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Telephone Trivia and Quotes


Telephone Trivia:

It took twice as long as the Bell System expected for electronic switches to replace electromechanical ones.

Marshall McLuhan created the advertising tagline "Reach out and touch someone" for Ma Bell

From the August, 1906 Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Company
directory for San Francisco, California . . .

How to Answer a Telephone Call:

Remove the hand telephone from the hook and say "Here is Main 297" (or
whatever your number may be). The party calling should say "Here is main
298," (or whatever the number may be). Much friction and annoyance will
be avoided if this simple plan is carried out.

About 20% of the lines in the United States and 70% of those in the rest of the world still use dial pulse, in which simple make/break pulses (historically, from the rotary-dial mechanism on the phone) signal the dialed digits to the central office. - EDN Magazine; March 28, 1996.

In 1884, people in New York City were somewhat annoyed by the enormous amount of power lines as well as phone lines along their streets. That year there was a particularly bad winter and as the wind shrieked through the wires the noise was ear splitting.

As the snow and ice built up on the wires the poles could not bear the strain and snapped in some cases crashing through private buildings.

The New York State legislature that same year passed a bill to have all cables placed underground but the order was ignored as the technology to insulate the cables did not yet exist. Mayor Hugh P Grant in response to the frustration of the citizens took matters into his own hands and led a team of axmen around the city cutting down the offending poles. In fact the Mayor is reported to have cut down the first pole himself.

It is also reported that, that year saw the first search for the "Perfect Insulator" and the newly formed "Board Of Commissioners of Electrical Subways" was flooded with some six hundred schemes and designs for executing the mammoth task of laying cables underground.
- From the archives of the New York City Council.

While we're on the subject of New York, here's a more "modern" historical piece of trivia:

The place - New York City. The time period - 1969:
The first actual service difficulties became serious around the beginning of 1969. This was no fault of the telephone company, but rather by an appalling increase in thievery and vandalism of public pay telephones - an effect, it seems safe to conclude, of the mood of violent revolt, particularly among the young, that characterized that time and place. By February 1969, an average 35,000 of New York City's 100,000 pay phones were being wrecked each month, at least 25 percent of them were out of order at any given time, and the company was losing at a rate of $5 million a year in repairs and stolen coins. But then the ill effects of overloaded circuits began to be felt. Callers began to have to wait for dial tone, sometimes as much as two or three minutes. Calls began to fail to get through; after dialing, the caller would get a false busy signal, or else just a dead line (a condition described in telephone circles as "high and dry").
- From page 289 of "Telephone - The First Hundred Years" by John Brooks (1979).

The number of years it took in the United States for the car to achieve a 25% market share was 44 years and for the phone it was 35 years - for the Internet it was only 7 years! - from a Merrill Lynch report.
Thanks to Jean Tower for this research trivia item.

Several days after the famous "Mr. Watson come here ...." Bell was testing his instrument over a longer distance. Bell and Watson were upstairs with one instrument while Charles Williams was using the other instrument downstairs. Someone called for Bell from another and as he went to the other room he handed the instrument to Watson and Bell said "here, hold this"; thus the term "putting someone on hold" was born.

Watson , who got bored easily, started humming Meet Me in St. Louie, Louie. Watson was a good singer.  Just as Bell came back in the room Williams came in from downstairs says how great it was to hear music while he was holding for Bell. The first cause of music on hold.
- contributed by Tom Vaughn, ATCA member.

The American Bell Telephone system was named after Alexander Graham Bell. However, the Canadian Bell Telephone system wasn't name for Alexander Graham Bell. It was named for his father, Alexander Melville Bell. Being a good son, he gave is father the Canadian rights to the telephone.

Jane Barbe (pronounced "Barbie") was the woman who did the later voice recordings for the Bell System. Most USA telephone customers know her as the "Telephone Lady". Her voice is heard by millions of people every day speaking for the telephone networks (changed numbers, disconnects, circuits busy), Bell Laboratory computers, The National Bureau of Standards, announcing ETC’s Audichron´┐Ż time, temperature, and weather services, and many voice mail systems nation wide. Her predecessor was Mary Moore (she sounded like a schoolmarm and said "Fiyiv" and "Nyun" for the numbers 5 and 9 respectively).

The first telephone exchange opened on January 28, 1878, in New Haven, Connecticut.
- from The History of the Telephone by Herbert N. Casson.

Month after month, the little Bell Company lived from hand to mouth. No salaries were paid in full. Often, for weeks, they were not paid at all. In Watson's note-book there are such entries during this period as "Lent Bell fifty cents," "Lent Hubbard twenty cents," "Bought one bottle beer--too bad can't have beer every day."
- from The History of the Telephone by Herbert N. Casson.

When Bell's patent was sixteen months old, there were 778 telephones in use.
- from The History of the Telephone by Herbert N. Casson.

The first "Hello" badge used to identify guests and hosts at conventions, parties, etc. was traced back to September 1880. It was on that date that the first Telephone Operators Convention was held at Niagara Falls and the "Hello" badge was created for that event.

Western Electric invented the loudspeaker which was initially called "loud-speaking telephone".

Western Electric successfully brought sound to motion pictures and introduced systems of mobile communications which culminated in the cellular telephone.

During the depths of the Depression, telephones in use fell from 16 to 13 per 100 population and by the late 1970's the number had surpassed 75 per 100 population.

Western Electric mass-produced color telephones for the first time in 1954.

In Japan, Western Electric first sold equipment in 1890, then in 1899 helped form the Nippon Electric Company (NEC). This was Japan's first joint venture with an American firm.

Northern Telecom, Alcatel N.V. and NEC all had roots in Western Electric.

The use of telephone answering machines became popular in 1974.

In the first month of the Bell Telephone Company's existence in 1877, only six telephones were sold!

On December 23, 1947, Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., held a secret demonstration of the transistor which marked the foundation of modern electronics.

In 1953, Sony Corporation obtained a transistor license from Western Electric Co. that led to its development of the world's first commercially successful transistor radio.

In the early days of the telephone, operators would pick up a call and use the phrase, "Well, are you there?". It wasn't until 1895 that someone suggested answering the phone with the phrase "number please?"

Sometimes, early telephone operators would get to know their customers so well, the customers would ask for a reminder call when it was time to remove a cake from the oven, leave the phone off the hook near their sleeping child when they left the house, hoping the operator would hear any cries of distress, request a wake up call before taking a long nap.

Telephone is derived from two Greek words, tele + phone, meaning far off voice or sound.(Tele, far off + phone, voice or sound).

In Milan, Italy, when an operator dialed a wrong number, the phone company fined the operator.

Just like today's computers, early telephones were very confusing to new users. Some became so frustrated with the new technology, they attacked the phone with an ax or ripped it out of the wall.

In the U.S., 54% of wireless phone users are men and 46% are women.

The number one reason people choose to buy a wireless phone is for safety (nearly 50% of those who own wireless phones purchased it for safety).

The first prototype of the sound-proof phone booth was built in 1877. Mr. Watson, Alexander Graham Bell's trusty assistant, used a bunch of bed blankets around a box. He created the booth to prevent his landlady from listening in on his conversations.  Some callers didn't like using the early phone booths because the doors would get stuck, forcing users to fight their way out.

In the early 1880's some well-to-do telephone owners started the unusual trend of paying to have a theatre employee hold a telephone receiver backstage, transmitting live plays and operas into their living rooms.

The commercial wireless phone was first introduced in Chicago in 1982 by Ameritech.

The first mobile car phones were located in the car's trunk, taking up nearly half of the space!

Phone service was established at the White House one year after its invention. President Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to have phone service (1877-81).

Fifteen years after its invention in 1876, there were five million phones in America. Fifteen years after its invention, more than 33 million wireless phones were in the U.S.

Being rude to a telephone operator in Prussia was once a crime. In 1908, a respected citizen was reprimanded by the government after becoming exasperated with an operator and saying "My dear girl!"

When Alexander Graham Bell died on August 4, 1922, millions of phones went dead. In Bell's honor, all phones served by the Bell System in the USA and Canada went silent for one minute.

The first transatlantic wedding took place on December 2, 1933. The groom was in Michigan. The bride, in Sweden. The ceremony took seven minutes and cost $47.50. Cheap wedding!

In the late 30's, a man named Abe Pickens of Cleveland, Ohio, attempted to promote world peace by placing personal calls to various country leaders. He managed to contact Mussolini, Hirohito, Franco and Hitler (Hitler, who didn't understand English, transferred him to an aide). He spent$10,000 to "give peace a chance".

In the Catholic church, St. Gabriel, an archangel, is the patron saint of telecommunications.

One of the first telephone answering machines was developed in Switzerland during the 1950's. It took three days to install.

The famous emergency hotline, whereby the President could have immediate contact with the Kremlin wasn't established until 1984. Prior to 1984, the only direct contact to the Kremlin was a cumbersome teleprinter link, supplying text messages that then had to be translated, responses drafted and sent back.

During President Lyndon Johnson's term, many people mis-dailed the White House number and instead reached the home of a New York housewife. Rose Brown had a near identical phone number. He wrote and thanked her for her diplomacy in receiving his highly sensitive calls and promised to return the favor when her friends and family accidentally dialed the White House.

Two days before Alexander Graham Bell married Mabel Hubbard in 1877, he gave her 99 percent of his company shares as a wedding gift. He kept a mere ten for himself.



"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year."
The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.

"But what ... is it good for?"
Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

"Why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to a local telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?"
From the report to the President of Western Union written by the committee charged with investigating WU's potential purchase of Bell's telephone patent for $100,000

"I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone"
- Bjarne Stronstrup

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
- Western Union internal memo, 1876

"I well remember my disgust when someone told me it was possible to send conversation along a wire."
- Enos N. Barton, co-founder of Western Electric Co.

"Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires. Even if it were, it would be of no practical value."
Boston Post, 1865

"That undulatory had passed through the connecting wire to the distant receiver which, fortunately, was a mechanism that could transform the current back into an extremely faint echo of the sound of the vibrating spring that had generated it, but what was still more fortunate, the right man had that mechanism at his ear during that fleeting moment, and instantly recognized the transcendent importance of that faint sound thus electrically transmitted. The shout I heard and his excited rush into my room were the result of that recognition. The speaking telephone was born at that moment...All the experimenting that followed that discovery, up to the time the telephone was put into practical use, was largely a matter of working out the details."
Watson describing the moment Bell discovered the mechanism for transmitting speech using an electric current, June 2 1875

"Electrical undulations, induced by the vibration of a body capable of inductive action, can be represented graphically, without error, by the same sinusoidal curve which expresses the vibration of the inducing body itself, and the effect of its vibrations upon the air; for, as above stated, the rate of oscillation in the electrical current corresponds to the rate of vibration of the inducing body---that is, to the pitch of the sound produced. The intensity of the current varies with the amplitude of the vibration--that is, with the loudness of the sound; and the polarity of the current corresponds to the direction of the vibrating body--that is, to the condensations and rarefactions of air produced by the vibration."
Alexander Graham Bell's patent application for the telephone, prepared 20 January 1876 and submitted on 14 February 1876, beating Elisha Gray by a few hours.

"The great advantage [the telephone] possesses over every other form of electrical apparatus consists in the fact that it requires no skill to operate the instrument."
Alexander Graham Bell, 1878

"Bell expects that the public will use his instrument without the aid of trained operators. Any telegraph engineer will at once see the fallacy of this plan. The public simply cannot be trusted to handle technical communications equipment. Bell's instrument uses nothing but the voice, which cannot be captured in concrete form… we leave it to you to judge whether any sensible man would transact his affairs by such a means of communications. In conclusion the committee feels that it must advise against any investment whatever in Bell's scheme."
Minutes of a Western Union meeting, circa 1880

"Mr W E Irish of Sunderland has been trying his hand at an invention to automatically record the telephonic sounds as ordinarily transmitted by these instruments. It is doubtful if such a record is of much value."
The Electrician, 30 August 1884

"Never use an electrical device if you can find a mechanical one . . . Electricity is mighty uncertain stuff to work with."
- Advice of a noted inventor to Watson (1872)

Turing, Alan, Mathison

(1912-1954) b. London, England

(1943, New York: the Bell Labs Cafeteria) His high pitched voice already stood out above the general murmur of well-behaved junior executives grooming themselves for promotion within the Bell corporation. Then he was suddenly heard to say: "No, I'm not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I'm after is just a mediocre brain, something like the President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company."
- Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing the Enigma of Intelligence, Unwin Hyman, London,
1983, p 251.