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The Telephone Revolution: A Communication History Timeline

August 16, 2016

In less than 150 years, communication has progressed from telegrams to text messages. It’s hard to imagine what our engineering forebears, Samuel Morse (the telegram) or Alexander Graham Bell (the telephone) would make of instant messaging and seamless video conferencing across any timezone.

Today’s reaching someone across the world in a matter of seconds is an expectation. But, not so long ago, this immediate communication was just a pipe dream. Where did instant voice communication begin and where is it going?

Modern communication truly began with the invention of the telephone. Before telephones, telegrams and letters were the fastest forms of communication.

The Roadmap of Modern Communication

“Can you hear me now?”

1876: Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call to his assistant in another room of his Boston Volta laboratory. The first words spoken over the phone were, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”

Telephones go mainstream

1910: The U.S. was the world leader of telephone communication in the early 20th century. Phones in that era were connected by manual exchanges – or switchboards. By 1910,  67.4% of all telephones in the world were in the United States.

1915: The first transcontinental phone call occurred in 1915. Alexander Graham Bell phoned San Francisco from New York on the occasion of the San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

The dawn of conferencing

1956: Bell Labs began work on conference calling prototypes, and the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid, setting the stage for easy global communication.

Video conferencing appears

1964: At the New York World’s Fair, the first video conference took place via a new device created by Bell Labs called the Picturephone. Video callers in New York spoke with park visitors at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The calls were expensive and time-intensive, however, and didn’t take off in the broader consumer market.

Cell phones

1973: The first mobile phone call was made by Martin Cooper, a Motorola engineer, using a prototype cell phone weighing almost 2.5 pounds. The first commercial cell phones didn’t hit the market until the early 1980s. 

The internet era

1995: The first internet call was introduced by VocalTec. Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, was created as a way for internet users to reach each other via voice calling.

Communication explodes

2016: Today, Conference calling, smartphones, and video chatting are mainstream and low-priced. People can communicate almost instantly with anyone across the globe at an affordable rate.

Internet and long-distance phone service are widespread and inexpensive.

What’s next for communication? Do you think physical communication devices are on their way out? Are we all going to be calling through our thoughts in 50 years?