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Alexander Graham Bell and the History of the Telephone

Page history last edited by Jenna Boyer 2 years, 3 months ago

Alexander Graham Bell making history's first telephone call, 1892

Alexander Graham Bell making history's first telephone call, 1892



History on the Line: Who Invented the Telephone? ThoughtCo. (November 6, 2017)


The History of the Telephone, CNET


Woman Using a Telephone, 1961

Woman Using a Telephone, 1961
History of the Telephone Timeline



A Visual History of the Telephone, Slate.com





Biography of Alexander Graham Bell. 



Another biography of Bell from the Lemelson-MIT Program


Alexander Graham Bell Controversy


Click here for an article detailing the controversy of Bell patenting the telephone.


Scientific American's podcast debating Bell stealing the invention.


Click here for an article exposing Bell's controversial views relating to the deaf community, including his opposition to intermarriage between deaf and hearing people. 


Click here for an article about his promotion of oralism, the belief that deaf people should learn to speak and lip-read instead of learning sign language. 


Telephone girls, King Street Station, Seattle, Washington 1907

  Women in the Workforce: Phone Operators


Read this article about Emma Nutt, the first female telephone operator.  Teenage boys who ran switchboards before Nutt were considered too unruly. 


  • See the article to understand exactly what a switchboard is (it connects phone calls) and to learn that before “hello,” people answered phone calls with “ahoy!”


Watch this 2 minute video interviewing phone operators in 1979. 


  • They were occupied 92% of the time (a figure whose precision suggests it was carefully studied) and they had new computerized systems. 


Here is video about a working replica of the first telephone created by Alexander Graham Bell. 


From Telephones to Smartphones

Most US Households Have Given Up Landlines for Cellphones, The Verge (May 4, 2017)




Communication Firsts


Inventors in the field of communications have held their designs with different degrees of loftiness, some expressing great gravity, others hardly marking the “first” at all. 

  • When the Baltimore-Washington telegraph line opened on May 24, 1844, the first message sent was “What hath God wrought?” This biblical reference suggests the person who sent it was thinking seriously about what the telegraph would mean for the world. 


  • On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell said to his assistant over the phone “Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you”.


  • On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong famously said the first words spoken stepping onto the Moon, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 


  • Recalling the first network email ever sent (in 1971!), Ray Tomlinson wrote, “The test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them.”


  • The first text message was sent from a computer to a phone by Neil Papworth on December 3rd, 1992. He wished Richard Jarvis a “merry Christmas,” perhaps a few days early.


To paraphrase comedian Gary Gulman, “the phone is just a rarely used app on my phone.”  With today’s waning voice communication it might be easy to lose sight of how revolutionary the telephone was. We might also take for granted the technology we have now.  But let us dwell a few moments on the history of this technology and see why those first pioneers in telecommunications wondered, “What hath God wrought?”



Kenyan Mobile Innovations


The Kenyan economy, along with other African nations, is highly dependent on the cell phone.  When they lose spending power, Kenyans are more likely to prioritize their phones than their food.  This might seem impractical, but in fact it’s the exact opposite. A phone can let a person transfer money.  It can help them buy a bus ticket. It can tell a farmer the price of her bananas in a far away city market, so she knows what price to set.  It can even help a midwife tell a doctor about a new mother who needs extra medical care. And all this from apps that are texting based, because most Kenyans don’t have smartphones.


Here’s a video explaining all the above uses and more.




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