The Complete History of the Telephone

Peyton Duplechien • 13 Dec 2021 • 4 min read

When it comes to the inventions that have shaped who we are today, it’s important to step back from time to time and look at where these life-changing devices got their start. One such bedrock of our society as we know it today is the telephone. According to the Pew Research Center, 97% of Americans currently own a cellphone of some kind. Phones connect us to family and friends, expand our access to information and resources, increase our business and social networks, and offer endless sources of entertainment. 
But where did the phone as we know it today begin? Let’s get into our digital time machines and take a look at the history of the telephone.

Antique Phone History of the Telephone Alexander Bell PhoneThe History of the Phone in the Late 1800s

While the invention of the first telephone is often credited to Alexander Graham Bell, the true start of this device is a little less clear-cut. The first iteration of the telephone was actually called the “teletrophono,” and was created in 1860 by Italian inventor Antonio Meucci. Meucci began his design as early as 1849 and filed a caveat (an official notice that someone will 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.
On February 14, 1876, five years after Meucci announced his patent caveat, two inventors went to submit their own designs for the telephone to the United States Patent and Trademark Office: Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell. While Gray submitted his caveat first, Bell was able to pay the official application fee that day and therefore was granted the patent over Bell. Alexander Graham Bell was officially granted the patent for the invention of the telephone on March 7, 1879. The first call happened 3 days later, on March 10th.

The History of the Phone in the Early 1900s

The telephone changed drastically from its original design over the first half of the 20th century. Due to the major popularity of the device throughout the late 1800s, by 1900 there were nearly 600,000 phones in Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone system. By 1910, this number had risen to 5.8 million. 
The world was rocked by Bell yet again on January 25, 1915, as the first transcontinental call was made between Bell in New York and his partner Thomas Watson in San Francisco. This newfound ability to connect in real-time to people across the country was revolutionary for telephone users in the United States. 12 years later, this ability would spread worldwide with the first transcontinental phone call, which was made on January 7, 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. 

The History of the Phone in the Late 1900s

History of the Telephone Model 500 ATT
Old rotary style telephone.

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 with the advancement of user-based models to create the most commonly used landline in the U.S. through 1995.
While landlines continued to be a staple of most households throughout the 20th century, 1973 saw another game-changing development introduced to the market: the mobile phone. On April 3, 1973, Motorola employee Martin Cooper used an early prototype of the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x to make the first-ever mobile phone call. Nearly 3 decades later, half of the U.S. population would have a mobile phone. 
Wrapping up the 20th century was a major landmark for telephones: the first smartphone. Released in 1994, the Simon Personal Communicator became the first smartphone in the world.

The History of the Phone in the Early 2000s

The early 21st century has already seen a major boom in technological innovation when it comes to the telephone, from the advent of the camera phone in 2000 to 2018’s introduction of the foldable smartphone. The most notable of these advancements, of course, was Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iPhone in 2007.
The iPhone revolutionized the world of smartphones as we once knew them, despite how primitive the first-generation model may look 14 years later. 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. 

What is the Telephone Like Today?

Owning a phone is a pinnacle still of peoples’ day-to-day lives. Between the cell phones mentioned above and the way the economies and industries of the world work – phones are integral to life as we know it. This sentiment is especially true for businesses and business owners. When your clients need you, are you there?

VoiceNation Mascot RingerLive Answering Taking Phones Calls 24-Hours a Day

Nearly 150 years after Bell’s design for the telephone was patented, the phone is still a thriving presence in the lives of people worldwide. Not only can you call, text, and facetime on your phone whenever you’d like, VoiceNation has changed the phone technology game again by allowing professional virtual receptionists to answer your phone calls for you! No longer do you need to choose between taking calls for your business and spending time with your family. 
Not to mention, we’ve also brought you the best live chat support for businesses! With our live chat function, you’ll resolve issues faster, cover every customer request with ease, and increase your sales inquiries. You can also choose between answering chat yourself or letting our team handle chat for you. When our team specialists take over chat, you’ll get sent those transcripts immediately for 100% call transparency.
VoiceNation’s easy-to-use live answering services and live chat take phone innovation to the next level!