Saying 'Hello' on the Telephone

Here is a common phrase that you take for granted but it was not commonly used by your ancestors. Just using the word ‘Hello‘ was not used often and not even in the dictionary until 1883. The word was looked on earlier as a rude remark, especially if you did not know the person very well.

So with the beginnings of the telephone, companies had a problem – what to say. During the late 1800s into the early 20th century most people had no access to a phone. It was the inventor in 1876 of the phone, Alexander Graham Bell, who wanted a standard greeting, so he suggested ‘ahoy’ a call used on ships. Other suggestions by people were: “Are you there?” or ‘Are you ready to talk?’ and “What is wanted?”

It was Thomas Edison who suggested the word ‘hello’ in 1877. However, his idea was more the word ‘halloo’ used to signal hunting dogs, yet it would come out as ‘hello’. Even the idea of having a built-in voice say ‘hello’ instead of a ring was suggested.

The cost of telephone service in 1900 was $3.00 a month for businesses and $1.50 for residential customers with several people on each line (a party line). You had to connect using a telephone switchboard operator. During the 1910s telephone operators, mostly females, were referred to a ‘hello girls’.

In the early 20th century, a less formal word for ‘hello’ came into use but was still thought to be far too informal of a greeting when meeting new people. It was best for friends and family. It was the word ‘Hi”.

The other problem with the new phone use was how to end a phone call. Suggestions of “God be with you” and “That is all” but the now-familiar phrase “goodbye” was what was used.

Photos: ‘Hello”; Bell phone of the 1880s; Edison phone of 1880s; and telephone operators in 1900.

Related Blogs:

Telephone Directories

Locating Family Information

Hello Girls

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