathic transmission are the basis of systems which Nikola Tesla would later advance to a wary scientific public.”

    Available now through the Borderland Sciences Research Catalog.

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