Photo: Boy Using Telephone


Telephone, an instrument for the transmission of sound, particularly the human voice to a distance.

The honor of inventing the electric telephone does not seem to belong to any one person. As early as 1819 Charles Wheatstone of London invented an instrument which he called the telephone, by means of which he was able to cause the music of an orchestra to be heard at a distance. Others worked on the problem of transmitting music. Elisha Gray of Chicago devised a method of transmitting sounds by electricity. The invention of the commercial telephone is credited, however, to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell of Boston. In 1874 he hit upon the idea while conducting experiments designed to make sounds visible to the deaf and dumb. Important improvements were suggested by others, notably by Thomas Edison.

Dr. Bell patented his invention. A company known as the Bell Telephone Company was incorporated and for many years maintained a monopoly. In 1893 there were about 600,000 telephones in the United States. The expiration of the principal patents enabled independent companies to enter the field. In 1919 there were in the United States 27,298,026 miles of wire and 10,992,325 telephones and over 30,000,000 exchange messages daily. The value of plant and equipment was $1,435,912,142, and it required 187,458 employes to operate the system. Canada has about 900,000 miles of wire and over 370,000 telephones. The miles of telephone lines in the United States equal nearly twice the number of telephone lines in all the other countries of the world.

The uses of the telephone are manifold. On many railway systems it has replaced the telegraph for operating trains. By its use on a large ship, the commander is placed in touch with every department of service on his vessel. Its extension to rural communities has brought the farmer in daily touch with the world and the markets. Telephone systems that can be easily transported and quickly set up are used in directing the movements of armies on the battle front, and in large cities the telephone fire alarm has displaced the old system. An automatic system of calling telephone numbers that does away with central exchange and its switchboard has been perfected and is rapidly coming into use. It assures privacy in all communications and reduces the expense of operation. Wherever used, the automatic is popular.

From The National Encyclopedia for the Home, School and Library, Vol. VIII., National Encyclopedia Company, Chicago, 1927.
Rev 2000-11-05 [Return to Diary]