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The Telephone Story

The  story of the telephone is the story of change, of relentless search for new methods and materials to transmit the human voice. Much of the progress achieved has been in terms of cables and switching equipment invisible to the user who is more familiar with the instrument he sees. Here is what the telephone has looked like over the years.........

1876

Liquid

LIQUID TELEPHONE

"Mr. Watson, come here; I want you!" These historic words, the first articulate sentence ever spoken over an electric telephone, were uttered by Alexander Grahm Bell when he spilled on his clothes some sulfuric acid which was part ot the transmission apparatus. It was the night of March 10, 1876. The receiver was a tuned reed.

1876
Centennial
BELL'S CENTENNIAL MODEL



"My word! It talks!" exclaimed Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil on June 25, 1876, when he listened to the receiver of this earlt telephone at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. One of the judges, Sir William Thomson  (later Lord Kelvin) called Bell's invention "the most wonderful thing in America."

1877
1st Commercial
FIRST COMMERCIAL TELEPHONE

The round, camera-like opening on this box instrument served as  transmitter and receiver, needed mouth to ear shifts. Development  by Bell in the fall of 1876, it went into service in 1877 when a boston banker leased two instruments which were attached to a line between his office and his home in  Somerville, Mass.

1878
BUTTERSTAMP
BUTTERSTAMP



In 1877 Bell designed the first set with a combined receiver and transmitter that could be held in one hand. It was made of wood  and resembled a  dairy butterstamp, hence its name. It was in service when the world's first commercial switchboard opened in New Haven in 1878. The pushbutton was used to  signal the operator.

1878
WALL SET
WALL SET

People often became confused by using the same device for talking  and listening, so a new feature was added - a second wooden  transmitter-receiver. You could use either for talking or listening, but you  didn't have to move the instrument from mouth to ear. The crank was turned to  generate power to signal the operator

1886
BLAKE
 BLAKE


The Blake transmitter greatly  improved telephone service. Here, it's walnut case has been mounted on an  adjustable stand to make one of the earliest desk sets. This instrument,  invented in 1878 by Francis Blake Jr. employed carbon - a technique developed by Thomas Edison - and transmitted the voice with increased clarity.

1882
Magneto
 MAGNETO WALL SET

This handsome instrument, encased in oak and using the Blake transmitter and Bell's hand receiver, was the first telephone built  for the Bell System by Western Electric. It was in service for many years and was one of the  first side-winder models on which you turned the crank to signal the operator.

1886
Long Distance
LONG DISTANCE  TRANSMITTER

The search for better ways of transmitting the voice led to the  development of this model which used a platinum diaphragm for better long  distance transmission. The instument shown in this picture actually was use by  Bell and later by Theodore N. Vail, organizing genus of the Bell System.

1892
DESK SET
 DESK SET

An early effort to make the telephone more decorative as well as more compact can be seen in this souvenir of the Gay Ninties. The  carbon transmitter is becoming less unwieldly, the receiver has been reduced in size so  that it was called a "watch case" receiver and the ornate base reflects the taste of the era.

1897
DESK SET
 DESK SET

In the early '90s the telephone began to assume the shape in which it was to become familiar to Americans for the next three or four decades. This  ancestor of the upright desk set was made in 1897 and represnted a refinement of earlier similar models. It was made of cast brass.

1900
COMMON BATTERY
COMMON BATTERY

The effort to make telephoning more convenient is perpetual. The early telephones were voice-powered. Then a wet battery was used  which, though  an improvement, sometimes rresulted in acid on the carpet. Dry batteries came next. The fourth stage was the common battery, with the power supply at the  exchange.

1907
MAGNETO
 MAGNETO WALL SET

This is a more modern version of the telephone with built-in generator mechanism to prrovide currrent for signaling the operator. Almost exactly similar telephones were in general use from the late 90's through the 30's. Some still are in service in rural areas. Note enclosed receiver  terminals, an improvement of 1907.

1910
DESK SET
 DESK SET

This somewhat streamlined pedestal desk telephone first appeared in black finish in 1910 though its prototype - a nickle plated affair - dates  back to the turn of the century. These telephones were made of cast brass and  later steel and were the All-American standard for the next quarter century or  so. Some are still in use.

1913
WALL SET
 WALL SET

The wall telephone is becoming more compact. Instruments like  these were in general service and were also forerunners of the Home Interphone  System. They provided intercommunication within the home and were advertised by Western Electric as "the greatest little step-savers that ever helped a housewife".

1919
DIAL TELEPHONE
DIAL TELEPHONE

The first dial telephone exchange is credited to Almon B. Strowger who introduced it in LaPorte, Indiana, in 1892. It was many years, however, before switching equipment was sufficently developed to permit dial installation  in larger cities. New York City, for instance, began to get the dial in 1922.

1928
DESK SET
 DESK SET

America got a new look in telephones in 1927 when the combined receiver and transmitter idea, used since 1878 by telephone  linesmen, was  sufficiently improved to be adapted for general service. It was popularly known  as the "French Phone" because it resembled continental instruments.

1930

DESK SET

Thistelephone like the 1928 set came withor without dial and resembled its predecessor  except that instead of a round base it had an elliptical or oval base. Within a few years after its introduction it was being offered in a variety of finishes including ivory, gray, statuary bronze, oxidised silver and in gold.

1937
 
"300" TYPE DESK SET

An innovation in desk set design was the placing of the bell in  the base of this model. Earlier versions had housings made of metal but plastic  was substituted in the early 1940's. The "300" served throughtout World War II while the energies of most telephone people were devoted to defense work.

1938

TELEPHONE KEY SET

Here is an early model of a wdely used business telephone, with  one "hold" button and five others for calling, signaling or access to  other  extensions. During more than a quarter of a century of service, this type of  telephone has proved very usfull for both internal and external  communications.

1949

"500" TYPE DESK SET

First in the new "500" series, which later would include a variety of colors. Rugged and functional, the "500" was the most commonly used telephone  in the United States. Standard with all the sets in this series is an adjustable volume control for the bell located in the base of the telephone.

1954

"500 TYPE COLOR DESK SET

In 1954 the telephone statrted to become a decorative household  item. Although some colored telephones were available much earlier, they did not  gain widespread popularity until the advent of the "500" color series. The five basic colors currently available are white, beige, green, pink and blue.

1956

WALL TELEPHONE

The telephone returns to the wall in this companion piece to the "500 desk set. Designed for convenience, the wall set is most often used in the  kitchen where counter and table space is at a premium. It is also popular in  such areas as basements, garages and covered patios. Colors: White, beige,  green, gray, pink and blue.

1958

SPEAKERPHONE SET

Microphone and speaker units free the user's hands to make notes or look up reference material. It also permits conference conversations between  groups at different locations. If privacy is desired, it may be used as a conventional telephone. Colors: White, beige, green, gray pink and blue.

1958

CALL DIRECTOR TELEPHONE

Used in a variety of business office aplications, the CALL DIRECTOR set was designed to handle several incoming, outgoing and inter-office calls at the same time. There are two main types - the 18 and the 30 button models - which can be used with handset, headset, or speakerphone. Colors:  White, beige, gree and gray.

1959

PRINCESS TELEPHONE

"It's little, it's lovely, it lights . . ." The desk set  gets a smart new  look. Compactness, atractive styling and illuminated dial (it  lights up when you lift the handset or you can keep it on as a night light) contributed to the all-around usefulness of the PRINCESS telephone which comes  in white, beige, blue and turquose.

1960
 
HOME INTERPHONE SYSTEM

An outgrowth of the inter-communicating services offered to  businesses for many years, HOME INTERPHONE service employs specially equipped telephones and speakers to handle  regular telephone calls, communicate between rooms, talk with someone at the door, check on children, even call a dog to his dinner.

1962

PANEL PHONE

Latest in the line of wall telephones, the PANEL PHONE mounts  flush with the wall. A special feature is a retractable handset cord  that winds up automatically within the set. There are two color combinations: Copper faceplate with beige handset, and anodized aluminum faceplate with white  handset.

1964

TOUCH-TONE TELEPHONE

Heralding a new era in communications, the dial is replaced by pushbuttons. As each button is pressed, two simultaneous musical tones are  generated and transmitted to a central switching office, then translated into a series of pulses similar to those made by the standard telephone dial. It is now in production by Western Electric.

1968

TOUCH-TONE TRIMLINE TELEPHONE

Latest in the line of telephones is the 12 button Touch-Tone Trimline set which combines handset and pushbuttons in one lightweight unit.  Although only ten buttons are needed to take advantage of today's telephone services, the two extra buttons on theses sets prepare them for the demands of  the future.

1969

PICTUREPHONE SET

See the person you're talking to? It's the newest step in  telephone equipment. This is the Mod II Picturephone set now in pilot  production at Western Electric. The picture unit has a "zoom" feature which permits  individual or group viewing. Mod II includes a new 12 button Touch-Tone  telephone.

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