The telephone is considered among the most important technical contributions to the modern world, as well as perhaps the greatest advancement in communication to date. Imagine, if you can, the world without the ability to quickly and efficiently communicate information across great distances. How vastly different it would be in virtually every way. The advent of the telephone did not happen overnight, in fact, the technology it would require was slowly being developed in other communication devices over many decades. The so-called precursors to the modern telephone.
Precursors And Modest Beginnings
Before the familiar invention of the electromagnetic telephone, several mechanical, acoustic devices were developed. These contraptions were designed to transmit speech and even music across distances but were ultimately quite limited in range. One of these inventions is the Tin Can Telephone, also known as the “lover’s phone.” This invention remains an image still recognizable today as a children’s toy consisting of two tin cans and a taut length of string or wire.
Acoustic Telephone Devices
The acoustic telephone did, for a short period of time, enjoy commercial marketing, and even attempted to compete against the electromagnetic telephone. An effort that ultimately failed after Alexander Graham Bell’s patent expired, effectively opening the market to competitors. The acoustic telephone did manage to put up a curiously strong fight, ending its run with over 300 patents, and a communication range that had grown to a half mile, and even further, conditions permitting.
As acoustic devices began to fade into the fabric of history, many electronic devices were invented, eventually leading to the technology responsible for the first telephone. These inventions were the first telegraphs.
The first working telegraph was built in 1816 by English inventor Francis Ronalds and utilized static electricity. By 1832 the first electromagnetic telegraph was invented by Baron Schilling, followed by another telegraph designed the following year by the inventors Carl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Weber. However, the electrical telegraph did not become commercialized until 1839 when Sir William Fothergill Cooke introduced it to the Great Western Railway.
Meanwhile, independent of the advances made in Europe, another electrical telegraph was developed and patented in the United States in 1837 by Samuel Morse, whom the Morse Code is attributed.
Who Really Invented The Telephone
While the invention of the telephone is an honor usually credited to Scottish inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, several claims and arguments credit such individuals as Charles Bourseul, Innocenzo Manzetti, Antoni Meucci, Johann Philipp Reis, and Elisha Gray as the original inventor. The invention and evolution of the telephone are rife with claims and counterclaims that history has yet to entirely clarify, adding a layer of intrigue to a device many of us take for granted in our modern world. However, though it is safe to say that the telephone was born from the work of many great minds, it remains true that the first to patent the telephone as a communication device was Alexander Graham Bell.
Evolution Of The Modern Telephone
Early telephones employed a vast array of technologies, ranging from the short-lived liquid transmitters to the military adopted dynamic transmitters, which consisted of diaphragms that would vibrate wire coils in a permanent state of magnetism; Consequently, the Edison-Berliner carbon transmitter was the most common, and as history would prove, the longest lived. Soon the need for telephone networks became apparent, and by 1904 over 3 million phones in the United States were connected via manual switchboard exchange. Within the span of a single decade, the United States became the world leader in telephone density. Advances came quickly and by the 1930s phones went from consisting of two distinct pieces to one, in the form of the iconic rotary telephone. By the 1960s even the rotary was phased out by the advent of the touch-tone design familiar even today.
Cutting the Cord & Going Mobile
The history of the mobile phone, surprisingly, began in the 1940s, with the use of two-way radios installed in vehicles such as police cars, and taxicabs. This eventually gave way to the first transportable phones, casually termed “bag phones,” which you may recall seeing in old war films. Still, cellular technology would not successfully develop until the 1960s. In the company of reporters, on April 3rd, 1973 Motorola’s manager Martin Cooper placed a cellular phone call, thus sparking the era of the hand-held cellular mobile phone. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, various monstrosities were designed in the name of mobile communication. It was not until the turn of this century that mobile phone technology has proven truly mobile, and the technology shows no signs of slowing down.
The Dawn Of The Smartphone
The presence of telephones and the technology that makes them possible is largely taken for granted today. Every year telecommunication becomes more accessible to larger demographics of people. The technology becomes more intuitive and readily assimilated into our day-to-day lives. Nothing demonstrates this so clearly as the smartphone. Combining the most advanced mobile technology with the features of a personal computer, the smartphone has carved a niche unlikely to be forgotten. Most of the phones that people have in their pocket’s today carry more computing power than a NASA Space Shuttle.
Today, many households no longer keep a landline. A fact which tells us that technology is an evolving animal, and which perhaps gives us cause to appreciate our humble beginnings.