More than a century separates the work of two of technology's most impactful minds: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, and Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google. But these two remarkable men have more in common than you might imagine.
Read on to learn more about interesting overlaps in the two biographies of these fascinating leaders.
Along with their families, both Sergey Brin and Alexander Graham Bell were immigrants, though their journey across the Atlantic took very distinct paths. Brin was born in Moscow in 1973; his family emigrated to the U.S. in 1979. He met Larry Page at Stanford and the two launched Google in 1998.
Several media outlets have reported that Brin, on a return trip to his home in 1990, looked around and sincerely thanked his father for deciding the family had to leave the Soviet Union and build a new life in the United States, where their professional pursuits would not be curtailed.
Graham Bell was born in 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. According to Biography Magazine, his mother was nearly deaf yet became an accomplished pianist, which showed Bell it was possible to achieve in the face of grave challenge. His family immigrated to Ontario, Canada in 1870 and Graham Bell moved to Boston in 1871, where he found himself in an environment rich with other scientists and inventors.
Notably, both Brin and Graham Bell found themselves in the right places at the right times to meet ideal collaborators and opportunities.
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The similarities continue when it comes to education. Both Sergey Brin and his fellow Google co-founder Larry Page attended Montessori elementary schools in their youths, which focus on self-directed study and unstructured learning time driven by children’s natural curiosity about the world around them.
According to a 2004 interview with Barbara Walters, Brin and his Google co-founder felt that their Montessori education was one of the keys of their success. Montessori students are encouraged to ask their own questions and pursue what they find naturally interesting. In an interesting parallel, Google employees are free to work on their own projects twenty percent of the time.
Alexander Graham Bell was a champion of this learning approach as well. The North American Montessori Teachers Association writes that Italian education reformer Maria Montessori made her first visit to the United States in 1913. This was the exact same year Graham Bell and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Educational Association at their Washington, DC, home.
Graham Bell was not a fan of traditional, strict learning practices, likening pupils sitting in rows completing paperwork to geese being prepared to become foie gras. He first heard of the Montessori approach in 1912 in Canada and took an instant interest.
His early support is one small reason the approach began to flourish. In a roundabout way, perhaps we have the 19th century inventor to thank not only for the telephone but for a certain famous search engine as well.
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The “tinker” approach
Graham Bell did not set out to invent the telephone. Rather, he began working in a lab to help the deaf. He started out as a speech teacher, the professional field of both his father and grandfather. The famous inventor opened a school for the deaf in Boston in 1872, and even had Helen Keller as a pupil. In the hopes of helping the hard of hearing learn to speak, he began tinkering with ways to record sound waves.
Working in the middle of the night on his experiments transmitting musical notes and other sounds, Graham Bell knew he was on to something special. When he met electrical designer Thomas A. Watson and gained the backing of two wealthy supporters, all the ingredients were there for a truly remarkable new technology, which Graham Bell patented in 1876.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page likewise did not start with the ambitious goal of organizing all human knowledge. Instead, their early work focused on evaluating the importance of a given research paper based on its citations. They pieced together second-hand computers in a dorm room at Stanford to do their work. Incrementally, the technology grew in scope and use and Google was born.
This powerful, do-it-yourself approach guided the work of both Graham Bell and Brin. With the right partners, the two men changed the world.
The inventor of the telephone wasn’t content to rest on the laurels of his remarkable breakthrough. Rather, Graham Bell went on to found the journal Science and helped finance the National Geographic Society.
Similarly, Brin is dedicated to the advance of knowledge and of science. For example, Google is famously working on renewable energy solutions via Google.org and various exciting projects like the driverless car at the Google X innovation lab.