OTD: Bell’s hydrofoil sets new world record for water speed

On today’s date in 1919, Alexander Graham Bell’s Hydrodome number four (HD-4) set a new world water speed record of 114 km/h—a record that stood for a full decade.

The hydrofoil watercraft was designed and built at Bell Boatyard on Bell’s Beinn Bhreagh estate near Baddeck, N.S. According to Robert Bruce’s 1973 book, Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude: “The sight alone was exhilarating, and the actual ride even more so. ‘At fifteen knots you feel the machine rising bodily out of the water,’ wrote one visitor, ‘and once up and clear of the drag she drives ahead with an acceleration that makes you grip your seat to keep from being left behind. The wind on your face is like the pressure of a giant hand and an occasional dash of fine spray stings like birdshot. … She doesn’t seem to heel a degree as she makes the turn. It’s unbelievable-it defies the law of physics, but it’s true.'”

“Bell himself would never ride in her,” wrote Bruce. “A newsreel photographer (one of several who showed up at Baddeck in that Jubilant season) got Bell to sit in the cockpit of the moored craft, but Bell insisted on having Baldwin’s small son beside him to negate any false imputation of daring. Mabel was furious with herself later for not having gone down to make her husband go for a spin while he was in the boat.”

Bell left Scotland in 1870 before settling in Brantford, Ont., where he worked on his new invention—the telephone—from 1874-76. Owing to his incredible technological advancements, he’s remembered in Scotland as well as Canada as one of the most significant inventors of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The HD-4 at Baddeck, N.S., where it set a world water speed record of 114 km/h in 1919.

MORE THAN 70 KM/H

According to Bruce, Bell’s first hydrofoil, the HD-1, reached speeds of 72 km/h in 1911. The next year it reached 80 km/h.

Bell’s next hydrofoil, the HD-2, broke apart before it could set any further records. As the HD-3 was being built around the start of the First World War, a moratorium was imposed on hydrofoil development and all further testing was halted.

Finally, in 1919—at a time when the world’s fastest steamship couldn’t even reach 50 km/h—the HD-4 set a world record of 114 km/h.

1947 BELL STAMP

The USPS featured Bell on this 10-cent stamp (US Scott #893) issued in 1940.

On March 3, 1947, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) featured the Scottish-born inventor on a four-cent commemorative stamp (Scott #274) marking the centenary of his birth and honouring his monumental discoveries. Printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company, the deep blue stamp was designed by Herman Schwartz and engraved by Silas Allen.

1936 LIST OF GREAT INVENTORS

In 1936, Bell was also listed first on the U.S. Patent Office’s list of great inventors, leading to the U.S. issuing a commemorative stamp featuring Bell in 1940 as part of its Famous Americans series.

In 1922, Bell died in Nova Scotia at the age of 75.

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