Broadband and phone - a look at Bell, the telephone and how far we've come
This week marks the anniversary of Alexander Graham Bell's birthday (3 March, 1847) and the granting of the very first telephone patent (7 March, 1876). To celebrate, we thought we'd look back at Bell, the telephone and just how far we've come over the past 136 years. Just read on for a little phone nostalgia …
Alexander Graham Bell - the inventor of the telephone and the father of fibre optic communication
Born in Scotland on the 7 March, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) came to become one of the most famous inventors in history after developing "the miracle discovery of the age" - the telephone. Following in his father's footsteps, Bell had been working with deaf children and adults when he began experimenting with the mechanics of sound. He'd already gained some financial backing to work on improving the telegraph so multiple messages could be wired at the same time. But he'd also secretly begun to work on transmitting speech, instead of Morse Code clicks, down the wire. In 1876, Bell succeeded in transmitting sound and filed a patent application for an "acoustic telegraph". He'd invented the telephone. And he wasn't even thirty. The telephone made Bell a very rich man and, in the years that followed, he married and relocated to Canada, where he died aged 75. But even though he'd made his fortune, Bell never stopped inventing. Following the loss of his son to a respiratory condition, Bell invented the fore-runner to the "iron lung" used to treat polio. He also hurriedly invented the metal detector in order to pin-point a bullet used to assassinate President James Garfield in a failed attempt to save America's Commander-in-Chief as he lay dying. And Bell even built his own flying machine - just six years after the Wright Brothers first took to the air. Surprisingly, of all his incredible inventions, Bell didn't think of the telephone as his greatest. In fact, he saved that honour for the Photophone - a radio phone he developed in 1880 which transmitted sounds and conversation on a beam of light - the forerunner to fibre optic communication, which has evolved into today's fibre optic broadband, which gives us superfast access to the web.
The race for US Patent 174,465 - the most valuable patent in history
On 14 February 1876, Bell filed his patent application for an "acoustic telegraph" at the United States Patent Office. Just a few hours later, Elisha Gray - a rival inventor - instructed his lawyers to file a preliminary patent application or "caveat" for a similar device. As Bell's application had been submitted first, the US Patent Office awarded him the patent for the telephone, US Patent No. 174,465 - the most valuable patent in history - on 7 March 1876. Bell might have won the race to the patent office (and by a whisker too), but his patent was hotly contested by Elisha Gray and by Italian inventor Antonio Meucci, who both launched fierce legal battles against him, claiming that he'd based his invention on their ideas. They also claimed that Bell had been allowed to modify his application and scrawl important details - stolen from their work - in the margins. Menucci's legal case was dropped following his death and Gray's was eventually settled out of court, but Bell continued to be dogged by the controversy throughout his career. In fact, just ten years ago, a US Congressman successfully campaigned to have Menucci's work on the invention of the telephone recognised by the House of Representatives. And today, academics are still split when it comes to deciding whether or not Bell really invented the telephone or just cheekily took credit for it.
The history of the telephone - "the miracle discovery of the age"
Bell was granted his telephone patent on the 7 March 1876 - and just three days later he made the world's first telephone call. During that first call to his assistant, Thomas Watson, Bell said "Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you." Bell spent the next few years lecturing about the "the miracle discovery of the age" and demonstrating the telephone to celebrities and royalty, including Queen Victoria. Here are some of the landmark moments in the history of Bell's telephone: • 1876: The telephone patent was granted to Alexander Bell, who made the world's first telephone call to his assistant, Thomas Watson. The pair celebrated by doing a victory dance in their rented rooms, leading their landlady to threaten them with eviction. • 1877: The construction of the world's first telephone line (between Boston and Massachusetts) was completed. The first switchboard was set up (in Boston). • 1878: Bell set up his first telephone company, now known as AT&T. The first telephone book was published by the New Haven District Telephone Company. The first telephone was installed in the White House by the President Rutherford B. Hayes administration. The first outgoing call from the White House went to Alexander Bell, who was told by the President to speak more slowly. • 1880: By the end of this year, there were 47,900 telephones in the USA. Bell developed the Photophone - establishing himself as the father of fibre optic communication. • 1882: The patent for the first telephone switchboard was granted to Leroy Firman. • 1886: The first Yellow Pages directory was published. • 1889: The patent for the first coin-operated pay phone was granted to William Gray. • 1937: The first long distance phone lines were laid underground, instead of being strung between poles. • 1941: The first 'Touch Tone' phone was installed. • 1947: Research into mobile phone technology began. • 1951: Direct dialling was first trialled in Englewood, New Jersey. • 1964: The videotelephone was put into service for the first time - between New York, Washington and Chicago. It was not well used or received. • 1970s: The first cordless phones were introduced. • 1970: Optical fibre was successfully developed by Corning Glass Works, 90 years after Bell invented the Photophone. • 1971: The patent for the first computerised telephone exchange was granted to Erna Schneider Hoover of Bell Labs. • 1977: General Telephone and Electronics sent the first live telephone traffic through fibre optic cabling. • 1982: The patent for Caller ID was granted to Carolyn Doughty of Bell Labs. • 1991: The World Wide Web was invented • 2004: VOIP calls were introduced to the mass market.
The phone today - how far we've come and what the future might hold
When Bell first invented the telephone, he said he thought that there'd eventually be one in every city in America. In fact - according to figures published by the International Telecommunication Union in 2009 - there are now more than 1.27 billion home phone or "fixed line" subscribers across the globe. But the telephone's popularity isn't the only thing that's exceeded Bell's expectations, as the invention of the phone has also given rise to incredible developments in the history of communication: the mobile phone, the internet, online video, VoIP calling and fibre optics. Here in Yorkshire, we recently celebrated our 15th birthday and collaborated with the Centre for Future Studies to research what the next 15 years is likely to hold for the internet. In our report, we predicted that the internet will completely change our home lives by 2027, and that holographic video calling is likely to replace the humble home phone we know and love today. In an exclusive interview, Dr Frank Shaw, one of Time Magazine's 'top 10 most influential thinkers in the world' and lead author of our report, told us that broadband - especially superfast and fibre optic broadband - will play a massive part in how we all live and work in the future, and that ISPs like Plusnet will have a hugely important role to play in making this future a reality. We're really excited to think about how far we've come in the past 200 years - from telegraph to telephone; from landlines to mobiles, text speak and smartphones; from dial-up to broadband and then fibre - and where we're going. We just wonder what Mr Bell would make of it all! What do you think of the evolution of the phone? What do you think Alexander Bell would think of how far the phone has come? What do you think the future will hold for the telephone? Do you think we'll really stop using our home phones? What do you think the world would be like if the telephone had never been invented? Please leave us a comment, and let us know …
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