Telephones Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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The telephone is a device which allows two people, who are far apart, to talk to one another. You usually have to pay for this service by the minute, which is probably the only reason why some people can keep away from it. The telephone also makes the Internet possible, since most people use a phone line to access it.

The telephone is not to be confused with the telegraph, forerunner of the telephone, which was invented by Samuel Morse1. His system employed a switch to make and break an electrical circuit; a battery for power; a wire joining two telegraph stations; and an electromagnetic receiver which produced clicking noises when turned on and off.

Ring, Ring

The very first telephone was created by Johann Reis, but it never really worked - it only transmitted certain sounds like snatches of music, and was unable to produce the continuous sound which was the key to a working telephone.

The first successful telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell on 10 March, 18762. It consisted of a wooden stand, a funnel, a cup of acid, and some copper wire. Before that, various attempts had been made to invent a similar device, but these had always been based on the transmission of mechanical energy in the form of vibrations, rather than of the electrical signals with which we are now familiar.

Bell has been accused of stealing the glory for the invention of the telephone from another. Bell filed his patent just hours before Elisha Gray (another telephone inventor) filed a patent for his own telephone. To add insult to injury, Bell made his telephone work three weeks later by employing methods laid out in Gray's Notice of Invention which weren't present in his own application.

1As in the term 'Morse code'.2Incidentally, the first telephone call was: 'Come here, Mr Watson, I want you!'.

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