Sunday, January 4, 2009

Telephone Trivia

The following is a brief summary of the history of the development of the telephone:

Copy of the original phone of Graham Bell at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris
  • 1667: Robert Hooke invented a string telephone that conveyed sounds over an extended wire by mechanical vibrations.
  • 1844: Innocenzo Manzetti first mooted the idea of a “speaking telegraph” (telephone).
  • 1854: Charles Bourseul writes a memorandum on the principles of the telephone.(See the article : "Transmission électrique de la parole", L'Illustration, Paris, 26 August 1854).
  • 1854: Antonio Meucci demonstrates an electric voice-operated device in New York; it is not clear what kind of device he demonstrated.
  • 1861: Philipp Reis constructs the first speech-transmitting telephone
  • 1872: Elisha Gray establishes Western Electric Manufacturing Company.
  • July 1, 1875: Bell uses a bi-directional "gallows" telephone that was able to transmit "voicelike sounds", but not clear speech. Both the transmitter and the receiver were identical membrane electromagnet instruments.
  • 1875: Thomas Edison experiments with acoustic telegraphy and in November builds an electro-dynamic receiver, but does not exploit it.
  • 1875: Hungarian Tivadar Puskas (the inventor of telephone exchange) arrived to USA.
  • April 6, 1875: Bell's U.S. Patent 161,739 "Transmitters and Receivers for Electric Telegraphs" is granted. This uses multiple vibrating steel reeds in make-break circuits, and the concept of multiplexed frequencies.
  • February 11, 1876: Elisha Gray designs a liquid transmitter for use with a telephone, but does not build one.
  • March 7, 1876: Bell's U.S. patent 174,465 for the telephone is granted.
  • March 10, 1876: Bell transmits the sentence "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you" using a liquid transmitter and an electromagnetic receiver.
  • January 30, 1877: Bell's U.S. patent 186,787 is granted for an electro-magnetic telephone using permanent magnets, iron diaphragms, and a call bell.
  • April 27, 1877: Edison files for a patent on a carbon (graphite) transmitter. The patent 474,230 was granted May 3, 1892, after a 15-year delay because of litigation. Edison was granted patent 222,390 for a carbon granules transmitter in 1879.
  • 1877: First long-distance telephone line

My telephone History

Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By had a link to a funny article about rotary dial telephones and that got me thinking about all the changes in phones that have occurred in my lifetime.

When I was a toddler most phones were hung on the wall with a receiver on a hook next to the speaker. You removed the receiver and put it to your ear to hear. My great-aunt thought I was very clever when I listened on the phone for the first time. I said one word, "Ouch", but pronounced it Owk. That just shows what a dull child I must have been if this was the only clever (?) thing I ever said. The story was repeated so often that I was old enough to remember hearing it before it died down. So much for being a witty girl.

The wall phones were followed by a desk phone with the receiver in a cradle. You had to get the operator to ring your number. A funnier family story than my "Owk" occurred when a Norwegian man wanted to use our phone. He pronounced his J's as Yays. In those days the four numbers were followed by a letter. One day Mr. Jorgensen wanted to use our phone to make a call. The number was something like 2345 J. He told the operater he wanted 2345 Yay. She didn't understand and after three or four tries, he got exasperated and yelled, "Yay, Yay, Yay as in Yump".

As telephones became standard equipment in most homes a prefix had to be added to the numbers to make more numbers available. Remember Glenn Miller's popular number, Pennsylvania 6500?

In those days party lines were an option. The monthly fee was less for people sharing the line. There were two party and four party lines. If you lifted the receiver and heard conversation you had to hang up and keep trying until the other party on your line finished the conversation. This led to some very hard feelings when one party hogged the line. This feature died a merciful death.

Eventually you no longer needed to talk to an operator to ring your number. You could dial it yourself. This meant you could no longer blame someone else when you got a wrong number. The improved phone now had the dial on the front. You stuck your finger in a hole with the corresponding number and moved it to the end; then you repeated this action until you had finished dialing. The result was often a sore finger or a ruined manicure when the dial automatically returned to the first position. The users quickly learned to use a pencil in the hole to dial the number. This phone, too, died a slow death to be replaced by the touch-pad that we are now familiar with.

Most phones were black, except in movies, when a stylish white phone was filmed. Hollywood has led so many fads that I think Tinsel City led to the advent of colored phones. Whether this is true or not, color did appear and you could select a hue that matched your decor.

Finally, the touch pad phone appeared that we still use. Phones could be wall hung and many homes had several telephones.

About the time of this evolution of the telephone I began losing my hearing. You could see the progression of my loss by the telephones in my house. My first phone to help me hear was the Princess phone. It was smaller but featured an amplified hand set.

As my hearing worsened I bought a desk phone with a separate receiver that had stronger amplification. This was followed by a speaker phone. More phones with stronger amplification followed until I now have a captioned phone. The latter isn't a phone at all, but is a computer designed to look like a telephone.

My latest telephone is a cordless phone that was purchased because I found getting to a telephone with a walker slow going. Actually, I think I must look like a spastic turtle as I lurch forward across the floor. Haste is not an option these days and my callers quite often would hang up before I could reach the phone. Now I carry it with me.

Most of you now consider a cell phone the size of a credit card a necessity. Cell Phones multitask and I am not that proficient with tiny buttons, so they can keep their Blackberries and other electronic gadgets. Include me out!!!

What will come next? Stay tuned.


20th Century Woman said...

The first phone I remember was a sort of post thing with a little trumpet that you spoke into. The ear piece hung on the post. Our phone number was 233, and the railroad station's number was 23, so we were always getting questions about train schedules. The grownups always greeted the operator by name when they made a call. And long distance calls were a really big deal.

One Woman's Journey said...

What a great post. I remember when I would visit my grandmother and she had a party line. I was not familiar with this. I remember some funny happenings.

Joy Des Jardins said...

I love this post Darlene. My only recollection was the wall phone with the long cord....loved that one. Talked on it in the kitchen for hours...until my parents opted for my pink princess phone for my room...WOW...what a treat that was for ME and for THEM. They could have their phone back. I loved that princess phone. I honesly can't imagine what could be coming next....the mind boggles. I'm with you....NO THANKS....I can't deal with most of it. I'm just not techie enough for all these gadgets...

Nancy said...


We went on a trip once which took us to Cape Breton Island in Canada. In the town of Baddeck we visited the home and laboratory of Alexander Graham Bell. Baddeck had been the Bell Family Summer residence for years.

The guide told us that A.G.Bell's Mother and his wife, Mabel, were both profoundly deaf. Mabel from Scarlet fever as a child.

It seems the telephone was an early attempt at a hearing device for the deaf. The telephone turned out to be a wonderful communication device for everyone, but it was really intended to allow his wife, Mabel, to hear....

So, we all benefitted from Mabel's handicap.

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Granny Annie said...

Darlene this is a great post. It took me down memory lane to a great deal of the things you experienced.

I will never forget visiting the home of my college roommate. Her parents owned the local phone company and they had telephones in EVERY room of their home. Yes including the bathrooms. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

Darlene said...

20th Century woman - Isn't it interesting that we can remember our first telepone numbers. Mine was Melrose 3156.

Ernestine, I had a party line for a very brief time and quickly changed it for a private line. The savings weren't worth it.

Joy, I remember that phoe - the cord stretched into the other room and I could never hear what my children were talking about. Frustrating! ;)

Nancy, what an interesting story.

Ugich, I will go there right after I finish this comment.

Grannie Annie, a phone in the bathroom - now that's really multitasking.

Beverly said...

loved the post. I do not remember the oldest one, I am a young one being only 61. lol I remember we had only three numbers 305 that's all. I lived in a small town. I do remember making the operator "mad" when I kept recalling a busy number over and over.