see it clearly
Learn more

Telephone History Timeline

It may come as a surprise to many that the telephone history timeline involves much more then the work of Alexander Graham Bell. Telephone technology began with the use of the electric telegraph, which was invented by Samuel Morse in 1832.

Telephone History Timeline

Work of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson

In the early 1870’s, Alexander Graham Bell began experimenting with various telegraphic tools, and discovered it might be possible to convey the human voice over a wire utilizing electricity.

Bell continued to experiment with electrical lines, and through trial and error, he tried to send multiple telegraphs over a single wire simultaneously. He soon found he needed more electrical expertise, so he employed the resources of Thomas A. Watson, who worked in a local electrical store. Bell and Watson worked together for hours trying to perfect the use of electricity and telegraphs to transmit sound.

Then, on June 2, 1875, Bell heard the sound of a reed Watson plucked in another room, simply by using the end of a wire. On June 3, the duo continued to fine-tune the lines and electrical work and was able to convey the sound of Bell’s voice to Watson over that same line. This conveyance transmitted the sound of voice, but the words were not yet intelligible. As Bell and Watson continued their work, Bell prepared his first patent for the telephone.

Nearly a year later, in March 1876, Bell made a faint transmission of his voice, and his patent was issued on March 7, 1876. Three days later the first intelligible vocal sentences were conveyed by phone in Boston.

Word Spreads

Bell began to publicize his invention throughout Boston, and to leaders from around the world. Statesmen marveled at the brilliance and ease of conveying the human voice through telephone wires, and soon the entire world became interested in telephone technology.

In 1877, Bell turned his invention into a lucrative business. Bell joined with other businessmen to create the Bell Telephone Company, which is the predecessor of corporate giant AT&T. Bell understood the enormity of his discovery when he wrote, “I believe in the future wires will unite the head offices of telephone companies in different cities, and a man in one part of the country may communicate by word of mouth with another in a distant place,” — History of the Telephone

Questions Regarding the Telephone History Timeline

It appears there is some controversy about whether or not Bell was truly the first to invent the telephone. While Bell was the first to be awarded a patent for the telephone, and to effectively market it, it appears another inventor, Antonio Meucci, got to the telephone technology first. In 1860, nearly 16 years before Bell got his patent, Meucci had shown a device in New York City, which he called “teletrofono.” There was some question if Bell “stole,” Meucci’s concept, or if it was simply part of Bell’s research on the telephone. Nevertheless, in 2002 the Congress of the United States formally named Meucci as the inventor of the telephone.

It also appears another inventor, Elisha Gray, invented a telephone concept and filed a patent for it on the same day as Bell. Some have argued that Bell stole Gray’s concept, and that Gray’s design ultimately worked while Bell’s did not. Bell won the patent rights for the telephone after many years of litigation.

Telephones Today

With so many using cell phone technology today, it may be easy to forget telephone technology did not always exist, and came as the result of much hard work and tedious experimentation. Studying the telephone’s history reveals the value of ingenuity, hard work, and competition that have come to be synonymous with the American spirit.