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The humble home phone: from 1877 to now

The humble home phone: from 1877 to now

The humble home phone: from 1877 to now

Telephone keypad April marks the anniversary of the installation of the first home telephone. So we thought we'd take a look at how far the humble home phone has come - and what its future might hold. Read on to find out more… From a novelty item owned by only a select few through to becoming a home essential affordable by many, the home phone took the world by storm. Most of us still have home phones as part of a phone and broadband packages - but will this change in future?

The first home phone

The first home phone was installed in April 1877, connecting Charles William Jr's shop on 109 Court Street, Boston, with his home, located 3 miles away in in Somerville, Massachusetts. Williams was an electrical store owner and telegraph instrument manufacturer. The laboratory of the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was on the fifth floor of William's store, whilst Bell's assistant, Thomas Watson, was also employed by Williams as a mechanic, building prototypes of telegraph instruments. And, until Spring 1879, Williams manufactured all of Bell Telephone's equipment within his store, so it's no surprise that he was the person chosen to be the first owner of a home telephone.

England's first home phone

England's first permanent home phone line is also believed to have been installed in 1877 by Alexander Graham Bell himself. Bell was staying with Robert Bayly, at Tor Grove House, on the outskirts of Plymouth, Devon, Bayly's wife allegedly felt nervous about living in such an isolated property, so Bell rigged up a telephone line between the main house and the gardener's cottage in order to make her feel more secure. The line was used for many years, even though Bayly later built a new mansion on his land in 1882 to replace the old house. The equipment was eventually presented to the Plymouth Museum.

Home phone designs

In the years following the introduction of the home phone, telephone exchanges began to open across the world. With the development of long-distance calls and international calls being followed by the introduction of direct dial calls (so operators no longer needed to connect calls manually), phones became an increasingly popular and cost-effective method of staying in touch. And, as huge leaps were made in telephone technology, designs changed too. Bell's original design consisted of a rectangular box containing a single device which worked as both a transmitter and a receiver. The caller would speak into, and listen to, the same opening in the box. It didn't feature an indicator to tell owners when there was an incoming call either, so in 1877, Thomas Watson designed a 'thumper', which made a tapping sound when a call was coming through. The 1890s saw the development of a smaller telephone, which came in three parts - a transmitter, a receiver and a stand (known as a 'candlestick') which had a hook with a switch (or 'switchhook') on it. When the phone wasn't in use, the receiver would be placed on the hook. Cradle telephone designs also began to be introduced at about the same time. In the late 1920s, Western Electric began to distribute one of the first - and most popular - single handset home telephones, the Bell Model 102, within the United States. It featured a base unit, and a handset which contained both the transmitter and the receiver, and which could be placed in a cradle on the base unit when not in use. The bell and induction coils, however, were contained in a separate 'ringer box', between the wall and the phone. In the 1930s, designers managed to incorporate the bell and induction coils within the phone itself, so the 'ringer box' was no longer necessary - and this new design changed little until touch tone (or push button) phones began to replace the old rotary dial models in the 1960s. Since then, the main developments in phone technology have included the development of cordless phones, enabling people to move from room to room while they talk, and the introduction of VoiP phones, so we can make calls over t'internet rather than the traditional telephone network.

The home phone today…and what the future holds for it

Although many people still have home phones today - both for convenience and because they use their phone lines for internet access, more and more people are using mobile phones for their everyday calls. Some people speculate that the home phone will eventually become a thing of the past - but it's likely that it will change and develop to take account of our changing needs. Dr Frank Shaw, Director of Foresight at the Centre for Future Studies, recently told us that he believed that: "The home phone – as we know and love it – will likely disappear and become irrelevant, apart from Skype, which really is a wonderful application – that industry will grow exponentially. The simple answer is videophones will be in the home. Although I’m not sure we’ll call them phones." And phone manufacturers are already starting to design home phones that look more like larger versions of our mobiles, combining tablet PC features with the humble telephone, so it looks like the home phone may not become obsolete - it will just continue to change.

Home Phone History Highlights

Here are just some of the other highlights of the home phone's history: 1878: Alexander Graham Bell installed a home phone at Osborne House, Queen Victoria's summer residence on the Isle of Wight - and demonstrated it to her by making the UK's first long-distance calls (to London, Cowes and Southampton). 1880: A landmark legal judgement in the UK determined that telephones should be considered to be the same technology as the telegram - and therefore telephone companies needed to purchase licences from the Postmaster General at the Post Office in order to be able to operate. 1895: The Post Office opened its own trunk telephone system to the UK public. 1903: The UK Post Office introduced a cheap rate service, offering 6 minute calls for the price of a standard 3 minute call between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. 1912: The Post Office became the main provider of telephone services within the UK, following its takeover of the National Telephone Company's system. 1934: The UK Post Office introduced cheap night rates as part of a promotional campaign to encourage more people to use telephones, meaning night-time trunk calls would cost a maximum of a shilling. 1936: The Post Office introduced the UK's 'speaking clock' service on 24 July. Initially only available to callers using the London Holborn telephone exchange, the service used the voice of London telephone operator Ethel Jane Cain, who was chosen following a competition advertised as 'The Search for the Girl with the Golden Voice'. The speaking clock service was often referred to as 'Tim' as callers originally needed to dial 846 (or T-I-M) in order to access it. 1941: The push button telephone was invented by Bell Telephone 1958: The STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) service was introduced in the UK, enabling callers to make trunk, i.e. long-distance, calls without an operator needing to manually connect them. The first STD call in the UK was made by Queen Elizabeth II, who called the Lord Provost of Edinburgh on 5 December 1958. Britain's telephone exchanges each began to be allocated their own STD codes. 1963: The push button telephone was made available to the American public for the first time - initially in Carnegie and Greenburg, Pennsylvania. ISD (International Subscriber Dialling) was introduced in the UK, meaning that callers could make direct calls to international numbers. Initially, callers were able to ring numbers in Paris from their phones in London. 1991: Invention of the World Wide Web. 2004: VoIP calls became available to the mass market. Do you remember getting your first home phone? How would you like to see the home phone develop? Let us know below…

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