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Black Vintage Telephone Illustration
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Phone Information

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.

smart phone isolated on white
Smart Phone

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.

A Young Woman Talks on a Mobile Phone

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.

Phone-related organizations include the Telecommunications Industry Association and The Wireless Association, as well as other, more specialized or localized, organizations.

The following links include page titles and summaries for reference articles, directory pages, and captioned images about telephones and telecommunications topics.

  • Area Codes, by Country
    Telephone area codes are used to help route phone calls to the correct location. Find North American area codes and their corresponding locations with this handy area code chart.
  • How Satellite Phones Work
    Satellite phones provide comprehensive global coverage in places where cell phone reception is nonexistent. Learn more about how satellite phones work.
  • Luggage Label (Photograph)
    Luggage tags are a important form of address label that travelers use to help ensure that their luggage reaches its proper destination. Luggage tags have a space for the traveler's name, address, and phone number.
  • Shopper with Credit Card (Photograph)
    Many people enjoy catalog shopping because it can save time and is an easy and convenient way to shop from the comfort of your own home. This photo shows a woman on the phone, ordering from a catalog with her credit card at home.
  • Cell Phone (Photograph)
    All cell phones must have a battery and a way of charging that battery. Many cell phones come with cords for charging the phone directly from an electrical outlet or vehicle cigarette lighter.
  • PDA with GPS Feature (Photograph)
    A close-up photograph of a hand holding a PDA, which displays its GPS feature. In addition to allowing you to make phone calls, schedule appointments, and send emails, many PDAs now have GPS features that allow you access maps and directions.
  • Research Laboratory (Photograph)
    A laboratory scientist talks on the phone in a busy research laboratory. The open shelves in the laboratory are crowded with vials, chemicals and drugs. The research laboratory will be used to develop helpful drugs and pharmaceuticals.
  • Wireless Phone (Photograph)
    A young man in the wilderness wearing a green shirt keeps in touch with the civilized world thanks to his wireless phone. The man can explore the valleys, fields, and mountains, knowing that his friends and family are merely a phone call away.

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