Little Bits of History

Not a Hot Line

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 1, 2010

A variety of early telephones

December 1, 1878: The first telephone is installed in the White House in Washington, DC for President Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes could call Alexander Graham Bell, the person who installed the phone, and so he did. Bell was 13 miles away at the time and the first thing the President did was ask Bell to speak up. The phone was not very useful because very few other people had phones at the time.

On February 14, 1876 at 9:30 AM, Elisha Gray’s lawyer brought a caveat, a paper stating that an invention was in progress, to the US Patent Office. At 11:30 on that day, Bell’s lawyer brought papers requesting a patent for a telephone and asked they be filed immediately. Gray’s paper were filed after Bell’s at 1:30. Gray’s papers could have been instantly converted from caveat to patent application, but that was not done on the advice of his lawyer.

We have come a long way from the old phone where one shouted into the transmitter while holding the receiver tightly against the ear in hopes of hearing better. Improvements have rapidly altered telecommunications. Instead of using two hand, we have Bluetooth, hands-free phones. We went from operator assisted exchange boards to programmed, one-touch speed dialing. We went from rotary phones to touch tones. Other conveniences are answering machines, voicemail, text messaging, and voice over IP.

President Hayes would be amazed at the growth in the phone’s usage. The US alone had 70 telecommunications satellites in 2000 with 268 million landlines in the year 2003 and 219.4 million cell phones in 2005. But talking is a worldwide pastime. In 2005 there were 1,263,367,600 landline phones and 2,168,433,600 cell phones. We must all love to talk.

“My telephone calls and meetings and decisions were now parts of a prescribed ritual aimed at making peace with the past; his calls, his meetings and his decisions were already the ones that would shape America’s future.” –  Richard M. Nixon (On transfer of power to Gerald R. Ford.)

“Utility is when you have one telephone, luxury is when you have two, opulence is when you have three – and paradise is when you have none.” – Doug Larson

“The telephone is the greatest nuisance among conveniences, the greatest convenience among nuisances.” – Robert Staughton Lynd

“The bathtub was invented in 1850 and the telephone in 1875.  In other words, if you had been living in 1850, you could have sat in the bathtub for 25 years without having to answer the phone.” – Bill DeWitt

Also on this day, in 1919 Lady Nancy Astor became the first woman to sit in the British House of Commons.

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