Looking Back Into the History of the Telephone


We consider the telephone as one of the primary tools for communication in modern society. It has a rich and interesting history that many of us do not know. Looking back into the past will help us understand just how its evolution led to the phones we enjoy today.

The First Telephone

History books will tell you that the original telephone came to be when Alexander Graham Bell first patented the electric telephone sometime around 1876. However, its real origins reach further back. The idea for the future telephone started when someone connected a pair of tin cups to each other via a taut string or wire. You may have played with this type of primitive telephone when you were young. Strange as it seems, it was the precursor of today’s telephone. It played on the idea of transmitting the human voice farther than what was normally possible. The first of such experiments in the early stages of telephony was attributed to Robert Hooke as early as 1664 to 1667.

The Electric Telegraph

The discovery of electricity led to the development of long distance communication in the form of the electric telegraph. It transmitted messages using electric signals broadcast over miles and miles of electrical wires. Electric telegraphy was only capable of sending coded messages, not voice. But it influenced the concept of early telephones with its use of wires and cables laid out over vast distances. The telegraph was already transmitting messages over great distances for over 30 years before the first electric telephone came into being.

The Electric Telephone

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented his version of the telephone. Prior to that, other similar inventions—ones that transmitted analog voice signals using electricity—already existed. However, most of them proved to be impractical or inefficient. The Bell telephone was the first device that allowed people to talk directly to each other over great distances. Several modifications later, the Bell invention became the standard telephone used in the US. It paved the way for the establishment of the Bell Telephone company in 1877.

During the early years of the telephone, many people considered it as just a passing fad and a toy. Many doubted that this idea of telecommunication would catch on with the masses. All it needed to prove people wrong was time. By 1886, over 150,000 households in the US owned telephones. By 1915, that number rose to 11 million.  Many people during those early days may have spoken too soon about the success and popularity of the telephone.

Over time, the need for a better telephone increased as newer technologies began to develop. Initially, the earliest telephones were just two-way communication devices. The need for people to connect with multiple telephone lines led to the development of the Public Switched Telephone Network or PSTN.

Digital technology slowly took over analog technology. In order to make the telephone more efficient and cost effective, telephone networks went digital around the 1960s. It allowed for the automation and the digitization of audio transmission and other telephony services.

The Telephone Today

The ordinary telephone has come a long way from its early design to its current manifestation. It went from the big, bulky telephones to the portable phones that we have today. The need for mobility further led to the development of wireless cellular technology. Mobile phones have slowly taken the place of the landline telephone in most households. The use of mobile phones allowed people to connect and communicate with other people, even while on the go.

In addition to this, there are now VoIP providers like RingCentral who offer telephone systems that work via an Internet connection. This new phone system serves as a cost-effective alternative for many phone users nowadays. Using an existing Internet connection for a VoIP phone proves to be an attractive option, as people no longer need a separate telephone line set up for it.

In the course of over a century, the telephone has gone through an interesting evolution from its primitive version to its incarnation today. Newer technologies may further develop telecommunications into a phone system that is different from the kind we have in use right now. In the future, we might see new wearable phones. There might be phones that we integrate into our own bodies. Who knows, we might even have phones that can reach through space networks! With the technology that we see right now, it seems that the sky is the limit for the future of telephony.