Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Dawn of the Telephone!

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, I shared about the this history of hot air balloons and showcased a festival here in my town that happens every year. If you missed that post, you can read it here: https://www.hhhistory.com/2018/09/hot-air-balloon-flights-history-of.html.

Now, let's move from our bodies traveling through the air to our voices traveling over wires and cables.

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The Dawn of the Telephone

First telephone call made
I don't know about you, but I personally find the cell phones we use today to be a distraction and relationship separator rather than a relationship connector, which is what the first telephone accomplished. Now, some could argue that our modern cell phones connect us to the world at large and connect us to information at our fingertips, and this is true. However, I'm old-school, I'll admit it. I still love to actually talk face to face with someone rather than send off a text. Can you imagine what Alexander Graham Bell would say if he were still alive today and saw how far his invention had come?

Bell's First Telephone
Many don't know this, but a man by the name of Robert Hooke created an acoustic string telephone that conveyed sound over a taut extended wire by mechanical vibrations way back in 1667! That's over two-hundred years before Bell made his first telephone call over outdoor wires. Sound transmission via vibration had been happening for hundreds of years prior to that too. It wasn't until 1874, though, that Bell conceived the theoretical concept for the telephone while on vacation at his parents' farm near Brantford, Canada. Alexander Melville Bell (his father) recorded notes of his son's conversation in his personal journal.

early model wired telephone
Two years later, on February 14, 1876, Elisha Gray (founder of the Western Electric Manufacturing Company) sent his lawyer to the patent office in Washington, D.C. with a patent caveat for the telephone. Two hours after that, Alexander Graham Bell's lawyer arrived at the same patent office with a full patent application and a request that it be filed immediately in the cash receipts blotter. It was. About two hours later, Gray's caveat was filed in the blotter. He could have converted his caveat to a full application and contested Bell's priority, but his lawyer advised against it, so the patent was awarded to Bell.

In March, Bell successfully transmitted speech to his assistant, saying "Mr. Watson, come here! I want to see you!" using a liquid transmitter as described in Gray's caveat, and Bell's own electromagnetic receiver. Can you imagine the excitement in realizing your invention worked?! And it all started with a theory. In August of that same year, Bell made the world's first long distance telephone call (about 6 miles), but in October, Bell and Watson demonstrated the first two-way phone call over outdoor wires between Boston and Cambridge.

Switchboard operators
All of this happened in the same year America turned 100 years old. How fitting to celebrate such a monumental birthday AND introduce a device that would experience revolutionary changes over the next century and eventually connect the world via voice over cellular antennas.

Rotary dial telephone
The first underground cable was laid in 1914, and that led to the rise in popularity of the switchboard operators, who fielded all the calls and connected them far beyond their local town. There had been operators in existence for the past thirty years, but most of the calls they received were quite close to home. The first transcontinental call was made in 1915 from New York to San Francisco, and later that year, the first transmission of speech across the Atlantic Ocean occurred from Virginia to France.

Cellular phones over the years
Today, cell phones have taken over telephone communication, but did you know the first proposition for the provision of mobile telephone service occurred in 1947? That's 70 years ago! Not surprisingly, the proposition came from two Bell Labs engineers, so the credit again goes to Bell. However, about twenty-five years later, a rival came onto the scene, and the first hand-held cell phone call was made by a Motorola employee (Martin Cooper) to Joel Engel, head of research at AT&T's Bell Labs. Prior to that, Bell had pretty much maintained a monopoly on communication via telephone. Not a bad run at all for about one hundred years. No matter what happens, Bell's legacy will always be remembered.

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* Do you remember the very first telephone your family owned? What style or type was it?

* Have you ever made a phone call where you had to speak to the operator first?

* How many different kinds of phones have you used in your lifetime to make a phone call?

* What did you like most about today's post?


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an author and speaker who also works as a force for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. On the side, she dabbles in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and two dogs: Nova, a Shiba-Inu/Chihuahua mix and Nugget a Corgi/Chihuahua mix, in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on FacebookTwitterGoodReads, and LinkedIn.


  1. I do remember being able to talk to an operator for information. I also remember party lines, where you might have to wait for a neighbor to finish their call so the phone would be available to you! Wow, wouldn't that make some of our children upset???? Thanks for the post!

  2. Love your post! My daddy's career was with Southwestern Bell. We had several different phones while I was growing up. He saw many changes over the years.

  3. Our first phone as a child was a black dial phone. Then we had one on the wall. Then a princess phone. I remember using an operator to call long distance. We didn’t get cell phones until 2002. We have only had about 4 cell phones since then. We also have a base and four cordless hansets for our landline. The first one of those we got 23 years ago.
    After my husband got out of the Navy in 1975, he worked for a company that repaired the equipment Illinois Bell used for information.