Meet Alexander Graham Bell, Inventor of the Telephone and Popular TV Pitchman

Mr. Wat­son, come here! I want you to tell me why I keep show­ing up in tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials. Is it because they think I invent­ed the tele­vi­sion?

- The ghost of Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell

Not at all, my dear Mr. Bell. A sec­ond’s worth of research reveals that a 21-year-old upstart named Phi­lo Tay­lor Farnsworth invent­ed tele­vi­sion. By 1927, when he unveiled it to the pub­lic, you’d already been dead for five years.

You invent­ed the telephone, a fact of which we’re all very aware.

Though you might want to look into intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty law.… His­toric fig­ures make pop­u­lar pitch­men, espe­cial­ly if — like Lin­coln, Coper­ni­cus, and a red hot Alexan­der Hamil­ton, they’ve been in the grave for over 100 years. (Hint — you’ve got five years to go.)

Or you could take it as a com­pli­ment! You’ve made an impres­sion so last­ing, the briefest of estab­lish­ing shots is all we tele­vi­sion audi­ences need to under­stand the adver­tis­er’s premise.

Thus­ly can you be co-opt­ed into sell­ing the Amer­i­can pub­lic on the appar­ent­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­cept of chick­en for break­fast, above.

And that’s just the tip of the ice­berg!

Mr. Wat­son gets a cameo in your 1975 ad for Care­free Gum. You def­i­nite­ly come off the bet­ter of the two.

You’re an obvi­ous choice for a recent AT&T spot trac­ing a line from your rev­e­la­to­ry moment to 20-some­thing  hip­sters wield­ing smart­phones and sparklers on a Brook­lyn rooftop. Their devices aren’t the only thing con­nect­ing you. It’s also the beards…

Apolo­gies for the beard­less­ness of this 10 year old, low-bud­get spot for Able Com­put­ing in Papua New Guinea. Pos­si­bly the cos­tumer thought Ein­stein invent­ed the phone? Or maybe the cre­ative direc­tor was count­ing on the local view­ing audi­ence not to sweat the small stuff. Your inven­tion mat­ters more than your facial hair.

Lego took a cue from the 80s Mup­pet Babies craze by send­ing you back to child­hood. They also sad­dled you and your mom  with Amer­i­can accents, a regret­tably com­mon prac­tice. I bet you would’ve liked Legos, though. They’re like blocks.

As for this one, your guess is as good as mine.

Read­ers, please share your favorite ads fea­tur­ing his­toric fig­ures in the com­ments below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Voice of Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell for the First Time in a Cen­tu­ry

Hear Kurt Von­negut Vis­it the After­life & Inter­view Dead His­tor­i­cal Fig­ures: Isaac New­ton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

Thomas Edison’s Silent Film of the “Fartiste” Who Delight­ed Crowds at Le Moulin Rouge (1900)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in Paul David Young’s Faust 3, an indict­ment of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion that adapts and man­gles Goethe’s Faust (Parts 1 and 2) and the Gospels in the King James trans­la­tion, as well as bits of Yeats, Shake­speare, Christ­mas car­ols, Stephen Fos­ter, John Donne, Hein­er Müller, Julia Ward Howe, and Abel Meeropol. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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