How Telephones Began: A Historical Timeline

Talking to your loved ones no matter how far they are is what telephones have bought to our lives. Gone are the days of using snail mail where it’ll take days before replying to each other. From two cans tied to each other to electricity-driven ones, telephones have been in our lives long before. And in this article, we are going to see how the telephone has developed throughout the years.

  • The 1800s
  • In this year, the electric telegraph was born. It is a piece of tech that can send messages in whatever telegraph office is nearby. Alexander Graham Bell was inspired by the telegraph, thinking that he can improve the tech thinking that it can deliver and do more from what it can do. And this is what driven him to invent the telephone.

  • 1876
  • During this year, Bell applied a patent for his telephone. However, Elisha Gray wants to steal the show by applying a patent for her own invention that’s similarly inspired by Bell. But what she didn’t know is that Bell’s lawyer and the clerk of the patent office are good friends with each other. As a result, Bell’s telephone was patented first, delaying Gray’s caveat until Bell’s application could be presented.
  • The patent examiner, however, realized that both Bell and Gray’s applications are similar to each other where they halt the patent processing until they see a demonstration for both devices. Bell took the opportunity and demonstrated Gray’s technique. Because of this, Bell was granted the patent which was then upheld in a court of law. Historians have studied this scenario and concluded that Gray would have been the inventor of the telephone not until Bell who demonstrated the technology first.

  • 1877
  • Telephones were first installed in Boston and were the first city to be given the opportunity to do so. However, the only downside of it is that subscribers were paired and could only speak to one another, limiting the capability to speak to other people.

  • 1878
  • Telephone switchboards were invented that enables subscribers to talk to any phone connected on the same set of telephone lines. After three years, telephone demand had increased, and over 50,000 of telephones were installed in the US alone
  • The birth of telephone switchboards is like a breath of fresh air for telephone subscribers. But despite its pros, it has its cons also. The only way to talk to another subscriber on their own will is by asking the operator to place the call. Once done, the operator would liaise to the next operator in a sequence to connect the call. Long distance calls are impossible during this time. As subscribers were forced to make an appointment to the telephone company to use a specialized phone booth to make long distance calls.

  • 1900
  • But the tables have turned this time around. Electromechanical exchanges were invented, and the birth of the rotary dial telephone was here. The rotary dial phone allows subscribers to place a call without human intervention unlike before. The US is one of the first countries to make use of this technology.

  • 1904
  • About 3 million subscribers were connected this time around using manual exchange, which doubles the employee requirement of about ten thousand operators.

  • 1920
  • The telephone has undergone a huge development change as Western Electric developed a phone that included both earpiece and microphone in one handset. This allows subscribers to move around almost anywhere in the house while making a call, unlike the earlier ones where users were fixed into one position. The “Bell Model 102” is the first telephone to use this kind of tech.

  • The 1960s
  • Digital telephones and exchanges are invented, but subscribers have stick to the old instead of embracing this tech, making at almost a commercial failure.

  • 1973
  • Digital telephony was more prominent in the era of mobile telephones that used radio waves to wirelessly transmit calls. The first one to use this tech is an engineer that worked for Motorola during 1973.

  • The 1980s, 1990s, and Beyond
  • Mobile phone demand has taken the world by storm starting from the 1980s, which increased in the 1990s and continued to go on up to this day where smartphones are now the primary piece of tech when it comes to virtual communication.

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