Telephone Story #AToZChallenge





1896 Telephone from Sweden

We’re almost there, just six days to go. Today is 24th of April, which makes it the “T” day in A2Z challenge. My theme is to post a brief story of one of the world-changing inventions which created the world we live in today. And today is dedicated for the Telephone invention. 

The word “Telephone comes from the French téléphone, from Ancient Greek τῆλε (tēleafar) + φωνή (phōnēvoice, sound). As we previously stated in my post about “Radio“, there were many ancient ways of communication like smoke signals, …. etc. 
Communication has certainly changed a lot over the past 150 years. When the founding fathers first came to America, the only form of communication they had with one another was through letters, which could take days or even weeks to reach its destination. Sending letters to England could take months. But even before that Native Americans actually used smoke signals to communicate with one another. Native Americans are not the only group of people who have used smoke signals to communicate. The Chinese have also used smoke signals as well as the Boy Scouts of America. This form of communication is used by creating puffs of smoke using a fire and a blanket. The smoke signals must be used in an area where they will be visible to the receiver and is usually transmitted on top of a hill or mountain.

It was evident that something had to be developed to make communicating with one another easier and faster. That’s where the telephone comes in. It could actually be considered the greatest invention of the nineteenth century. It not only made communicating with others who were miles away much quicker, it also spawned the growth of many businesses since it made communication much easier.

If I asked you who invented the telephone, you will certainly say one of the most famous names in history “Alexander Graham Bell”, right? But, in fact, there was another inventor who was working on the invention of telephone. Actually, there were others not ‘another’. Charles BourseulAntonio MeucciJohann Philipp ReisAlexander Graham Bell, and Elisha Gray, amongst others, have all been credited with the invention of the telephone. It seems to be the case with great inventions, as we saw that case in some inventions like the Radio. So, what happened? Who really invented the phone? and most importantly, how?

As we know it now, Bell is the official inventor of the telephone. But, do you know that it was just his luck that saved him a very long and time-consuming battle? In the 1870s, two inventors Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell both independently designed devices that could transmit speech electrically (the telephone). Both men rushed their respective designs to the patent office within hours of each other, Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone first. Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell entered into a famous legal battle over the invention of the telephone, which Bell won. 

While true, it’s not the whole story. Bell filed a patent application, a claim that “I have invented.“ Gray, on the other hand, filed a caveat, a document used at the time to claim “I am working on inventing.“ Priority in American patent law follows date of invention, not date of filing. Still, filing first helped Bell avoid a possible costly and time-consuming dispute. The U.S. Patent Office issued patent #174,465 to Bell on March 7, 1876. 


Alexander Graham Bell’s original telephone patent

So, now we know how Bell won the war of the patent by hours before his rival. But, how did Bell get to the idea? 

“Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” With these words, spoken by inventor Alexander Graham Bell into his experimental telephone on March 10, 1876, an industry was born. For down the hall, Bell’s assistant, Thomas Watson, distinctly heard Bell utter the first spoken sentence ever transmitted via electricity. That achievement was the culmination of an invention process Bell had begun at least four years earlier. But Actually, that wasn’t the first voice to be transmitted electrically. 

On June 2, 1875, Alexander Graham Bell while experimenting with his technique called “harmonic telegraph” discovered he could hear sound over a wire. The sound was that of a twanging clock spring.

The telephone was actually discovered by Bell accidentally in his attempts to improve the telegraph. The telegraph was a highly successful system with its dot-and-dash Morse code, but it was basically limited to receiving and sending one message at a time. Bell’s extensive knowledge of the nature of sound and his understanding of music enabled him to conjecture the possibility of transmitting multiple messages over the same wire at the same time. Although the idea of a multiple telegraph had been in existence for some time, Bell offered his own harmonic approach as a possible practical solution. His “harmonic telegraph” was based on the principle that several notes could be sent simultaneously along the same wire if the notes or signals differed in pitch. 

From the telephone’s earliest days, Bell understood his invention’s vast potential. He wrote in 1878: “I believe in the future wires will unite the head offices of telephone companies in different cities, and a man in one part of the country may communicate by word of mouth with another in a distant place.”


Bell placing the first New York to Chicago telephone call in 1892

In 1877, construction of the first regular telephone line from Boston to Somerville, Massachusetts was completed. By the end of 1880, there were 47,900 telephones in the United States. The following year telephone service between Boston and Providence had been established. Service between New York and Chicago started in 1892, and between New York and Boston in 1894. Transcontinental service by overhead wire was not inaugurated until 1915. The first switchboard was set up in Boston in 1877. On January 17, 1882, Leroy Firman received the first patent for a telephone switchboard.

The first Bell telephone company started in 1878. This is now known as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), which was incorporated in 1885.

On June 3, 1880, Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first wireless telephone message on his newly invented “photophone.” Bell believed the photophone was his most important invention. The device allowed for the transmission of sound on a beam of light. Of the eighteen patents granted in Bell’s name alone, and the twelve he shared with his collaborators, four were for the photophone.

Of course, this is just a brief history of this great invention. It really deserved to be my “T” post of the day as without the phone we wouldn’t have had the life we’re living today, right? Communicating with phones survived any other modern communication method like emails and chat. Even the new VOIP technology developers prefer to build VOIP apps that works on smart phones because users love phones and can’t do without it.


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