The Evolution of the Telephone

The Evolution of the Telephone

Like many other inventions, many engineers, telegraphers and investors across Europe and America thought long before inventing it.  In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone after winning a battle with Elisha Gray (Lubrano 7). Telephone came after telegraph. This paper examines the history of the telephone.

History of telephone

Many people know that Bell created the telephone. But Bell did not invent the telephone from nothing as he built on early telephones that existed as early as 1660s. Early telephones were primitive in that they conveyed voice data mechanically. Using mechanic acoustic media, users could transfer music and speech over long distances. Robert Hooke invented the first telephone like gadget called acoustic string phone in 1667.  This device enabled mechanical vibration to travel a string before being changed back into sound at the receiver’s end.

            In 1753 Charles Morrison theorized that the electric telegraph would exist. He proposed that it would be possible to send messages via electricity by employing varied wires for each and every letter.

Mechanical devices had many limitations. Sound could not be sent over greater distances. Furthermore, the sound could not come out clearly. The user needed to have physical connection with the other telephone for communication to b possible.  To create better ways of communication, Alexander Graham and others started to invent electrical telephones.  Developing electrical telephones involved combining the electrical telegraph’s long distance electrical data with the medical device’s audio transmission technology (Parsons 546). Francisco Campillo, Baron Schilling and Samuel Morse separately developed their own electrical telegraphs. When Bell started experimenting utilizing electrical vibrations to transmit audio messages, the telegraph had become the major means of information exchange for almost three decades. However, the telegraphy had many problems.

To begin with, it employed Morse code. Second, it had been limited to receiving and sending messages at a time. Bell, who had a profound understanding concerning music and sound, came up with the solution in form of the Harmonic Telegraph.   However, his idea had been envisaged by others. Experimenting with harmonic telegraph, Bell theorized that one can transmit many signals over the electrical wire provided those signals varied in pitch. In 1875, Bell made a breakthrough with his experiment. Bell discovered through his experiment that he would hear a sound of a plucking clock spring over an electrical wire.  In 1876, Bell achieved greater breakthrough when he made the first call to Watson who sat 15 feet away. Bell called “Watson, come here. I want you” (Bourke 20)

While Bell was the first to patent telephone, there were many inventors working to develop telephone and they did succeed. One such inventor is Elisha Gray. In fact, there is ongoing controversy over whether Gray or Bell deserves credit for inventing the telephone.

Gray developed similar invention using the technology (Bourke 19). It is only that Bell managed to arrive at the patent office early than Gray to patent his invention. The patent office registered both devices leading to a lawsuit over the invention. Bell won the battle.

Thomas Edison improved on the telephone by developing a carbon microphone that produced power telephone signal.

In 1877, the first outdoor telephone was completed, stretching over three miles. This included the construction of telephone line between Somerville in Massachusetts and Boston. In the following years the construction of telephone lines expanded across America leading to commercialization (Lubrano 8).

The switchboard was developed in 1877 but received the patent in 1882.

William Gray received the first patent for pay phone. This device used coins to operate. Over time the telephone evolved into dialing phones, phone handles, and cordless phones.

Bell and his father-in-law started the Bell Telephone Company in 1878, which later changed to American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) (Parsons 546). They founded the company to purposely hold valuable patents. As the subscriber base increased, Americans began accusing the company for operating a giant monopoly. It faced many lawsuits, most of which it won.

The invention of the first telephone line was accompanied with the release of telephone book in 1978. The early telephone book to be released had been one page long. It contained 50 names without their numbers. To call someone, one needed to say the name of the person and the operator could make the connection through. Reuben Donnelly released the yellow Pages business directory in 1886, which grouped businesses according to the kinds of services and products offered.

War-time innovations, inventions and experiments brought Alexander Bell to the frontline of telecommunications. In 1946, the first mobile telephone service linked moving automobiles to telephone networks through radio. In 1947, the microwave radio transmission became useful in long distance telephony.

Pay Phones  

Rotary dial phones were superior to tapping telephones in that it worked by producing pulses in a particular frequency range. In 1980s, candlestick phones became popular.  It had the receiver and mouthpiece separated so that the receiver is placed on the ear and the mouthpiece at the mouth at the same time. Candlestick became out of fashion in the 1930s as manufacturers started blending the receiver and mouthpiece into a one unit (Parsons 546).

In 1970s, cordless phones arrived at the market and became a hit. Cordless phones worked wirelessly with minimal interference.  The first cordless phones had frequency range of 47MHz and 49MHZ. when they became a hit (Parsons 546). The FTC granted more frequency range over the next years.  The introduction of digital broad spectrum occurred along with the introduction of digital cordless phones (Parsons 546).

With digital securities, the security and privacy of cordless phones was enhanced, allowing messages to be sent unencrypted via the air. The advent of digital technology enabled greater protection. By 2003, cordless phones had been granted 5.8GHz frequency range (Parsons 546).

The cell phone came after the cordless phone, allowing individuals to make calls from any place around the globe. Earlier cell phones were larger and similar to cordless phones. Over time, they changed their design and got smaller.

Cell Phones

Motorola DynaTAC was the first handheld cell phone to hit the market. It was created by Motorola in 1984. Throughout the 1900s cell phones grew smaller and sleeker. Companies like Nokia, Motorola and Samsung battled for market dominance via design. Additionally, the cellular infrastructure continued to grow starting from 1G to 2G, 3G and now 4G.


From the above discussion, it is clear that the evolution of telephone began many years before Bell invented and patented one. Although Bell is credited for this invention, there are others who made the same contribution. The invention of telegraph paved way for the invention of electrical telephones, which led to the rise of pay phones. These in turn paved way for cell telephone technology. Without the evolution, there could be no cell phones seen today.  

Annotated Bibliography

Beauchamp, Christopher. Who invented the telephone?: laws, patents, and the judgments of history. Technology and Culture, 51.4(2010):854-878.

This article examines the history of who invented the telephone and the place of Alexander Bell in American memory. The author also examines the patent law, the institution credited with cultural authority to grant patent rights. In response to who invented the telephone, most Americans respond unequivocally that Bell invented the telephone. On the other hand, the Britons believe Thomas Edison, Gray, Bell and others developed the telephone. But Beauchamp shows that the correct answer lies in the history of litigation and patent law.  The telephone was both a scientific innovation and a creation of law. 

Bourke, Jane. Communication & Technology. Greenwood, WA: Ready-Ed Publications, 2004. Print.

This book describes the triumph of the telephone, one of the greatest inventions in history. The author gives a greater importance to the controversy surrounding the invention of the telephone. Bourke discusses the competition between Gray and Bell and how Bell used the ideas of Gray to receive a patent.  The evolution of telephone technology over time is also part of the discussion in this book.  Bourke holds that the cell phones of today differ greatly from the telephones of the 20th century, which also differences from the original telephones of the 1800s.  

Shul-man, Seth. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret. New York, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008.

This book documents the illegal beginnings of the profitable telephone monopoly, showing how Bell used the ideas of Gray’s invention to secure patent. Shul-man believed Bell stole some aspects of Gray’s design and considered the practice as one of the consequential patent theft in history. The author makes a compelling case against Alexander Bell. Although Bell did not admit plagiarizing, in his heart he felt ashamed.

Lubrano, Annteresa. The Telegraph: How Technology Innovation Caused Social Change. New York:  Taylor & Francis Group, 2012.

Lubrano argues that the invention of electric telephone is a joint production of several distinguished artists and famous scientific men of various countries. Telephone technology has had the same history of simultaneous. In America, the simultaneous invention was by both Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell. In addition to both inventing the equipment, they also filed patent.

Works Cited

Beauchamp, Christopher. Who invented the telephone?: laws, patents, and the judgments of history. Technology and Culture, 51.4(2010):854-878.

Bourke, Jane. Communication & Technology. Greenwood, WA: Ready-Ed Publications, 2004. Print.

Lubrano, Annteresa. The Telegraph: How Technology Innovation Caused Social Change. New York:  Taylor & Francis Group, 2012.

Parsons, Jamrich. New Perspectives on Computer Concepts 2016, Comprehensive. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2016.

Shul-man, Seth. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret. New York, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008.

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