The Evolution of the Telephone and How it Impacted Everyday Life

The telephone is today a common device available almost everywhere. But when it was first invented, it was a technological marvel that revolutionized communication. The invention of the telephone changed the world and the way people communicated.

Today communication has become easy, and we can contact anyone anywhere in the world in an instant. If this has become possible, it is all thanks to the invention of the telephone. There is no doubt that the telephone has had a significant impact on everyday life.

It would be interesting to look at the evolution of the telephone. Which was the first milestone in the evolution of the telephone? Who should get the credit for inventing the telephone? How did the modern telephone evolve? Read on to know the answers to these questions.

Bell and the Telephone

There have been controversies, claims, and counterclaims about who should be given the credit for having invented the telephone. While many people were responsible for the groundwork, the one person who made it possible was Bell. Alexander Graham Bell is popularly and rightly acknowledged as the inventor of the telephone.

Interestingly, Bell and another inventor Elisha Gray were working on developing an instrument for electronic speech communication. While both invented devices, it was Bell who arrived at the patent office first. He got his device patented first making him the inventor of the telephone. March 7th, 1876, is the historic day when Bell’s telephone was patented.

The story of Bell’s invention is quite popular. The first words he spoke on the telephone were to his assistant Thomas Watson. “Mr. Watson, come here! I want to speak to you” were the first-ever words transmitted over the telephone. Once the telephone was patented, the Bell Telephone Company started operations. In the late 1870s, the first telephone line was built between Boston and Sommerville.

It is important to acknowledge the work done by others before Bell. Here are some of the development that took place before Bell patented his telephone:

  • Robert Hooke did experiments to transmit speech and built an acoustic string phone in 1667.
  • Francisco Salva Campillo built the first electrochemical telegraph. The first electromechanical telegraph was built by Baron Schilling in 1832.
  • Sir William Cooke built the first electric telegraph in 1839. 
  • In 1844, the idea of the telephone as a ‘speaking telegraph’ was first proposed by Innocenzo Manzetti. 
  • In 1854, Antonio Meucci built a device similar to the telephone.
  • Elisha Gray made a telephone using a water microphone.
  • In 1876, the concept of a telephone exchange was first made by Tivadar Puskas.
  • Thomas Edison also experimented with telegraphs and even developed a receiver. But he did not continue to work on it. He invented the carbon microphone that was subsequently used until the 1980s.

On 10th August 1876, the first long-distance phone call was made. It was made from Brantford in the US to Ontario in Canada. In 1878, Bell demonstrated the working of the telephone to Queen Victoria who found it ‘extraordinary’. The first transatlantic phone call was made in 1927 from the US to the UK.

The telephone during the initial years

Once the telephone was commercialized during the late 1980s, its use became popular. Communication during those days happened through telegrams where written messages had to be used. The telephone was considered revolutionary because it allowed people to talk to each other using the telephone instrument. 

This had a very powerful impact on society because it made communication easy. People would talk to anyone in any place easily. In particular, telephony was highly beneficial for business. Now, business transactions could be done over the telephone without having to wait for letters to reach people. 

Instant communication was the biggest benefit the telephone offered. During an emergency, people could contact each other quickly. News could be transmitted quickly and easily. While initially, the cost of placing a call was high; later on costs were reduced. Initially, government organizations and businesses used telephones. Within a few decades, telephones began to be used in homes.

This allowed families to be in touch with each other, thereby improving communication. Another important benefit of the telephone was that it created new jobs. People were needed to draw telephone lines and build the infrastructure needed for telephones. Telephone companies hired people for their work. Telephone exchanges were developed, and they hired telephone operators and other staff.

Developments in the 20th century

By 1904, there were more than 3 million telephones in the US. The US became the leader in telephonic communication. Many telephone companies started operations after Bell’s patent expired. This accelerated the growth of the telephone industry in the US. Initially, calls had to be connected manually by operators in telephone exchanges. 

The model 102 telephone from the Bell Company was an important invention during this time. It was the first time the transmitter and receiver were included in a single device. The earlier telephones had two separate devices for transmission and receiving signals. The speaker had to listen through one device and speak on another.

The new telephones had both transmitter and receiver in a plastic handle. When not used, the device could be placed on the base unit. This was the model that gave rise to the modern telephone. Soon, a rotary dial was introduced where the telephone number could be dialed. Subsequently, the dial was replaced by buttons during the 1960s that made make making calls easier.

A significant development during this time was the automatic telephone exchange. Almon Strowther is credited with this innovation in 1889. The automatic telephone exchange made it easy for people to dial and speak without requiring an operator to switch calls. This led to the demand for engineers who could install devices to automatically connect calls.

The following is a summary of some important developments in the evolution of the telephone during the 1900s:

  • Bell’s company acquired many of its competitors. This led to the growth of American Telephone and Telegraph Co., which had a virtual monopoly over the telephone industry. This company would later become AT&T.
  • Payphones began to crop up across the country. The first pay phone was patented in Hartford by William Gray. These payphones accepted coins as payment and the payment had to be made after the call. This led to the growth of phone booths during the 1900s. Pay phone booths began to be set up everywhere allowing the public to make telephone calls easily. Payment had to be made through coins before the call was initiated. Payphones continued to be used until mobile phones became popular, after which they declined.
  • Touch-tone dialing was introduced by AT&T in the 1960s. This soon became the standard allowing for the growth of push-button telephones.
  • During the 70s, AT&T came out with the idea of a picture phone where users could see the other person making a call. This idea took time to develop and later on became the smartphone.
  • An important innovation took place in the 1970s. This was when cordless phones were invented and quickly became popular. Cordless phones had the transmitter and receiver in a device that was connected to a base station without cables. Users could walk around using the cordless phone. Making telephone calls became more convenient. Digital cordless phones were introduced in the 1990s which extended the reach of the cordless phone.
  • Telephone books started in the 1880s and became popular during the 1900s. These books, later known as directories, had phone numbers and addresses of telephone subscribers. Soon every home had directories. Yellow pages with advertisements were also introduced. The growth of the mobile telephone led to the decline of the telephone directory.
  • An important innovation took place in 1968, with the concept of a dedicated phone line for emergencies. 911 was evolved as a universal number to call in case of any emergency. 
  • The 1960s also saw the advent of caller ID phones. This enabled the person receiving the call to see the telephone number of the incoming call. The service became popular during the 1980s. Today, it is a standard feature, especially on mobile phones.

The Telephone evolves into the mobile phone

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Today landline telephones have reduced in terms of numbers. More and more people prefer mobile phones thanks to their convenience. A landline telephone requires wiring, and the instrument can be used only within a particular area. Mobile telephones are wireless and can be used anywhere. Mobile phones have become popular while landline phones have declined. 

The timeline and the history of how mobile phones developed are presented below:

  • In 1908, a patent for a wireless telephone was granted. This was the first step in the development of the mobile phone.
  • In the 1940s, engineers working for the AT&T Company developed the first mobile phones. These were more of two-way radios rather than mobile phones.
  • Motorola should be given the credit for developing the first mobile phone. While the research was done initially in AT&T, Motorola pioneered mobile telephones commercially. 3rd April 1973 was when the first mobile phone was introduced.
  • The initial mobile phones were then referred to as 0G or zero generation phones. With innovations in the mobile phone industry, first, second, and third-generation mobile phones were developed. Today, most people use 4G or fourth-generation mobile phones. 5G technology has already been introduced and is likely to take off over the next decade.
  • The first mobile phone product was the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. It was priced at $4000 and was meant for big businesspersons. 
  • Interestingly, the first public call on mobile phones was made in 1985. It was made by comedian Ernie Wise outside the Dicken’s Pub while wearing the dress of a coachman.
  • In 1987, the standard for GMS phones was introduced. It helped to standardize the use of mobile phones. The standard made mobile phones popular across the world. When GSM was launched in 1991, it helped bring down the cost of mobile telephones and increase its reach.
  • One of the first commercial phones that became popular was the Nokia 1011. Nokia became a leader in the field of mobile telephones. Later on other companies like Samsung and then Huawei, Apple, and Xiaomi would overtake them.
  • 2000 was when the first camera phone was released. The phone was the Sharp J-SH04. The release of the Sony Ericsson phones led to the popularity of camera phones. This made picture phones a reality. The growth of 3G technology helped make video calls a reality. This was a significant development in the telephone sector.
  • Soon, smartphones became a reality. Smartphones used a touchscreen that did not require buttons to be operated. Users could swipe and tap on the smartphone to operate it. Using this phone was convenient and children soon fell in love with smartphones. The older type of phones, known as feature phones gradually declined. Smartphones soon became the norm. The first touchscreen phone was the LG Prada. Apple then brought out the iPhone, which helped them to make a niche for themselves in the mobile phone market. 
  • The growth of the internet had an impact on mobile phones. It ensured smartphones could use the internet to offer better features to customers. This led to the development of apps that could be used to order food online, make payments, book a taxi, or even consult with a doctor over the internet.
  • Newer phones have powerful security features with fingerprint and facial recognition features available. These phones have vast features and are faster in speed.

Impact of telephone on daily life

Initially, telephones were meant for use by the government and big businesses. This was because of the high costs. With the growth of technology, phones began to be used by common people. It revolutionized communication, making the process easy.

Telephones soon became commonplace. The growth of mobile phones and smartphones has had a huge impact on daily life. It makes communication easy and people can see each other and talk to each other at any time. They can use apps to do virtually anything from the comfort of their home. 

It won’t be an exaggeration to say the telephone and its latest avatar, the mobile phone, are among the greatest inventions ever.Stock photos via Megapixl Premium Images.

About Charley Eves

I have been involved with marketing for nearly 30 years. Ask me anything. If I can help I will surprised. Dad of two. Husband.

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