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The Telephone

Page history last edited by Kelli Richardson 10 years, 4 months ago
The Telephone is a system for transmitting speech or computerized information over distances, usually by converting sounds into electric impulses that are sent through a network of wires and cables; some systems transmit by means of radio waves.[1]

The telephone was a wonderful invention that has lasted through the years. It has been improved and accessories have been added to aid in the usefulness of the product. People are by their nature, social and need to keep up with one another. The telephone is a simple and convenient way for people to keep in touch.



The telephone was invented in March of 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell was trying to improve the telegraph.When developing plans for the telephone, the telegraph had been in existence for at least 30 years [6]. He filed a patent claim which then lead to a legal dispute between Bell and Elisha Grey about who the real inventor of the telephone was. Bell won the dispute. After the filing of his patent, Bell spent the next year giving demonstrations on how the telephone worked, even though some of his demonstrations failed. Bell was even able to charge people admission for the viewing of this new wonder.

Bell's main supporters were Gardiner Hubbard, his father-in-law and Thomas Sanders, the father of one of  Bell's students. These men started to market the telephone and in July of 1877 they named their organization the Bell Telephone Company. The opening of the first telephone switchboard opened in January of 1878 in New Haven. Bell ended up controlling both the telephone service and the equipment for the telephone. This meant that he ended up leasing the telephones and licenses to local providers to make a profit. The Bell Telephone Company controlled rental fees and could set rates at whatever they chose. AT&T eventually replaced the Bell Operating Company and set nationwide policies. Soon after, Western Union started to adopt telephones designed by Thomas Edison and offered a competing service. Bell ended up suing Western Union for patent infringement and by the end of 1879 it was settled that Bell would retain patent rights and instruments. In return, Bell agreed to renounce his telegraph service, pay Western Union 20 percent of his gross receipts for a time, and grant the telegraph company partial interest in a few of Bell's local companies.

The years 1880-1893 were a monopoly for the telephone industry. They were so busy, a franchise owner, Edward J. Hall, complained that he had too much business and too many calls to provide subscribers adequate service. With this increased use in the telephone business, Bell decided to rebuild and come out with a better system. Theodore N. Vail was Bell's general manager and president of the company until 1887. During his time he created a high quality service policy, which meant that telephone subscribers would have high costs to pay. The rates were so high during this time, that the flat rate for telephone service equaled about 10 percent of an average nonfarm employee's wages. To deal with the high telephone prices, customers rebelled and organized an 18-month boycott of telephones. The boycott led to a drop in the flat rate of telephone services.

The first thirty years of the telephone service had a variety of marketing techniques. These included: broadcasting news, providing wake-up calls, transmitting sermons, and several other services. The telephone industry spent a considerable amount of time during its beginning years just trying to introduce people to the telephone.

The first subscribers of telephone services were mainly doctors, pharmacists, and businessmen. The phenomenon of the telephone eventually picked up and soon there after, there was a telephone in every community. The number of telephones grew to about 60,000 in the United States between 1880 and 1893, which was about 1 per 250 people. The telephone had finally made it big.[2]


Early Telephone Advertisements

Early telephone advertisements were revolutionary at the time. Advertisment of telephones made them seem important and made everyone want to have one. This photo represents what one of the early telephones looked like.


Telephone History Timeline

1874 -Alexander Graham Bell discovered the principle of the telephone.

1876 -US Patent No. 174,465, issued on March 3 for "Improvements in Telegraphy."

Alexander Graham Bell - First Telephone PatentAlexander Graham Bell - First Telephone PatentPatent TextPatent TextPatent TextPatent Text

Above shows the images from Bell's patent.

1876 -Elisha Gray applies for a similiar patent hours after Bell.

1877 -Thomas Edison receives a patent in Britain for the "electro-motograph."

The first permanent outdoor telephone wire was strung.

Commercial telephone service began in the United States.

1878 -The workable exchange enabled calls to be switched among any number of subscribers rather than requiring direct lines.

1879 -Telephone subscribers began to be designated by numbers rather than names.

1880's -Long distance service was established and grew using metallic circuits.

1888 -The common battery system, developed by Hammond V. Hayes, permitted a central battery to supply all telephones on an exchange.

1891 -The first automatic dial system was patented by a Kansas City undertaker.

1900 -The first coin telephone was installed in Hartford, Connecticut.

1906 -Dr. Lee De Forest, began work on applying what was known as an "audion," a three element vacuum tube, which could amplify radio waves, to telephony.

1911 -American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) took control of Western Union Telegraph Company.

1913 -The Bell System bought the rights to De Forest's patents, which were used for long distance telephone service. The first long-distance wire link was on the New York to San Francisco circuit using loading coils and repeaters.

1918 -Ten million Bell System telephones were in service.

1921 -Automatic switching of large numbers of calls was made possible using "phantom circuits," which allowed three telephone conversations to be conducted on two pairs of wires.

1927 -The "French" phone, with the transmitter and receiver in a single handset, developed by the Bell System, was released on a widespread basis.

1927 -Transatlantic service from New York to London became operational and was transmitted by radio waves.

1936 -Research on electronic telephone exchanges began in Bell Labs and was ultimately perfected in the 1960's with AT&T's Electronic Switching System (ESS).

1946 - The first commercial mobile telephone service was put into service, linking moving vehicles to the telephone network by radio.

1946 -Transmission via coaxial cables was accomplished.

1947 -Microwave radio transmission was used for long-distance telephony.

1947 -The transistor, a key to modern electronics, was invented at Bell Labs by a team consisting of William Schockley, Walter Brattain, and John Bardeen.

1955 -The laying of transatlantic telephone cables began.

1958 -All Number Calling (ANC) was instituted to handle consumer demands for individual telephone numbers.

1962 -Telstar, the world's first international communications satellite, was rocketed into orbit on July 10th  with collaboration between NASA and the Bell System.

1960's -Videophones became more affordable and practical.

1980's -Fiber optic(s) technology developed



Telephone Changing Society

The invention of the telephone brought much controversy, people questioned whether the telephone was of great use or abuse.  The telephone allows for people to communicate to each other with similar equipment. Although most people use the telephone for personal and business work other companies began telemarketing, which is the calling of others trying to sell items over the phone. The political leaders also began to use the telephone to contact the communities before election time to try to persuade people to vote for them. People were also able to contact counselors over the phone to be able to aquire help with problems they may have [7].


Telephone Accessories

The telephone is an essential part of today’s society. There are several features to the telephone today. The telephone may have calling number identification (CNI or Caller ID) as well as automatic number identification (ANI), that can tell a person where the call is coming from. The main reason for using Caller ID is convenience. [4]

Voicemail and answering machines are also a new add on to telephones. Voicemail is defined as an electronic system that uses telephones and a computer to store and then deliver recorded voice messages. [2] An answering machine is an electronic device using recording tape or a semiconductor strip, to record or receive telephone messages automatically. [1] These are both convenient items that let people be worry free about missing a call. The caller can simply leave a message and the person can call them back at their  own convenience.


Telephones Today

Telephones have evolved over the years. The telephone started out as a simple device that would be activated when a person picked up the receiver and had the operator connect them to their desired caller. Since then telephones have moved through stages; first a rotary dial, then touch tone, followed by cordless phones, and now cell phones. The CellPhone has virtually taken over the telephone industry. Many homes in today's society do not even have a landline phone, since most people are using Cell Phones.


Implications on Media Ecology

The telephone has had dramatic implications on media ecology. Telephones are widely used and are a very important part of society. People need phones to keep in touch. Phones help people get things done and are an essential element to practically every business activity. Telephones are reliable and help people connect rapidly, which is something that needs to be done in today’s fast paced society.


[1] Webster's New World College Dictionary. 4th ed. 2005.

[2] David, Crowley, and Heyer Paul. Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2007.

[3] http://affordablephones.net/HistoryTelephone.htm

[4] James, Katz E. Connections: Social and Cultural Studies of the Telephone in American Life. New Burnswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1999.

[5] http://library.thinkquest.org/J0112389/how_telephones_changed.htm

[6]Bellis, Mary. The History of the Telephone- Alexander Graham Bell. About.com.

[7] Mitcham, Carl. Telephone. Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Detroit: Macmillian Reference USA. 2005. p1916-1920.

Original Author - Sarah Anderson

Additional Writing and Editting- Kate M. Fisher

Additional Writing and Editting- Kelli Richardson



Comments (7)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:35 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Maybe you could add something about present day use of the cell phone, how it evolved from the land-line and its implications on today's society?
-- ChadChumley (2008-04-02 12:58:21)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:36 pm on Sep 11, 2008

There will be citations and references, right?

Don't forget all the resources I've linked to on the blog under "online resources." I've got some really good links for specific technologies, including the telephone.

Also, I've got lots of interesting YouTube links on my Media Ecology playlists



If you search through these lists, you'll find a bunch of telephone videos that can be embedded in this article.

Example/instructions for embedding YouTube is here: http://wiki.iwc.edu/wikka.php?wakka=EmbedVideo
-- AdmiN (2008-04-04 16:09:18)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:36 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Also, I have several important links to sites dedicated to telephone history on the class website under "online resources/"Guides to specific media and their history" -- especially:


-- AdmiN (2008-04-07 12:53:31)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:36 pm on Sep 11, 2008

I think that cell phones would be a good idea to talk about since almost everyone has one. You could probably link this page to cellphones. Maybe mention telemarketers!
-- JenniferCrowe (2008-04-14 16:02:43)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:36 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Great job on the article, maybe when you mention cell phones under telephones today you might metion how today some household do not have land lines any more they only use their cell phones.
-- GabbyCombs (2008-04-25 08:19:47)

Jeff Martinek said

at 2:36 pm on Sep 11, 2008

Good Job Sarah !
-- JenniferCrowe (2008-04-25 13:27:37)

Kate M. Fisher said

at 7:55 pm on Sep 14, 2008

I think some information on modern-day cell phone usage would be appropriate, because as you stated above, cell phones are the norm in our society today. Maybe more graphics/pictures on the different telephone systems in our history would be helpful. I know under the historical section a lot of the different systems previously developed, I do not know much about, so I think some photos would bring the information together a bit better ( i.e. the electromotograph).

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