The Dawn of a New Era
Bell's Telephone Patent
Alexander Graham Bell was actually trying to improve the telegraph when
he realized that somebody's voice could be reproduced in another location
by hooking up a microphone in one place to a speaker in different place
through a pair of wires. This simple yet profound idea almost instantly
changed the way people and organizations communicate and started a whole
new industry. The first telephone did not have a dial, let alone a key pay.
There was only one other phone in the world to call - the one next door.
Point To Point
The first telephone lines were set up to connect individual pairs
of telephones. There were still no numbers to call. You simple picked up
the receiver and cranked a handle on a little generator that would
generate enough electricity to ring a bell at the other end. Then,
hopefully, somebody there would know to pick up the receiver.
Parts of the world were already strung with wires for telegraph service,
so adding a few more wires or repurposing existing ones was relatively
straight forward. Point to point connections, also known as
dedicated lines, sprung up in several places. If you wanted to be
able to talk to people in different locations, you would need a
line connecting your office to each destination, and one at each
end of every line.
There are several problems with this, some more obvious than others.
First, you can only call one place. Second, stringing lines over
long distances is horrendously expensive and only insanely rich
individuals or big organizations could afford it.
Entrepreneurs quickly realized that they can invest some money into
stringing cable around the countryside and then let others use
those lines, for a fee, until the end of time. More importantly,
they could use the same lines for many customers by connecting
customer phones to shared lines only on demand.
Faster than you could say "cell tower", telephone cables were
strung throughout cities world wide to provide
telephone service to larger and larger numbers of
customers. Ladies donning bolbous beaufonts (aka Bee Hive
hairdoos) were hired to sit in offices relatively close to
the customers (local exchanges). From there, dedicated (local)
lines ran to individual customers. The exchanges were connected
to other exchanges including exchanges in other cities.
Customers were assigned numbers, eliminating the need for those
ladies to remember which customer was connected to what local
It was a time of furious capital investment and technological
innovation. Then, for for the next 3/4 century, telephone services
got a little cheaper, more reliable, and easier to use, but precious
little changed until the introduction of the cell phone and the
internet based telephony.