The history of the telephone
Special Features: The history of the telephone6:23 /
From simple sounds transmitted down wire to a high-flying smartphone world, we chart the fascinating history of telephonic technology.
I can't hear you, Rose. That's funny, I can hear you plainly. Isn't this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in Saint Louis and it's just like you're in the next room. What was that? I said it's just like you're in the next room. [MUSIC] Few inventions can claim to have changed the course of history as thoroughly as the telephone. From simple sounds beamed down a wire to holding the sum of human knowledge in our hands, the ever-evolving tech that lets us instantly chat with someone hundreds of miles away has altered the way we live, time and time again. Here's how the telephone has changed, [SOUND] and how the telephone [BLANK_AUDIO] And how the telephone in turn has changed us. [SOUND] The telephone itself, was more evolution than revolution, building on the telegraph. A genius with the gadgetry which allowed coded messages to be sent through wires as electrical impulses. Problem was this setup could only take one message down a wire at a time. With the popularity of the telegraph booming in the second half of the 19th century, the race was on to find something better. Inventors tackling the problem included Edinburgh born Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray from Ohio. At first the plan was to transmit multiple tones down one telegraph line. and in 1875 Gray patented the electric telegraph for transmitting musical tones. Inadvertently he became the farther of the synthesizer. Before long though it became clear that transmitting human speech had even more potential. One year later the telephone was close to becoming real as both inventors rushed to get their increasingly sophisticated creations enshrined in patent law. It was Bell who got his patented first, becoming the inventor of the telephone. Well, maybe. Frankly, just the question of who truly deserved the credit for the telephone could make your head spin. On Valentine's Day 1876, Bell's patent application was entered onto the books. Just a few hours later, Gray's paperwork hit the official record. A month later, it's Bell who successfully transmits speech, but there are allegations that Bell's transmission used a liquid transmitter suspiciously similar to Gray's All Paint examiner is saying is Wilber's claims that Bell [UNKNOWN] slipped him $100 in exchange for a peek at Grey's work. Then laid to claims that those claims contradicted Wilber's earlier claims. Hundreds of legal cases ensued while out of court experts continued to debate whether it was Grey or Bell. Or inventors like Antonia Meucci, Yohan Philip Rees or Charles Bourseul. All of whom were dreaming of building voice transmission tech. You could even argue that Thomas Edison deserves the credit as in 1877 he patented a carbon grain transmitter which used the variable resistance of carbon under pressure to make long distance calls practical. [SOUND] [MUSIC] Okay, so it's unclear who deserves the title of telephone inventor, but we do know who actually got it. Alexander Graham Bell. A few years after the patent war the Bell Telephone Company, today known as AT&T had exchanges in most major US cities. And as the telephone caught on, new developments came quick and fast. Early phone calls involved an operator who would manually connect you to the phone line of the person you wanted to talk to. These would eventually give way to automatic switches of the kind patented as long ago as 1891 by Almon Strowger. As transmitting tech improved, the candle stick phone became increasingly obsolete Replaced around the late 1920s, phone models like this one, which crammed a transceiver and receiver into one handset. 1927 saw London and New York connected by a commercial transatlantic phone service. It was conducted by a radio but in 1955 and 56, a huge fleet of engineering started of the trans Atlantic TAT1, the first of many underwater cables that would ultimately connect the entire globe. [MUSIC] by 1969, 90% of US households had a telephone but this world shifting tech still had one downside. Wires. A [UNKNOWN] I see. Me, no lady I'm an eccentric millionaire. I get so many phone calls I have to carry the phone around with me. [LAUGH] Mobile telephony dates back to 1946 when it became possible to make a call from your call. So long as you had loads of money and hardly anyone else in town was trying to make a call at the same time. One year later Bell [UNKNOWN] Douglas H Ring sent a memo Describing something much fancier. A hexagonal cell network that could make country wide car phones a reality. It was the blueprint for a cellular phone network but the tech didnt exist to support such a system. Two decades later, that was all changing. The early 70s, Bell Labs was still working on cellular tech But was still focused on putting phones in cars. Ultimately, it was Motorola who captured the public imagination. In 1973, demonstrating an entirely [UNKNOWN] phone. The first cellphone that [UNKNOWN] 8,000 [UNKNOWN] a decade later. Weighing 2,5 pounds with 20 minutes of battery life and costing around $10,000 in today's money. It wasn't pretty. But Motorola's breakthrough For a global obsession with mobile telephones. The next two decades saw mobile marvels get more powerful, more affordable, and more miniature. While the telegram got a kind of mobile rebirth in the form of text message. By 1998 there were nearly 70 million US mobile subscribers. A figure that would double just four years later. [SOUND] At this time, Blue Tooth 3G color screens and cameras were making our mobiles truly multifunctional. As the power of these devices grew in line with their popularity, the next step forward in telephony was only a matter of time. [APPLAUSE] And we are calling it [APPLAUSE] iPhone! It's ironic that as today's touch screen, 4G capable phones get more advance we use them less and less for the actual transmission of our voices. The original problem that so many great minds grappled with nearly 150 years ago. But in another way modern mobiles are fulfilling the telephonic promise like never before. Giving humans more tools to communicate with and understand each other, regardless of whereabouts on the planet they are. That's all for now, but for much more, do check out [SOUND] Sorry, he means, don't forget to check out CNet. [SOUND] Come on. [MUSIC]