The History of the Telephone

the-history-of-the-telephone-find-more-genealogy-blogs-at-familytree-comToday, people make their phone calls on a smartphone. Your older relatives didn’t have smartphones when they were growing up. The history of the telephone shows that it has undergone many changes since it was first created. Each incarnation was used slightly differently.

On March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his revolutionary new invention – the telephone. He created it because he wanted to enable people to speak to each other from a distance. Shortly after receiving the patent, Alexander Graham Bell used his telephone to call his assistant. Bell said “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you.” The original telephone looks nothing like what we would identify as a telephone today.

Starting in the 1890’s, and continuing through the 1930’s, people used a candlestick phone. It was shaped like a candlestick holder with a mouthpiece on top. A person would speak into the mouth piece and hold a tube shaped receiver to his ear while using the phone. In the 1930’s, telephone manufacturers combined the mouth piece and the receiver into one single unit.

Women worked as telephone switchboard operators. A person would call the switchboard and request to be connected to a specific phone number. The switchboard operator manually connected the two phone lines.

Sometime between when the candlestick phone had two pieces, and when it was combined into one piece, the rotary phone was created. In 1919, the American Bell Telephone Company began national service for user controlled rotary dial phones. The rotary phone was the first one that allowed people to dial the phone number they wanted to call by themselves (without a switchboard operator to assist them).

To make a call, on a rotary phone, a person had to pick up the handset and hold it to their ear. The rotary phone handset was connected to the base by a curly cord.

Next, they had to individually pick out the digits of the phone number of the person they wanted to call. The circular disk on the base of the rotary phone would be used to select each number. Your ancestors had to put one finger into the first digit, and rotate the disk all the way around to the end, before letting it go. Then, they had to repeat that process until they finally finished the phone number.

The next incarnation of the telephone replaced the rotary dial with push buttons. Other than that, the two types of phones looked rather similar. Both had a handset that was connected to the base of the phone by a cord. The push button phone debuted in 1963 at the Seattle World’s Fair. People had to be talked into using them because these new phones seemed very strange at the time.

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