Telephones From Dumb Phones to Cell Phones

Updated on February 12, 2019
L.M. Hosler profile image

Linda enjoys reading, learning and writing about different things. She enjoys sharing her love of writing and history with others.

Teenagers Texting on Their Cell Phones

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Alexander Graham Bell

I have to wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would think if he could see the ways in which his original invention, the telephone has evolved into. I am sure that he would be pleased and amazed.

The path to our wonderfully exciting I Phones began on March 7, 1867 when Alexander Graham Bell received the first patent for the invention of the telephone. Three days later on March 10th 1876, he made his first and famous phone call to his assistant, Thomas Watson, in which he asked his assistant to come to him. That was the first time a voice had been transmitted to another person over electrical cables.

Alexander Graham Bell

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The First Phones

The first phones were attacked to a wall and were rather difficult to use and almost had to be shouted into. Some of the earliest versions of telephones consisted of a mouthpiece for speaking into and a receiver which was held to the ear to listen. Most early phones had a crank which you used when you wanted to ring the operator, who would then put your call through to the party you were calling. The phone switchboard was created in 1877 in Boston by a fellow named Leroy Firman who was granted a patent on Jan 17, 1882. This eventually created a need for switchboards and operators to work the switchboards. Usually switchboards were operated by females. The operator would connect calls by inserting plugs into the correct jacks.

An Antique Telephone Switchboard

A antique telephone switchboard
A antique telephone switchboard | Source

Phone Books

As phones became more popular and most American households soon had a phone, there needed to be a way to keep a record of phones numbers. What we now call a database became the first phone book. By 1878, the first phone book or directory, as we now know it, was published. It was a simple sheet of paper with names and businesses of those who had telephones in their homes. The phone book has now grown to be the size of a small book divided into sections. These sections include residential, business and eventually the yellow pages for advertising purposes.

Candlestick Phones

Phones called candlestick phones became popular during the late eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century. These phones were invented by Almon Strowager. He invented these phones for his business as an undertaker in Kansas so that people could call him directly. They were called candlestick phones due to their upright appearance somewhat like a candlestick. They had both a mouthpiece and a receiver and could sit upright on a flat surface. They were also called desk phones or stick phones.

The Candlestick Telephone

The slim upright phone with a receiver and a mouthpiece and a rotary dial.  Popular in the 1940s
The slim upright phone with a receiver and a mouthpiece and a rotary dial. Popular in the 1940s

Touch Tone and Cordless Phones

Touch tone phones began to gain popularity in the 1940s. These phones made it easier to dial the number you wanted to call by simply pushing the right numbers. Touch tone phones were soon followed by the cordless phone. The cordless phone allowed the user to move freely about while talking without being restricted by a cord. The limiting phone cords were gone. I know mothers thought this was wonderful, because it always seemed that when mother was busy on the phone that was always the perfect time for the children to decide to misbehave. I know that was always the time my boys would want to wrestle, fight, throw things and chase each other through the house.

Pay Phones

Before long, almost every American home had a telephone in their home. But they were still a luxury that many could not yet afford but still the telephone had become a part of the American lifestyle. But how could someone make a phone call if they were traveling or even just a short distance from home? And how did those who could not afford this new luxury manage to call someone if an emergency arose? In the early days of the telephone, no one would ever have dreamed of something called a personal cell phone. That someday we would all carry with us a phone in our pocket or our purse. In 1889, William Gray came up with the solution to that problem with the invention of the coin operated, pay phone. Pay phones were available to anyone and could be used by depositing the correct amount of coins to pay for the call. They originally cost ten cents to make a phone call, but later the price was raised to twenty five cents a call. This was the source for a popular country music song called, “Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares”.

Vintage Wall Pay Phones

Coin operated wall phones
Coin operated wall phones | Source

Public Places Where Pay Phones Could Be Found

At one time pay phones were almost everywhere. This is a short list of where pay phones might be found.

  • Gas stations
  • Hospitals
  • Convenience stores or general stores
  • Shopping Malls
  • Laundry Mats
  • Airports
  • Phone Booths
  • Bus stations

With pay phones also came the need for phone booths. Phone booths were also placed on public street corners to be used by the public. The first booths were wooden booths with a seat and the phone attached. Later phone booths were made of glass and metal with a door that slid open and closed for privacy. Phone booths were approximately the size of a small shower stall. Today, phone booths have almost disappeared to become just another thing from the distance past. I have to wonder now, what is Superman going to do without a phone booth to change from reporter Clark Kent into Superman?

Old Phone Booth

Source

Phones Have Changed in Many Ways

From the early beginnings of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, the telephone has gone through many stages.

  • The first early phones
  • Candlestick phones
  • Rotary phones
  • Touch tone phones
  • Party line phones
  • Pay Phones
  • Cordless phones
  • Car Phones
  • Early first cell phones
  • Smart phones (which can be smarter than some of us)


Teenagers Attempting to Use an Old Rotary Telephone

From Dumb Phones to Smart Phones

Phones have come a long way since those first crank telephones. Smart cell phones are in reality a small portable computer that you can carry in your pocket or purse, anywhere Today we have smart phones that can do so many things other than make phone calls. Now our phones let us send messages, take and send pictures, see the other caller. They also let us use social programs such as the popular Facebook and Twitter sites. You can also doing your banking, pay your bills, shop and even take credit cards. Yes, smart phones are so smart that you may hear someone say "my smart phone is smarter than I am".

Nothing But Memories

Times have changed and phones have changed. We can always be reached on the cell phone. Except maybe in the cases where the phone battery has gone dead or we are in an area where there is no phone service or the phone has been misplaced. Cell phones have replaced pay phones and phone booths for the most part. Carrying our own personal cell phone in our pocket eliminates the need to use pay phones. With the use of the smart phone and internet, the need for phone books is becoming less. In many case, we no longer have the need for a home phone. Many of us older people will have good memories of the days and stories of older phones. Time moves on and our lifestyles change but we can always look back fondly and say “I remember those old phones”.

Here's a Quarter Call Someone Who Cares

References

https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/alexander-graham-bell

http://time.com/4425102/public-telephone-booth-history/

https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/almon-strowger/16911

https://patentyogi.com/this-day-in-patent-history/this-day-in-patent-history-on-january-17-1882-leroy-firman-received-a-patent-for-the-telephone-switchboard/

http://time.com/4425102/public-telephone-booth-history/

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    © 2019 L.M. Hosler

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