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The telephone has a rich history and is arguably one of the most influential inventions of our time. The first working model was demonstrated in 1860 by Johann Philipp Reis of Germany, using an intermittent current. From 1875 to 1876, Alexander Graham Bell improved on this design, developing a working model using variations in electric current. During this same time another American inventor named Elisha Gray also developed a working prototype but Bell beat him to the patent office by mere hours. In 1878, Alexander Graham Bell formed the Bell Telephone Company, which later became one of the largest companies in the world.
1877 saw construction of the first regular telephone line from Boston to Somerville, Massachusetts and the first switchboard in Boston. Early telephones were leased in pairs and subscribers had to put up their own line to connect with another. In 1889 came the first coin-operated pay phone, invented by William Gray of Hartford, Connecticut and installed at the Hartford Bank.
By 1900, there were over a million phones in use in the United States and that number increased by five-fold by 1907. Most of the service was controlled by Bell System but soon many other companies sprouted up. Radio-based phone calls across the ocean became available in the late 1920s, but the $70 cost for a three minute call made transatlantic calls unattainable for all but the most wealthy. The development of repeaters boosted electronic signals and helped ease the problem. In 1941 the first touch-tone system using tones rather than rotary dial pulses was installed in Baltimore, Maryland, and the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid in 1956. The 1970s saw the introduction of the first cordless phones which later developed into digital cordless phones in 1994.
The basic concept behind cellular telephones began in 1947, when researchers looked at simple car phones and realized that the traffic capacity could be substantially increased by using small cells. However, technology was lacking at that time. In 1968, the FCC approved a proposed cellular system by AT&T and Bell Labs which would allow for many small broadcast towers which could bounce calls from one location to another. Ericsson of Sweden is often credited with the development of the modern cellular phone in 1979.
Since then, the technology behind cell phones has increased exponentially, and currently over 6 billion of the world's 7 billion people have mobile phone access. More people now have a cell phone than a home phone and it is one of those inventions that most of us take for granted every day. However, we should be thankful for all those who paved the way for us to enjoy convenient communication with others near and far at any time of day or night.
The following links include page titles and summaries for reference articles, directory pages, and captioned images about telephones and telecommunications topics.
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