As far back as you can remember, you’ve probably seen people using cell phones and smartphones to communicate. While these mobile devices are a major part of daily life for many people, there was a time when talking on the telephone meant being confined to your house, using a phone that was connected to the wall by a cord. As technology continues to march forward, there will probably be a time when you remember back to smartphones as they are now, comparing them to the phones of the future. Explore the history of the telephone and the smartphone to learn how and when it was invented and how it has evolved to what it is today.
Alexander Graham Bell worked to develop the phone, and he got a patent for the invention in 1876. In 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was officially founded, and 3,000 private phones were actively making and receiving calls by the end of this year. When asked to describe his invention, Alexander Graham Bell described the telephone as an electrical device that would reproduce the sounds of people’s voices over distances. Although Bell had no idea how the telephone would change communication over time, he guessed that the possibility of telephone connections could mean needing to install either underground or overhead wires between homes, shops, and businesses. Initially, people were a little perplexed with telephones, but most people wanted to try them. Often, telephones were sold in pairs. Commercial exchanges were soon created to help subscribers with telephones who wanted to connect within their communities.
In 1878, the first manual switchboard was put into use, and 1881 was the year when the first long-distance phone calls were made. By the 1890s, automated switchboards were invented, which made it possible for callers to connect to specific people simply by pressing certain numbers. It wasn’t until 1915 that the first transcontinental telephone call was made, between Bell and Thomas Watson, who were calling between New York and San Francisco. A 10-digit dialing wheel, called a rotary dial, was created for phones to make it possible to dial numbers more easily. Rotary-dial phones were replaced by touch-tone dialing starting in the 1960s.
The first mobile call was made in 1973 by a Motorola engineer. This first cell phone weighed more than two pounds, quite large compared to today’s smartphones. Commercial cell phones weren’t available for sale to the general public until early in the 1980s. Early on, cell phones were usually installed in cars, so they were called car phones. These phones were heavy and very expensive, and the batteries didn’t last very long. As the years went on, phones began to get smaller, they were more affordable, the batteries lasted longer, and they started to have some powerful features.
Over the next couple of decades, cell phones took off in the United States. More people owned them, and they began being used for more than just talking. These newer phones offered some limited Internet access, text messaging, and even some simple games. Some of the most high-tech phones of the late 1990s and early 2000s featured cameras, too. Within this time period, cell phones began adding the ability to create schedules or even send email. Around this time, people began using personal digital assistants, also called PDAs, to manage their schedules and contacts. The combination of cell phones and PDAs was a dream come true for many people. Suddenly, with one device, they could manage their daily schedule, browse the Internet, make calls, and send and view text messages. Shortly after, cell phones began including keyboards for inputting text, Web browsers, touchscreens, and even more advanced features.
Learn more about the history of the telephone by visiting these websites:
- History of the Telephone
- The Telephone
- Alexander Graham Bell
- Imagining the Internet: The Development of the Telephone
- The History of the Telephone
- Telephones Through Time
- The Invention of Telephones
- A Visual History of the Telephone
- Old Telephones: History
- Alexander Graham Bell
- The History of Mobile Phones
- A Brief History of the Smartphone
- A Brief History of Your Office Telephone and Your Smartphone
- The History of the Smartphone
- Cellphone History
- The Origin of the Smartphone
- The Evolution of the Mobile Phone
- The Evolution of Cell Phone Design Between 1983 and 2009
- The Telephone Revolution: A Communication History Timeline
- Telephone Timeline
- Watch the Incredible Visual History of the Mobile Phone