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Innocenzo Manzetti

Innocenzo Vincenzo Bartolomeo Luigi Carlo Manzetti (17 March 1826 – 17 March 1877) was an Italian inventor born in Aosta. Following primary school he went to the Jesuit-run Saint Bénin Boarding School and then on to Turin where he was awarded a diploma in land surveying before returning to Aosta.



In 1844 Manzetti first mooted the idea of a “speaking telegraph” (telephone), but didn't pursue the idea at the time.



In 1849 he constructed a flute-playing automaton. It was in the shape of a man, life-size, seated on a chair. Hidden inside the chair were levers, connecting beams and compressed air tubes, which made the automaton's lips and fingers move on the flute according to a programme recorded on a cylinder similar to those used in player pianos. The automaton was powered by clockwork and could perform 12 different arias. As part of the performance it would rise from the chair, bow its head, and roll its eyes.

Later he managed to get his automaton to play any piece performed by a musician on an organ by muting the organ's keys and connecting them to the automaton's fingers. He also built, as a toy for his daughter, a wooden flying parrot which would beat its wings then, reportedly, rise into the air and hover for two or three minutes before settling on a shelf.


In 1855 he invented a hydraulic machine to empty water from the wells of the Ollomont Mines, which were previously unworkable.

Steam car

In 1864 he built a steam-powered car (27 years before that built in Paris by Serpollet).

Speaking telegraph (telephone)

In 1864, in order to give his automaton the power of speech, he finally invented his speaking telegraph (Some reports state that he didn't actually get it working until the following year). Either way he failed to patent his device, but it was reported in the press around the world. Émile Quétand, writing in Le Petit Journal of Paris, wrote:

“Manzetti transmits directly the word by means of the ordinary telegraphic wire, with an apparatus simpler than the one which is now used for dispatches. Now, two merchants will be able to discuss their business instantly from London to Calcutta, announce each other speculations, propose them, conclude them. Many experiments have been made already. They were successful enough to establish the practical possibility of this discovery. Music can already be perfectly transmitted; as for the words, the sonorous ones are heard distinctly.”

Later, on 22 August 1865, La Feuille d'Aoste reported:

“It is rumoured that English technicians to whom Signor Manzetti illustrated his method for transmitting spoken words on the telegraph wire intend to apply said invention in England on several private telegraph lines.”

Manzetti later recalled the “English technicians” as being Alexander Graham Bell (Scottish) and family.

Miscellaneous inventions

Other machines invented by Manzetti included:


Manzetti married Rosa Sofia Anzola in 1864. His first daughter, Maria Sofia, died in 1867 at the age of two. Manzetti himself died in Aosta on his 51st birthday, poor and largely unrecognized, one year after the death of his second and last daughter, Marina Fortunata.


External links


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