The evolution of the phone through history

Peyton Duplechien • 13 Dec 2021 • 6 min read

When it comes to inventions that have shaped who we are today as a society, it’s hard not to land squarely on the phone. An essential tool for everything from business and work to staying in touch with friends half the world away, it’s safe to say the world simply wouldn’t be the same without such a tool. 

But phones weren’t always the pocket-sized supercomputers they are today, and it’s only in recent years that they started to lose the wires hooking them up to our homes. Chances are that future generations might even go their whole lives without ever knowing what a landline was. 

So, where exactly did the phone you might be reading this on actually come from? What did the evolution of the telephone look like and how quick was it? Join us as we take a look back at the history of the telephone, all the way from the 1800s to the modern day! 

When was the first telephone created? 

Not many people know it, but the very first telephone actually came about in the year 1876. Yes, telephones really are that old! And if you remember a little bit of what you learnt in school, you probably know that we credit the creation of such a revolutionary device to one Alexander Graham Bell. 

However, while Alexander Graham Bell, is responsible for bringing the first working telephone to life, the origins of this device are a little less clear-cut. In fact, the first iteration of the telephone was called the “teletrophono,” and was created in 1860 by Italian inventor, Antonio Meucci. 

Meucci began working on his design as early as 1849 and filed a caveat (an official notice that someone would be filing an official patent at a later date) in 1871. Unfortunately, due to financial hardships, Meucci was never able to afford to patent his invention, hence why we now credit Bell with the telephone’s creation. 

This occurred on February 14th, 1876, five years after Meucci announced his patent caveat, when two inventors, Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, went to submit their own designs for the telephone to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

While Gray submitted his caveat first, Bell was able to pay the official application fee that day and was therefore granted the patent over Gray. Bell was officially granted the patent for the invention of the telephone on March 7th, 1879. The first call happened 3 days later, on March 10th, and with it, history was made. 

Telephone evolution in the 1900s 

Given just how essential the telephone is today, it should come as no surprise that Bell’s creation proved incredibly popular right off the bat. Ownership of telephones surged to nearly 600,000 by 1900. And by 1910, this had risen to 5.8 million users globally! 

Bell then rocked the world again on January 25th, 1915, when he carried out the first transcontinental call between himself in New York and his partner, Thomas Watson, in San Francisco. This newfound ability to connect people across the country in real time was revolutionary for telephone users in the United States. 

It would then spread worldwide only 12 years later, with the first transatlantic phone call being made on January 7th, 1927, between W. S. Gifford, president of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, and Sir Evelyn P. Murray, secretary of the General Post Office of Great Britain. 

 Telephones from the 1950s onwards 

Post WW2, telephone evolution again came on leaps on bounds. For example, in 1949, AT&T, which held a monopoly over the telephone service industry for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, introduced the Model 500 telephone. 

Designed by Henry Dreyfuss, the Model 500 combined a sleek modern style (for the time) with the advanced operational capacity of brand-new user-based models to create the most commonly used landline in the U.S. up until 1995! 

However, while landlines continued to be a staple of most households throughout the 20th century, 1973 also saw another game-changing development introduced to the market – the mobile phone. 

On April 3rd, 1973, Motorola employee Martin Cooper used an early prototype of the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x to make the first-ever mobile phone call. Released to the general public in 1984, it cost nearly $4,000. Adjusting for inflation, it would cost $9,000 today! 

But the design and concept took off, and nearly 3 decades later, half of the U.S. population would have a mobile phone sat right in their pocket for quick everyday use. (We’re sure it’s a relief to everyone that the brick-shaped style of the original was quickly dropped in favor of more compact designs). 

And the advancements in the telephone industry just kept coming in the following years, with the world’s first smartphone being released in 1993 – no, not the iPhone, the Simon Personal Communicator. 

Much cheaper than the DynaTAC at $900, The Simon was advertised as not just a cell phone, but rather as a crafty electronic device that could be used as a wireless machine, pager, e-mail device, calendar, appointment schedular, address book, calculator, and stylus-based sketchpad. 

In other words, exactly what we all use our phones for today. 

The evolution of the telephone in the early 2000s 

With smartphones on the table, it was only a matter of time before telephone technology skyrocketed forward again. And As we’re sure you’re already aware, the early 21st century has already seen a major boom in telephone technological innovations. 

The advent of the camera phone came in the year 2000, and 2018 saw the introduction of the foldable smartphone. But the most notable of these advancements, of course, was Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iPhone in 2007 

Not only did the iPhone change the way we thought about smartphones, but the phone’s potential entirely. And it shows. Despite how primitive the first-generation model may look today, since its initial launch, Apple has sold more than 1.9 billion iPhones, with this number continuing to grow as new updates are released to the public. 

How has the telephone changed over time to today? 

So, with that last point covered, we come now to the modern day. Owning a phone is something most of us aspire to do, with many of us now buying them as early as our teen years. 

And the technology is only continuing to develop to new heights. Some studies have already predicted that the smartphone will eventually be replaced by a higher form of technology. After all, landlines are practically nonexistent in people’s homes today, so it’s not hard to see the same thing eventually happening to mobile phones. 

Whether what comes next is virtual reality, artificial intelligence, or wearable electronic devices remains to be seen. But whatever it is, such a device will be there to continue the legacy and evolution of the phone in all its useful glory. 

Fun mobile facts 

While we’ve come to the end of our telephone evolution journey, we wouldn’t want to leave you without first sharing some interesting phone facts we learned along the way, all of which we’ve listed below: 

  • Present-day cell phones have more computing power than the computer used to land the Apollo 11 mission on the moon 
  • Around 80% of the world’s population has access to a personal cell phone 
  • More than 90% of adults who own a mobile have their phone within arm’s reach at all times 
  • There are more cell phones than PCs across the world, with the ratio currently sitting at 5:1 
  • At the time of writing, the cell phone industry is the fastest-growing industry in the world 
  • Apple’s iPhone currently has higher sales than everything Microsoft sells combined 
  • Nomophobia is the fear of being without your mobile phone or losing phone signal while you’re out 
  • The average person unlocks their smartphone as much as 110 times per day 

Get more out of your phone with VoiceNation 

Between the cell phones mentioned above and the way the economies and industries of the world work, phones truly have become an integral part of life as we know it. This sentiment is especially true for businesses and business owners. 

But when your clients need you, are you always there to pick up the phone? If not, then you might want to consider enlisting the help of our expert Virtual Receptionists at VoiceNation. 

VoiceNation has helped change the phone technology game by introducing a professional Live Answering Service that can handle your phone calls for you! Meaning you no longer need to choose between taking calls for your business and spending time with your family or socializing. 

Not only that, but our Live Chat support is some of the best in the business, helping you to resolve customer issues faster, meet new requests with ease, and increase your sales inquiries quickly and efficiently. 

Get in touch today to learn more about our services, price packages, and free trial period, and don’t forget to browse the rest of our blog as well for similar articles to this one, such as the history of small businesses, what to look for in a virtual receptionist, and phone answering policies and tips for businesses.