The average person knows a lot about phones, after all we tend to have one permanently fixed to our bodies in one form or another. But the history of the humble telephone is a long one with some very surprising facts along the way. As one of the biggest online retailers of retro phones, we thought we’d offer our customers an ultimate guide to this vintage home accessory. Within this guide you will find a whole host of crazy facts about one of our favourite pieces of technology. From the murky history that surrounded the invention of the telephone to the most popular models of the retrogressive phones available today.
The Very First Telephone
You would be forgiven for thinking that the telephone was the very first way in which man communicated with technology over a long distance, but this is in fact incorrect. Mechanical acoustic devices existed before the telephone as a way to transmit speech and music further. The earliest invention of this communication device was based on the principle of sound transmission through pipes. You may have used one of these old world style telephones as a child in the form of two cans connected via a piece of taut string. The sound waves vibrate along the string into the can which then amplifies the sound. The earliest known experiment with the acoustic string phone was conducted by British physicist and polymath Robert Hooke in 1667.
Believe it or not, for a brief period these acoustic telephones were sold as a rival to the electrical telephone! But thanks to the expiring patent on Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone design many manufacturers entered the lucrative telephone market and the demand for acoustic telephones quickly ceased. The invention of the telephone was created from the need to improve the electrical telegraph. The telegraph and telephone were both wire-based systems of communication. By the time Alexander Graham Bell began his invention process the humble telegraph had been the main method of wire based communication for thirty years. The telegraph used Morse code to send basic messages and was deeply flawed and frustrating. Bell wanted to send sound instead of dots and dashes and on March 10, 1876 he succeeded by sending the first audio message, and thus creating the very first telephone.
The Controversial Invention of the Telephone
The race to create the very first telephone was a tense one. Bell wasn’t the only inventor credited with creating the first telephone, so too was Elisha Gray. The first telephone was subject to a huge mass of lawsuits as many inventors believed they coined the concept that would change the world of communications. Two patents stood their ground filed by Bell and Grey. Bell won out and was the first person to have a recognised patent of the telephone.
A few controversial questions surrounded the Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell patent fight. Many believed that Bell stole the invention from Gray, and others believed that Gray invented the telephone independently. Whatever the truth maybe, without both Bell and Grey and the ensuing patent war, we might have waited a little longer for the phone to ring.
A Timeline of Telephone Models
The original phone
As the story goes, on March 10, 1876 Alexander Graham Bell created the very first telephone. Bells first telephone design featured a thin sheet of metal which was held in front of an electromagnet. When sound waves from his voice hit the diaphragm, electricity was generated in the coils of the electro-magnet. These currents travelled to a telephone in another room along a wire through the coil of the receiver which hit the corresponding sheet of metal causing vibrations to create the sound.
The Candlestick Telephone
The Candlestick telephone created in the 1890’s consisted of two pieces, the mouth piece to speak into, and the receiver which was placed to the ear during the phone call. Candlestick phones were hugely popular and remained on top of the telephone model market until the 1930’s. The candlestick design sadly entered into decline in the 30’s when manufacturers combined the mouth piece and receiver to create a single phone unit. The Original candlestick telephones are considered quite the collectors items and many reproductions exist today for the retrogressive market.
The Single Rotary Unit
Rotary telephones were hugely popular from the 1930’s and many telecommunication manufacturers produced their own version. The Rotary phone design usually had a three digit model number which distinguished each design from the next. The dial function on rotary phone required users to rotate the dial to each number before releasing. This process was considered time consuming and by the 1970’s new technology swiftly ended the rotary telephone’s popularity. The rotary phones have gained some of that popularity back though and sales of vintage rotary phones have increased exponentially.
The Push Button
With the strides in technology made during the 60’s it wasn’t too long until the first push button telephone was created. AT&T saw a gap in the market and created their version call the Touch-Tone in 1963. This model was massively popular as it allowed users to use a keypad to dial numbers and make phone calls. At the time this was seen as something of a telephone revolution. Before the first push button, each telephone model had obvious flaws which held up the communication process.
The Answering Machine
Inventors did not stop at the telephone in the 1960’s; the answering machine was created in this all important decade allowing users to leave telephone messages for the first time. The first answer machines consisted of cassette tapes to record messages but as technology evolved so to did the answer machine with digital machines coming into play.
The Cordless Phone
Perhaps the biggest technological gain in communications of our generation came from the portable telephone. The Portable, or cordless telephone meant that you no longer had to be in the same room as the telephone base and without this ingenious idea the mobile phone might not have been created for some time.
The Evolution of British Telecommunications
1837 – Telegraph producers Cook and Wheatstone displayed their telegraph to the directors of the London and Birmingham Railway between Euston and Camden Town.
1870 – The British post office acquired a network of telegraph companies in a bid to nationalise this market.
1876 – Alexander Graham Bell sent his first telephone message to his assistant. the message consisted of: “Mr Watson, come here, I want you”.
1878 – The Telephone Company was created offering the public a telephone exchange service.
1890 – The National Telephone Company was created by the merger of the principal private telephone companies.
1891 – London linked to Paris via the telephone and became the first international telephone service for England.
1899 – Local councils in England began to establish their own telephone systems.
1912 – The Post Office nationalised the British telephone system with exception of Portsmouth and Hull Corporation system. The first public automatic exchange opened allowing customers to bypass the operator connection.
1936 – The speaking clock was created with Jane Cain lending her voice to the task.
1937 – The 999 emergency service was pioneered in London, Glasgow acquired the service by 1938 the service was rolled out across the country 1946.
1956 – A transatlantic telephone cable was laid which connected Scotland to Canada.
1965 – Mobile communications became, well mobile as an operator-controlled carphone service was created in London.
1981 – The Post Office and BT parted ways as the British Telecommunications Act moved to separate the two dominating corporations.
1984 – BT became a public limited company.
10 Fun Facts About Phones
- Bell used the term “Ahoy” as the original telephone greeting.
- Bell also created the phase ‘to put someone on hold’ which simply meant he was handing his telephone receiver over to his assistant.
- If you’re old enough to remember the Nokia tone for receiving SMS text messages you may be surprised to learn that this tone was actually Morse code for ‘SMS’.
- Bell’s actual patent for the telephone was entitled ‘Improvement in Telegraphy’.
- A recent survey suggests that over 45 per cent of all water caused damaged to mobile phones here in Britain is actually caused by dropping said phones down the loo!
- Always recycle your phone; a metric ton of mobile phones contains more gold than a ton of ore from a gold mine.
- Mobile numbers are big business, the number 666 6666 fetched £1.5 million for a charity auction in 2007.
- Rats and Mice caused a lot of damage to telephone wires. To combat this wires were ranked according to how tasty they were to those little critters.
- You might have noticed the 555 prefix pops up in a lot of movies, this is the go to fictional prefix used in the US.
- Frigensophobia is the fear of brain damage caused by using mobile phones.
Popular Retro Phones
Vintage telephones are as popular as ever and Cuckooland have one of the best collections of unique retro telephones on the Web today. Each model of retro phone is slightly different so allow us to pique your interest with our most popular retro telephones.
Retro 746 Rotary Telephone
The Retro 745 Rotary Telephone by Wild & Wolf is one of our most popular vintage phones. The look and feel of this quintessential British retro telephone will have you dialling M for Marvellous! The Retro 745 Rotary phone is based on the classically designed telephone launched in 1967 by the the GPO (general post office) and is a symbol of wonderful British style. Although this phone is true to the original look, the rotary dialling system has been replaced by buttons for ease of use.
746 Retro Wall Telephone
The 746 Retro Wall Telephone will no doubt evoke some wonderful nostalgia in some of our customers. Although the original model was launched in the 60’s, wall phones remained popular well into the 80’s and are seen by some as the pinnacle of vintage design. The 746 Retro Wall phone is every bit the eccentric accessory but who doesn’t love a bit of eccentricity in the home? With the design firmly based on the original GPO model you are sure to fall in love with this phone. You can view our range of GPO phones here.
GPO 200 Traditional Rotary Dialling Telephone
You just don’t get more authentic than the GPO 200 Traditional Rotary Dialling Telephone when it comes to choosing a vintage telephone. Designed by the retro loving people at GPO this beautiful phone features a weighty Metal base and handset, Traditional cloth handset curly cord and Traditional rotary dial Tone dialling. Merging all of these original features into a telephone has not stopped GPO from incorporating modern technology to ensure compatibility with modern telephone lines. It’s a sure fire bet that having this ultra vintage GPO 200 Traditional Rotary Dialling Telephone in your home will increase your guests envy by 85 percent.
302 Desk Phone
The 302 Desk Phone features an iconic style which is easily recognisable. Designed by Henry Dreyfuss and available to the public in 1937 this model was actually designed on the ear to mouth ratio of a cross section of the population, the result being the most popular phone on the market in the 1930’s. The nickname for the 302 Desk Phone is the Cow’s Hoof which gives a nod to the construction and appearance. This replica is true to the original design apart from usebility which has been given a facelift to be compatible with modern technology.
Trim Retro Telephone
The Trim Retro Telephone is another of our vintage collection which may bring back fond memories for some. Originally designed in the 1960’s, this stylish phone became commonplace in many British homes by the 70’s due to its popularity. The Trim model gets it’s unique name from it’s innovative design; The Tone Ringer Illuminated Model was the first telephone to use a modern electronic warbler rather than the traditional bell mechanism. The Trim phone proved to be so popular that by the 1980’s it was estimated that 1.6 million households had one. Our replica model has all the look with some updated features such as Push Button Dialling, Redial Button and Ringer Off / Soft / Loud Switch.
Why buy retro
In our very modern time it can be easy to forget the designs of the past. With iPhones, HD televisions and Tablets dominating our lives and our living rooms it can become increasingly difficult to introduce some quirky additions which represent our style and more importantly our heritage. That’s why the retro movement has really taken off in the last decade. As home accessories become more streamline and functional the need to live outside the modern box appeals to lots of people, especially when this incorporates much loved possessions from the past. This is why here at Cuckooland you will find many inspired home-ware pieces that pay homage to the past. We believe that the past had a lot of style to offer the future and our superb collection of retrogressive telephones will bring that vintage feel back into your home. View our full range of retro phones here.