From Phones to Text Messaging: The History of the Telephone

Samuel Morse's 1832 telegraph inspired the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell visualized actual voice, instead of beeps, being transmitted over the electromechnical wiring. With Thomas A. Watson, Bell received the patent for the telephone on March 7, 1876, and the telephone became a commodity between a businessman's home and his office by 1877. The Bell Telephone Company was formed that same year. The words, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you," started a revolution of historic proportion.

History of the Telephone

Bell Company had over 10,000 phones in service in New England by 1878, and it saw an opportunity to expand the communication phenomenon westward. Both Bell and its primary competitor, American Speaking Telephone Company, which commissioned Thomas Edison to lead its inventive efforts, opened single-exchange manual switchboards throughout the U.S. By 1910, Bell was offering "Universal Service" to anyone who wanted a telephone.

Bell was first to connect the east coast directly to the west coast. The first call from New York to San Francisco was made in 1915. Bell was also first to install cabling overseas for international calls. Competition was tough on Bell's heels, however, and many smaller phone service providers began offering service in the early 1900s.

This fierce competition between phone companies, plus the roller-coaster economy between the Roaring 20s and The Great Depression, led the U.S. Government to establish the Federal Communication Commission in 1934 to regulate the communication industry. The FCC found many things wrong within the telephone industry. It set out to prevent phone companies from establishing monopolies and mistreating consumers. The FCC still protects consumers today.

Telephones themselves went through serious transitions. What started out as boxes unattractively dubbed "coffin" telephones, turned into more attractive two-piece phones. From the 1890s through the 1920s, phones had mouthpieces attached to the base unit, and earpieces that callers placed against their ears. Operators were used to connect callers. It wasn't until the 1930s French-style phone that the mouth and earpiece were on the same handheld unit. A rotary wheel allowed callers to dial their numbers directly.

Residential phone service was placed on hold World War II. Once the Allies won the war, phone companies worked tirelessly to install phone service in American homes. By 1948, the U.S. had 30 million phones in service. By 1951, customers in New Jersey could make a long-distance phone call without having to use an operator. This marked a new age in telephone service, and customer-dialed long distance calling was made available to the entire nation.

The 1960s brought the space program, and communication satellites were launched into the atmosphere. This decade also brought trans-Pacific submarine cabling for phone calls between Japan, Hawaii, and the Mainland. Customers ditched the dial telephone for the new touchtone models in 1963, and phones became smaller and more stylish. The year 1968 also marked a significant change in calling for help: 911, the number still used today, was implemented for emergency services.

The 1970s introduced customer-dialed international calling. Telephone service got computerized, with digital electronic toll switch stations replacing the electromechnical ones. These digital networks were able to handle a higher volume of calls than their older counterparts. The fiber optic network was introduced later in the decade, and increased the clarity of phone calls. Then, the changes to landline telephone technology slowed down in the 80s and 90s because of new breed of communication device: the cellular phone.

AT&T's Historical Accounting of the Invention of the Telephone

AT&T's Milestones in AT&T History

University of Virginia Library's History of the Telephone

California State University Dominguez Hills' Short History of the Telephone Industry and Regulation

Library of Congress - The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers: Time Line of Alexander Graham Bell, 1870-1879

History of the Mobile Phone

Mobile telephone communication was introduced to the public in 1946. For a substantial fee, people could make phone calls from a radio device in their cars. This mobile communication was run on radio bands as opposed to telephone lines, and the service was limited to only a dozen radio calls at a time. Cellular telephony was conceptualized in 1947, but the technology to support it did not exist.

The FCC approved separate radio channels, called Radio Common Carriers, in 1949 for use to link mobile phones to telephones instead of radio-to-radio communication. In 1956 when the first car telephones were introduced in the U.S. These phones required operator assistance to dial a call, and it wasn't until 1964 that users could dial numbers directly from their mobile phones.

The 1970s marked a victory for cellular phone lobbyists, who successfully petitioned the FCC for air space to begin operating cellular technology. AT&T led the fight in 1971 by introducing its concept of dividing cities into "cells" for wireless phone coverage. Dr. Martin Cooper invented the first cellular mobile phone in 1973. Cooper is credited with making the first actual cellular mobile phone call.

Cell phones didn't actually take off until the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first units were horribly bulky and their usage was expensive, leaving them a luxury for the wealthy instead of a necessity. Cell phones increased in popularity throughout the 1990s, and bulky units were replaced with smaller, pocket-sized phones. By the end of the 20th century, just about everyone had a cell phone, including small children.

The 21st century brought about broadband wireless access and smartphones. These gave users a mini-computer at their fingertips. Long gone are the bulky pieces of machinery that only allowed users to make a phone call. Modern-day cell phones are capable of telephony, message transmission and Internet access for everything from checking email to surfing the World Wide Web to using a fully operational GPS system for directions. Broadband and cable can also be used to secure landline service.

University of Florida's Cell Phone Timeline

Georgia Mason University's History of Cellular Phones

Yale University's The Physics of Cell Phones

Art Institute's History and Evolution of Cell Phones

Federal Communication Commission's Short History on Radio

Text Messaging, SMS, RSS

Text messaging was invented in 1993. Cell phone users type a message into their cell phone and send it to a recipient's cell phone instead of calling him. This quick way to communicate sent teenagers into a finger-flying frenzy at the keypads of their devices, and parents into crazed exasperation. Short Message Service has become so popular, most cellular providers offer unlimited service for text messaging for a monthly fee.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and these data feeds send up-to-the-minute information to cell devices. RSS feeds include news, weather, and stock market activity. Sports fans can run an RSS feed to their cell phone and see the latest scores as they happen. This technology has quickly made the cell phone the only thing a person needs to keep in touch with the world when on the run.

School of Information Technology's Introduction to SMS and SMS Messaging Services

Emory's History of SMS

The University of Arizona's History of RSS

The Harvard Crimson - Investors Bet Bank on RSS Technology

Educause's Seven Things You Should Know About RSS

QR Codes and Near Field Communication

Quick Response codes are barcodes that cell phones use to pull up information about a product or person. QR codes were originally developed by Toyota in 1994. What started as a barcode for cars has turned into a universal identity stamp. Some retailers place QR codes on storefront windows, and passersby scan the codes with their cell phones. The phone uses the code to navigate to the retailer's website where a coupon might be waiting to entice shoppers to walk into the store.

Near Field Communication is a touch and talk feature on smartphones. Much like the walkie-talkie communication that started mobile technology, NFC allows two wireless devices that are in close proximity to each other to "communicate." An example of NFC technology is the bluetooth. A bluetooth headset is wireless and connects to the cell phone via NFC technology once the cell phone recognizes it. With technology like this, it's hard to believe that the telephone once started as a box, with a wire, and man by the name of Alexander Graham Bell.

Educause's Seven Things You Should Know About QR Codes

Stanford School of Medicine's Barcodes and QR Codes

MIT Technology News - Is Near Field Communication Close to Success?

Stanford's Touch and Run With Near Field Communication (NFC)

University of Washington's Personal Area Networks: Near-Field Intrabody Communication


Content Created and Provided By Charlotte Gray



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