Evolution of the Telephone Part 4

Continuing on from part 3, we take a look at how the telephone network expanded in the USA in the early 1900's. 

Universal Service had well and truly kicked off after Theodore Vail had surged forward with his intention of providing every American with access to a telephone, when he re-joined Bell in 1907 as the company’s CEO. He was at the peak of his power in the early 1900s as he embarked on a mission to build the first coast to coast telephone line, starting work in 1908.

The line was completed in 1915 ran 3,400 miles from New York to San Francisco and was the start of a further control, changing the market and committing the company to providing the best telephone service possible. Vail essentially spared The American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) from near ruin, with expired patents and smaller, independent companies expanding rapidly, providing more competition. He focused on the long-distance system, spanning the US and steered the company towards a more scientific approach, researching and developing his ideas in Bell Laboratories.

Vail trialled the line in July 1914 with success however this wasn’t celebrated until the Panama Canal completion in January the following year. Bell and Watson recreated their first ever telephone call on the 25th of January 1915, with Bell summoning Watson to New York and Watson allegedly replying from San Francisco...

"It will take me five days to get there now!"

Vail had begun construction on the long distance line a year after he re-joined Bell, taking 6 years to complete, but creating a connection across the country that took just 1/15th of a second, a lot easier than a 16 day canal journey to have a chinwag! The price of a call was reportedly around $400 for three minutes. It wouldn’t be until 1956 that the UK and USA connected wires.

Coming to the rescue one last time, after the US Federal Government took over the telephone service in the US in 1918, Vail organised contracts meaning private control and power was soon resumed to the Bell System. After all he’d done for Bell and technology as we know it today, Vail died in 1920 aged 74, but did so having inspired huge ambitions in the telephone industry.

The 1920s were a period of experimenting and the Bell System invested in a dial service which had already been available from many of the independent competitors. The first ‘step by step’ switch was installed in Dallas in 1921 by Bell Telephone Company. By December that year Dallas was the first city to have all dial phones. These were commonly known as ‘French telephones’ and the rates of calls also decreased during this time. The 1920s were a period of prosperity for the US, with technological developments in machinery, mass production and a boom in the electricity industry. Telephone sales had grown from 10 million in 1915 to 20 million in 1930.

The UK and USA had been connected by telegraph for some time but the first time the two countries were connected via telephone was in 1927 from the Post Office long wave wireless station in Rugby. A unified telephone system had been available to UK citizens since 1912, operated by the Pot Office, by 1913 they were one of only 3 providers of a telephone service in the UK. 1924 also marked the year the public telephone box was designed by competition winner Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the bright red kiosks were then introduced in 1927.

With the looming depression for the US came a hit for Western Electric and the Bell System, employment rates and the use of phones decreased locally and long distance and the company began to look to other means of communication such as telegraphs. The Government was about to step in and have it’s say in the monopoly that Bell and Veil had created.


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Evolution of the Telephone Part 3

Evolution of the Telephone Part 2

Evolution of the Telephone Part 1

Evolution of the Telephone: Part 2

After nearly 200 years of prototypes, patents and practice, the first telephone was invented in 1876. Naturally such a technological development, one which still shapes the way we live and communicate today, was about to create quite the buzz.

Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson’s breakthrough invention was patented and then put into practice. Charles Williams, a manufacturer of telegraph and electrical supplies was the first person to have a telephone number, (which was 1 in case you were wondering…)

His shop in Somerville, Massachusetts was the site of the invention of the phone as well as many other early developments of inventions such as burglar alarms and doorbells. In 1877 he became the first person in the world to have a phone line, connecting his house with his office, with the phone number 2!

Bell worked as a speech therapist and eventually married one of his patients, Mabel Greene Hubbard. Mabel was the daughter of Gardiner Greene Hubbard who formed the Bell Telephone company which used Charles Williams’ shop as the site to produce phones under the supervision of Watson.

Upon installing the first phone line in 1877, Bell is said to have written to his wife about the quality of their invention “The articulation was simply perfect … The first telephone line has now been erected and the telephone is in practical use!”

By the end of 1877 there were 3000 phones in use and word was continuing to spread fast. Bell’s ruthless approach to business meant he created a monopoly, ridding any competition he faced. In the same year Thomas Edison had invented a superior transmitter that was to rival Bell, backed by The Weston Union and their new American Speaking Telephone Company. Edison’s invention infringed on the patents which Bell had for his invention.

Over the next year the amount of phones in use increased to 10,000 and the switch board was introduced in 1878. In retaliation to Edison’s button transmitter, Bell worked with Francis Blake and Emile Berliner to produce a superior instrument. In 1879, the year after a lawsuit had been filed against them by the Bell Company, Western Union surrendered all patents and their huge network of 56,000 phones and a deal was stuck that they’d receive 20% of rentals until Bell’s patents ran out. Over the next twenty years 600 lawsuits would be filed about infringements to Bell’s invention – he won every single one.

With this agreement came a new venture for Bell, The American Bell Telephone Company.

The introduction of the telephone was about to get people talking.

The Evolution of the Telephone - Part 1

It’s not surprising that nowadays there are more phones in the world than thereare humans. We take for granted the ease of picking up the phone and speaking to someone or picking up your mobile to use it for something completely different, like taking a photo or Googling something.

When the idea of communication via a transmitter came about it was 1667 and Englishman Robert Hooke began to look into the vibrations and nodal patterns, or visible sounds, created when plucking a bow or taut wire. It wasn't until nearly 200 years later that the suggestion of using an electric telegraph to convey speech came about from lnnocenzo Manzetti. He didn't pursue his idea for another 21 years and did not seek a patent.

Leading up to 1875 there were several breakthroughs and progress was steadily being made to construct  a phone which could clearly transmit sound, speech and music. Notably Charles Bourseul's illustration of a telephone transmitter and Johann Reis's creation of the Reis Telephone in 1861, inspired by Bourseul's idea. His phone was used to capture sound and then transmit this sound via electrical wires, he was the first to coin the term telephone.

There's much debate about what the first words spoken over a telephone were, mainly because of the debate of who invented the first actual phone. During Reis's testing he apparently transmitted the difficult German phrase 'The horse does not eat cucumber salad' to prove that he could coherently transmit speech.

In 1873 Thomas Edison creates a telephone for transmitting, he acknowledges that Reis was the first inventor of the telephone, yet for musical transmissions rather than having the ability to transmit speech. Edison credits the most high profile inventor of the phone, Alexander Graham Bell, as creating the first phone for transmission of articulate speech. Bell created the Gallows phone with his partner Thomas Watson in 1876, with the intention of creating a phone which could transmit and receive. This phone never actually transmitted speech, rather beeps, yet three days later on March 10th 1876 they made history. Using a liquid based device and a vibrating needle which caused electrical currents to change and transmit sound, Bell spoke over the phone to Watson, who was in the other  room with a duplicate device;

Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.

This crucial breakthrough in the invention of the telephone was about to start many developments, and Bell was granted a patent for his invention of the telephone on March 7th 1876.