Volta Bureau and Laboratory

Volta Laboratory and Melville Bell House: 3414 Volta Place, NW

Volta Bureau: 1537 35th Street

Three years after introducing the telephone to England and France in 1877, Bell received the Volta Prize of 50,000 francs from the French Government for his invention of the electric speaking telephone. Bell used this money to found the Volta Laboratory, which was located on L Street in Washington, where more scientific research could be undertaken.

Bell’s father moved to a three-story brick house at 1527 35th Street in 1881, and in 1885 Bell moved the Volta Laboratory from the L Street building to the two-story, L-shaped, brick carriage house in the rear of his father’s residence. During Bell’s use, both stories had full length windows topped with segmental arches, as well as a north street façade with a brick parapet rising above the second story. The exterior brick of the house has since been covered with stucco, the windows reduced to a third of their original size, to accommodate its use as a single family residence.

In 1887 the Volta Laboratory Associates sold their record patents to the American Gramophone Company, and Alexander Graham Bell took part of his share of the profits to found the Volta Bureau as an instrument "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the Deaf." After the dispersal of the Volta Laboratory, Bell first set up his new project, the Volta Bureau, at the same location as the Laboratory- his father’s residence. As a result of the Bureau’s success and the need for more work space though, Bell built a new space specifically for the Bureau at 1537 35th Street, across the street from his father’s house. The Bureau intended to serve as a center of information relating to all classes and ages of deaf and hard of hearing persons. The yellow brick and sandstone structure that still houses the Volta Bureau was built in 1893 and was designed by architects Peabody & Stearns.

DC designation: March 3, 1979
National Register: November, 28 1972
National Historic Landmark Designation: November 28, 1972



1537-41 35th Street, NW (3417 Volta Place, NW)