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December in phone history

Fri 14 Dec, 2012 // Firstnumber Team
santa on the phone

And here we were thinking October and November were busy months in phone history... December proves to have been one too!

This story starts in 1871, when on December 28th, Antonio Meucci filed a patent caveat in the U.S. Patent Office for a “Sound Telegraph”, a device for ensuring voice communication by wire. Sadly, having renewed the caveat for two years, Meucci failed to find the funds necessary for its upkeep and lost the patent in 1874.

Now, this is quite the funny tale. A few years on, on December 5th, 1879 a Kansas City undertaker, Almon B. Strowger patented the first automatic telephone switching system. Rumour has it he was competing with a fellow undertaker whose wife had been rerouting calls to her husband's business line.

Strowger's system used electromagnets that eliminated the need for a human operator. He founded the “Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange” in 1891.

December 1879 also saw the telephone service introduced to Bristol in the UK, where the Telephone Company Ltd. opened its first exchange at the Queen Victoria Buildings.

On December 20th, 1880 a court judgement was issued in favour of the Post Office (and opposing Edison Telephone Company of London Ltd.). This stated that a telephone was a telegraph and a telephone conversation – a telegram. From then on, private telephone companies were forced to obtain licences from the Postmaster-General, and give 10% of gross income to the Post Office.
It was only in 1951 that the Telephone Act established the telephone as a separate entity.

A big gap here. In 1947, two Bell Labs engineers proposed a system that could allow for mobile phones in vehicles. At this stage, the technology to deliver this proposal didn't yet exist. Only in the 1960s did two further engineers develop the electronics, and only in 1973 was the first mobile call actually placed.

On December 3rd, 1987 Edmonton in the Canadian province of Alberta saw the opening of the Telephone Historical Centre, a telecommunications museum. Its home? A former telephone exchange building! Since then, it has moved to its current location in the Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre, where tours are still available and many exhibits are hands-on.

5 years down the line, on December 3rd, 1992 the first ever SMS or text message was sent using a machine based in the UK. It wasn't until 1993, however, that the first person-to-person message was sent in Finland.

It's all thanks to developments like these that Firstnumber can offer cheap international calls. Be sure to phone your friends and family throughout the world this festive season!

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