During President Donald Trump’s first presidential address to a joint session of Congress, he hearkened back to the country’s 100th anniversary.
President Trump said that in 1876, ‘citizens from across our nation came to Philadelphia to celebrate America’s centennial.’
He continued: “At that celebration, the country’s builders and artists and inventors showed off their creations.”
He then began his list: “Alexander Graham Bell displayed his telephone for the first time. Remington unveiled the first typewriter.
“An early attempt was made at electric light. Thomas Edison showed an automatic telegraph and an electric pen.”
Edison and Remington raised no eyebrows, but the inclusion of Alexander Graham Bell did not go unnoticed.
Not just because, to some, Bell did not deserve full credit for the invention of the telephone.
But because Bell became a naturalised US citizen in 1882; he was born and raised in Edinburgh, went to University College London, and spent many years with his family in Canada before moving to the United States.
In 1876, he still identified as British.
It is true, as Mr Trump said, that Bell’s telephone was displayed in Philadelphia in 1876, that the invention was partially developed in Boston, and was the recipient of the first US patent (as a result of a hotly contested race with fellow inventor Elisha Gray.)
It is also true that the Bell Telephone Company was established in Boston, and was a precursor entity of major American company AT&T.
But while Bell is an exceptional inventor, and had ties to America, his inclusion on a list demonstrating American exceptionalism has confused some.
Bell said in 1915: “I am not one of those hyphenated Americans who claim allegiance to two countries.”
But he also identified as a ‘native son’ of all three of the countries he lived in: the US, but also Canada and the UK.
Bell lived for many years in Massachusetts and Washington D.C. but, in the later years of his life established a vast estate in Nova Scotia, Canada.
The estate was called Beinn Bhreagh - Gaelic for ‘beautiful mountain’ - and included a new laboratory that made the new residence increasingly the main residence of Bell and his wife.
They were accepted members of the community in the local village of Baddeck, and it was in Nova Scotia that Bell died in 1922.