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Invention Story of Telephone

Written By: 

Samidha Verma

Image Of Landline Telephone
Fig. 1: Image Of Landline Telephone
Like all other inventions, Telephone unfolds a fascinating story that lead to its birth. It all started when an inspired Scotsman named Alexander Graham Bell invented telephone in 1876. Thomas Watson had fashioned the device - a crude thing prepared out of a funnel, wooden stand, acid, and cooper wires. All these simple parts lead to the simple earliest call, belie the complicated past. Bell filed the application only few hours before his competitor Elisha Gray filed the notice to patent a telephone. By using the ideas outlined in the notice of invention by Gray, Bell created an operating telephone 3 weeks later to this.
Though Bell had developed novel and new ideas but these were on the basis of older developments and ideas. He succeeded in his approach because he understood the acoustics, electricity as well as study of sound. Other inventor had understood the electricity but could not understand much about acoustic just like Bell. So telephone is joint accomplishment of many pioneers.
Telephone history conceivably started with human history only. Man always wished to communicate far and wide. People used jungle drums, smoke signals, mirrors, semaphores and carrier pigeons for sending their message from one place to another. But telephone was certainly something new. Some people believed that Francis Bacon was one that predicted telephone in 1627; though, his book named New Utopia described long speaking tube only. Real telephone was not invented till the start of electric age. And even after it started, telephone did not seem desirable.
Electrical principles for building a telephone were recognized in 1831 and in 1854 Bourseul suggested speech transmission electrically. And after long 22 years, this idea turned into reality. While Jules Verne visualized the space travel and Da Vinci envisioned flight, people did not really lie awake with the thought of making a call through centuries. Who among all could have predicted pay phones on street corners or fax machines on their desks? Development of telephone did not gear up in an organized way like powered flight, with series of inventors working one after another to make a common goal a reality. It was rather string of disconnected events, some accidental, mostly electrical that made telephone a reality.
In the year 1729, English Chemist named Stephen Gray transmitted electricity through wire. He sent around 300 feet over the moistened thread and brass wire. Electrostatic generator powered his experiments, offering one charge at a time. In 1753, an unknown author suggested that the electricity might help in transmission of messages and he gave a scheme that used separate wires for representing each of the letters. He also posited that electrostatic generator could help in electrifying every line while attracting paper with the static charge on other end. By making a note of which all papers were attracted, one could spell the message out. Need of long wires confined the signals to few miles. Telegraphs were labored in the same fashion for many decades. Experiments in the field were on till 1800.
Alessandro Volta had produced earliest battery in 1800. Volta’s battery was considered as a major achievement. It offered low powered electricity current at a high cost. These chemically based batteries were improved within no time and became a source of further experimentation. And in 1820, Christian Oersted, a Danish physicist, demonstrated electromagnetism. It played as a vital idea for developing electrical power as well as to communicate. He pushed compass under the live electric wire at one of his well known experiments. Causing needle to turn northwards, compass acted as a bigger magnet. Oersted had then realized that electric current could create a magnetic field. But the question that loomed in his mind was that if it could create electricity. Electromagnetism principle, fully applied and understood, assured new age of communication.
In 1821, Michael Faraday reversed experiment by Oersted. He made weak current to flow in wire that revolved around permanent magnet. By doing this, he created world’s earliest electric generator. He kept working on various electrical problems for 10 years and then published results on the induction in year 1831. Though electrical dynamos were produced but understanding on how to use electromagnetism for communication was still missing.
American scientist named Joseph Henry transmitted practical electrical signals for the first time in 1830. In one of his classroom demonstrations, Henry presented forerunner of telegraph. He also helped Samuel Finley Breese Morse in further development. And then in 1837 Morse invented earliest workable telegraph, applied its patent in year 1838 which was granted in year 1848. Long distance operations were made possible with shared efforts of Henry and Morse’s invention of telegraph repeater. Morse was not really a professional inventor but he was encouraged by the electrical experiments. After hearing Faraday’s work on induction, he pondered over electromagnet. Eventually telegraphs became a big business and replaced the messengers, the slow paced channels of communication.
Johann Philip Reis completed his earliest non working telephone in year 1861. Enticingly close to speech reproduction, his instrument helped in conveying various sounds. The problem was that this device could not produce intelligent sounds. And even with dawn of 1870s, world did not have any working telephone.
But a major breakthrough in this field came when unique combination of voice and electricity led to actual invention of telephone by Graham Bell in 1876. He then got his patent issued for Improvements in Telegraph in the same year. Thomas Edison tried to take advantage of bell’s failure to take patent in Britain for Bell Receiver and got patent for new receiver called electro motograph.
In 1877 earliest permanent telephone wire covering distance of around 3 miles was strung. And commercial telephone services started in 1877 in U.S. Soon in 1879, subscribers of telephone were designated numbers instead of names. Dial phones came into being in 1880s. Eventually operators were replaced with Stronger Switch, which received dial pulses. And since then developments in the field of telephone has not come to a halt. From telegraphs to codeless phones, telephones have definitely come a long way.