March 17, 2009

The Technological Development of the Telephone through History

Posted in Tech 114 at 2:52 am by jackychang30

Ever since the dawn of civilization, there existed a need to communicate information ofver great distances. What is now known as telecommunication and internet took many forms over the course of human history, continually evolving and changing forms. In fact, many forms of communication – ranging from smoke signals to books – can be considered a precursor of long distance communication in a sense that it allowed communication to take place over a longer distance than through speech.

Pre-Industrial Phase

The beginning of long distance communication coincided with the emergence of the first civilizations on earth. For example, in ancient China, smoke signals were used to alert the country of uninvited guests. However, the most significant form of long distance communication was the ancient Greek legend of Philippides. Philippides, a trained long distance runner, was sent to Sparta to beg for help when an army of Persians was invading. He covered 150 miles in two days, an amazing feat for any man. It seems that by using smoke signals and well trained messengers, many lives were saved. Even thousands of years ago, telecommunication was of vital importance. Through the use of both smoke and messengers in emergencies, humans began to realize the impact of long distance communication. As a result, long distance communication technology continued to develop and advance. At an unknown point in history, the speaking tube, the predecessor of the modern day telephone, was invented. The speaking tube consists of two cones attached to the ends of an air tube. Sound can mechanically pass through the tube from one cone to the other. There were two problems with the speaking tube: the short distance and the inability to connect to separate phones. Despite such obstacles, the speaking tube was used until mid 20th century. Delivering quick, clear messages is convenient, but the speaking tube did not significantly impact the people. Its limit to medium distances and its difficult installation reduced overall sales demand. Some households had speaking tubes installed so servants can easily be called, but other than that, speaking tubes were rarely used by ordinary people. Nonetheless, society used the speaking tube to a greater extent. Speaking tubes were used in places where announcements needed to be made, such as at train platforms or on large ships. The speaking tube eventually led the invention of the microphone, radio, and most importantly, the telephone.

The Industrial Revolution

The beginning of the industrial revolution sparked the invention of the telephone. Approximately thirty years before the emergence of the telephone, the telegraph, the telephone’s predecessor, was invented. It used a system of ticks and dashes to send messages. Not long after the implementation of the telegraph into society, the idea of a “speaking telegraph” began to emerge. Alexander Graham Bell, credited as the inventor of the telephone, set to work. After countless experiments with sound and electricity, Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson successfully created a working telephone, finished on March 10, 1876. Bell’s invention almost immediately began to put the telegraph out of use. To further promote the telephone, numerous advancements were made, such as a bell to signal an incoming call, a key pad, and the carbon microphone for clearer, louder sound. Through the industrial revolution, the impact of the telephone on an individual and on society as a whole only expanded. The telephone started with a lack of privacy. Lines connected various households together. As a result, whenever a call is made, all phones connected to the line could intrude. Later on, telephone companies created private lines to make phones more appealing to business personnel. The rates, unfortunately, were not pretty. For those wealthy enough to purchase and install a telephone, communication became much easier. It was not until much later when the less wealthy obtained telephone service. As one can easily tell, the telephone had a huge impact on both the average citizen and on society. Citizens now had the right to communication across long distances. Gossip, marketing, planning, and the like were now all possible without having to meet face to face. Changes in women’s roles were particularly significant. Phone companies liked to hire women as operators because Victorian women seemed to have the perfect personality for the job. (Note that during the industrial revolution, women’s rights were still limited.) Women were generally seen to be courteous, skilful, tempered, patient, active and alert. Higher class women would also pick up the phone and have a “nice chat”. Telephones were originally intended by phone companies for business use, but when women gossip, the companies make money. In fact, modern day telephone culture is mainly due to higher class women of the industrial revolution. The radio was also greatly influenced by the telephone. Much broadcasting was done over the phone where news, sports, and commercials were talked about. All in all, the telephone brought forth an increase of communication for those wealthy enough to afford it during the industrial revolution. The telegraph, its predecessor, slowly lost ground. Society was transforming to keep up with the massive changes in the industrial revolution, and the telephone was one of the inventions that sparked all the technological advancements.

Post Industrial Phase

After the industrial revolution, the use of the telephone continued to expand. Technological advancements, such as adding a visual screen, were also made. Phones and phone services continued to drop in price. By the end of the 20th century, telephones became a necessary in every household. Everyone started taking telephones for granted. People started to wonder what would come about if telephones could be carried anywhere. This sparked the invention of the cordless phone, which in turn promoted the invention of the cell phone. Cell phones now dominate society, pushing telephones away the same way telephones took over the telegraph. However, the popularity of the cell phone even overtook that of the phone. Whereas there was usually one telephone per household, it isn’t hard nowadays to find a household where every member of the family has his/her own phone. Everyone should be greatly affected. The teenager can easily connect with friends; parents can keep tabs on children; I can call relatives in Taiwan. Communication has become so much easier! Looking back to ancient China times where emergencies were represented with smoke signals. With a cell phone, a few presses of a button announce the state of emergency. The cell phone has become completely integrated into our lives and is now a part of society.


In the past, long distance communication was extremely difficult. People had to run great distances or large fires had to be set. Then came the telephone. Long distance communication became much more diverse. The telephone continued to become more popular until the cell phone was officially released to the public. Telecommunication just got better. By analyzing the past in telecommunications, it seems as if technological advancements in long distance communication will only improve exponentially. What will precede the cell phone? We will definitely fine out in a few years.



Lahanas, Michael. (June 8, 2008). Phidippides or Pheidippides (or Phidlippides) and the Marathon. Retrieved March 17, 2009 from

History of telecommunication. (2009, March 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:13, March 17, 2009, from

Speaking tube. (2009, January 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:14, March 17, 2009, from

Bellis, Mary. (n.d.). The History of the Telephone – Alexander Graham Bell. Retrieved March 17, 2009 from

Bellis, Mary. (n.d.). The History of the Telegraph and Telegraphy. Retrieved March 17, 2009 from

Martin, Michèle. (n.d.). Science, Technology, and Society: The Telephone. Retrieved March 17, 2009 from



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  9. […] Chang, J. (2009, March 17). The Technological Development of the Telephone     through History. Retrieved from… […]

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