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Mobile phones are a seemingly essential part of everyday life, but their history has been long and complex. Follow the history of the telephone from the Ancient Greeks to future developments with this animation, then read more about each stage below.


405 BC

The ancient Greeks used heliographs, refracting lenses used to focus light, to communicate messages over long distances. This technology was so effective that similar devices were used for long distance communication by the British Army until the 1960s. Communications are sent by interrupting the light beam to transmit pre-arranged signals, which can lead to very complex messages being sent. Recent uses of a heliograph used Morse code to convey messages.



English polymath Robert Hooke, famous for his work with microscopes and physics, conducted one of the earliest experiments with communication using a taut wire. This experimented is regularly replicated using two tin cans connected with string. These experiments lead Hooke to inspire dreams of long distance communication.



One of the earliest propositions for the creation of a long-distance telegraph was by Charles Morrison. His system was originally comprised of 26 wires, one for each letter of the alphabet, which moved the position of a small ball to the corresponding location on the receiving station.



Samuel Morse sent America’s first telegram message on the 11th January 1838 using Morse code. Despite its name, Morse’s assistant Alfred Vail created the full code after Morse’s original concept to transmit only numerals and using a codebook to encrypt and decipher transmissions. The first message sent on Morse’s telegraph was an extract from the Book of Numbers (Numbers 23:23): “What hath God wrought”. In Morse code this message was transmitted as:

.– …. .- –     …. .- – ….     –. — -..     .– .-. — ..- –. …. –



Alexander Graham Bell submitted a patent application for his telephone on the 14th February 1876, and by March 10th he had transmitted a clear voice message to his assistant. He spoke the words “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”. This paved the way to rapid developments in telephony, though Bell wasn’t the only one trying to achieve this breakthrough. Elisha Gray was working on a project very similar to the work of Bell and was racing to develop his device first. Thomas Edison, Antonio Meucci, Johann Phiipp Reis and Tivadar Puskas were also working on developing technologies in the same field. You can read more on the contest between Bell and Gray in Ericsson’s article by clicking here.



Bell’s father-in-law Gardiner Greene Hubbard founded the Bell Telephone Company (in 1885 becoming American Telephone and Telegraph Company, AT&T). The Bell Telephone Company went on to fight over 600 lawsuits accusing them of monopolisation of the telephone market. They won them all.



William Gray developed and installed the first payphone at the Hartford Bank in Hartford, Connecticut. A coin mechanism collected payment after the call was terminated. It was nine years before the first ‘post-pay’ phone was launched in Chicago, Illinois.



Almon Brown Strowger invented the rotary dial telephone after being antagonised by a telephone operator purposely directing his calls to his competitors. With the rotary dial, callers decided who they were contacting and did not need to rely on an operator.



Bell Laboratories release the first touch tone phone, reducing dialling time.



The first use of a car phone, developed by Bell Laboratories. This used the running engine of the vehicle to charge batteries for the phone for mobile communication.



George Sweigert submitted a patent application for a wireless telephone, which used two-way radio to relay the communications to a base station connected to traditional telephone wiring.



The Moterola DynaTAC 8000x was released. This was the first hand-held mobile telephone and was developed by Martin Cooper.



The first touchscreen mobile telephone, the IBM Simon, was launched.



The Nokia 9000 Communicator was released. This was the first mobile phone with a QWERTY keyboard.



Apple launch the iPhone, paving the way for rapid technological advancements in smartphones.



4g networks are developed, with the HTC Max 4G being the first WiMAX enabled mobile phone.



The anticipated year for 5g rollout across the United Kingdom.


So next time you are using your mobile phone, don’t take it for granted, think about the journey that technology has taken to leave you with this wondrous device.


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Written by
Fraser S
in Staff Articles.

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