Long ago, before people had telephones, they would sometimes communicate by beating on drums or sending smoke signals. Before people invented the telephone, people would also paint pictures on walls like a person with a bow and arrow or a bear laying on the ground. Most of these pictures remind us of comics in the newspaper, but they were ways of communicating with others.
Later, to send messages to one another, people would have special messengers deliver mail on foot. Most letters in early times were written in Latin by scholars (intelligent and educated people). In the Middle Ages writing was getting very popular. Even brothers that lived in the same house would be exchanging long letters each day while eating breakfast.
Sending mail for long distances and short distances was very slow. Mail traveled by ships, on horseback, or on foot. A mailman would walk from house to house, dropping mail on the ground and knocking or ringing the doorbell.
Soon people in the Western U.S. started a mail delivery service called the Pony Express that promised that mail delivery would go faster in between Missouri and California. This only lasted for nineteen months because it didnít work very well and was replaced by the railroad. Riders were young men that rode in relays, and the delivery took about ten days. Everybody wondered how this process of sending the mail and getting it delivered could be improved.
Samuel F. B. Morse had a type of machine called a telegraph. You typed in a special code of dots and dashes and messages would get sent from one operator at a station to another operator at the destination (where the person would go to pick up the telegram). Even though the telegram was a slight improvement and you could send messages faster, it was still very slow because only one letter of the alphabet could be sent at a time. Samuel Morse and a man named Alexander Graham Bell worked to try and improve this.
Bell was very determined to try and make a communication tool that used spoken words instead of codes. While Bell was at his parents` in Brantford, Ontario he worked on the telephone to try and improve it and continued working on the telephone while he was in Boston, Massachusetts.
Bellís partner, Thomas A. Watson, was working with Bell because Watson was an artisan who worked with constructing electrical gadgets. While Bell was in the workshop he and Watson owned, he sent spoken words over wire. Watson heard Bellís voice out of the telephone, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you." These first words came out of a telephone called the liquid telephone.
The next day Watson found out how a telephone worked and built the first telephone. Later, Bell bought a patent from Watson on February 14, 1876. That very same day Elisha Gray had also filed a patent for the telephone. The Western Union (a telegraph company) bought Grayís patent because Western Union thought he invented the telephone first. Western Union then wanted to buy the patent from Bell but got challenged by Bell in court, and Western Union lost to Bell.
Bell and Watson kept working on the telephone and gave demonstrations and speeches about the telephone. The next year Watson and Bell owned and operated a telephone company together. Instead of the customers just buying the telephones, Bell decided that they would lease them (rent them for a long period of time). Everybody wanted a phone, but some people were afraid of this speaking instrument because they thought not being able to see the person while you were talking proved that the voices were spirits. The first telephone sold was a telephone that looked like a box. This telephone was called the Commercial Set. The telephone had one side to listen and another to speak into. If a person was at work, they would have a special line so that when you picked up the phone, it would go straight to your house to tell your wife that you were on your way home for dinner.
In a year, more than thirteen hundred phones were being used. Boys that worked in a telegraph shop would be the operators until more "responsible" women came along to take over the job.
Watson continued making telephones and Bell and Watson made an improved phone named the Butterstamp in 1878. This was a wall set and the person could listen and speak at the same time. Customers would call by winding the telephone with a crank that rang a bell. Then an operator would say, "Are you there?" Thomas Edison, who was working on improving how the people who would speak into a phone would sound, picked up the phone and said, "Hello!" From then on everybody in the United States started a conversation by saying hello.
For the new century the ringing of people's phones were then started by having the ring by a cowbell or sleigh bell. (Bell hated the new jingling and refused to study telephones.)
Workers wanted phones on their desks. They first started using a candlestick type of phone that was invented in the 1890's and used through the 1920's. The problem with the candlestick was that they were made of heavy brass and would sometimes fall off and the receiver.
Another telephone called the Desk Set or French Phone, that was originally made in France, was a black phone that had a handle piece that had a side for listening and the other for speaking. Americans got the phone after seeing it during World War I.
No More Operators!
Until the 1900's, operators connected people's calls by connecting the wires from one person's house to the wires from another's. This took a long time, especially if you were calling someone far away and had to rely on many operators to connect your wires correctly. So many people wanted to use telephones, the operators were sometimes plugging and unplugging lines and there was ringing noise non-stop. A man named Almon Strowerger, who was an undertaker (a man who prepared dead bodies for funerals) in Kansas, thought the operators were sending his calls to a competitor. Almon wanted to make a "girlless and cussless" telephone line, so he invented the first automatic dialing system that eliminated the need for an operator.
Today we have wireless phones that we can carry and use anywhere. These phones use radio and satellites to get connected with the destination. Now it takes 2-3 seconds to connect a phone line instead of 20-25 minutes. We have certainly come a long way in communication from pictures drawn on the walls of caves!
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