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Putting the Phone in iPhone: A New Play About Alexander Graham Bell

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Apple just announced two new iPhones, the 5C and the 5S. The iPhone will forever be associated with the inventive genius of Steve Jobs and Silicon Valley. But the roots of innovation can be traced back, from one genius to another at least back to the genius who put the phone in iPhone: Alexander Graham Bell.

While Ashton Kutcher is playing Steve Jobs on the big screen and Walter Isaacson is telling his story, the acclaimed journalist Jim Lerher has authored a play about the genius and impact of Bell that is playing at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC.

Like Jobs, Bell was a charismatic and somewhat disorganized genius with relentless drive. His drive, from youth, was to improve the lives of the deaf and hard of hearing. That led him to invent the most disruptive communications technology ever--the phone. It also led to the world's largest corporation for many decades--AT&T and the Bell phone system.

Jobs, of course, didn't just change phones, he changed music, with iTunes and the iPod. But the first devices to record and play back music were the phonograph and the gramophone. The gramophone's inventor: Alexander Graham Bell.

While Jobs was a product of Silicon Valley, where he was born and raised, Bell established some key roots in the nation's capital. Of course, very recently, DC has been making national news as a "new" and "emerging" hub for technology and innovation. We have seen an increasing number of tech startups based in DC and influx of capital. Earlier this year, a co-working space and accelerator called 1776 launched with an A-list of investors, such as former AOL CEO Steve Case, and mentors including the co-founder of Blackboard, Michael Chasen. Last night, in fact, General Assembly, the leading company educating entrepreneurs and startup employees, based in New York, announced that its next campus would be in DC.

But DC's roots in innovation go back long before AOL and Blackboard. In the early 1890, Bell founded a legendary laboratory, the Volta Laboratory, in the Georgetown neighborhood. There, he built technologies to improve the lives of deaf people--as well as inventing the gramophone.

Bell also co-founded another organization that remains relevant to this day: National Geographic, headquartered in Washington, DC. Indeed, Bell was the organization's second president.

Tying together the innovative strand from Bell to today, National Geographic has invited several DC-based startups, including one focused on developing software for Google Glass and smartwatches (my company Silica Labs), to showcase some of their software inventions, built in DC, on the shoulders of giants like Jobs and Bell.

Come see the show, playing from September 12 to 21, and celebrate 150 years of DC tech and original (i)phone.