Cellphones are so commonplace that nearly everyone has one now. We use our phones for almost everything, and it’s easy to forget just how far telephones have come since their invention. Join CaptionCall as we remember how phones have evolved over almost 150 years and what the future might hold.

The Invention of the Telephone

While some controversy surrounds the invention of the telephone, most people credit Alexander Graham Bell—who filed the first patent for the original telephone in 1876—with the creation. During the 1800s, Telegraphs were a popular means of long-distance communication, and Bell was among many who wondered if there was a way to transmit sounds along with the telegraph.

Bell was fascinated by the transmission of sound because his mother and wife were both Deaf. He understood that vibrations are translated into sound. So he created an electrical current that could carry sound along a wire the same way air carries sound waves from the speaker to the listener.

On March 10, 1876, Bell set up two receivers connected by a wire and powered by batteries. He placed them in separate rooms, putting himself at one receiver and his assistant, Thomas Watson, at the other. Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you,” and Watson heard this request clearly. The first telephone—and phone conversation—was born.

Telephones Over the Years

Telephones have come a long way since Bell’s original invention, and the evolution of the phone is a testament to innovation, ingenuity, and advancing technology. Let’s look at how phones have changed over time and where they are now.

1800s

The original telephone was made from wood, wire, metal, and natural latex material. This phone was known as “Bell’s Box Telephone” and had limited range because both needed to be connected by a wire.

When the first permanent outdoor telephone wire was completed in 1877. It connected receivers in a small area just three miles long.

Early 1900s

In 1900, almost 600,000 phones were part of Bell’s telephone system. By 1910, that number shot up to 5.8 million. Phones were still connected to the main switchboard, so their designs primarily featured a listening receiver and a speaking receiver.

Even though the first rotary dial telephone was patented in 1891, the dial didn’t become a common phone feature until the 1920s. Rotary dial phones could function without the need for switchboard operators, so they slowly became the temporary standard for telephones.

During the early to mid-1900s, telephones changed frequently. People moved from candlestick phones to phones with a shorter base, and rotary dials were supplanted by dialing pads. While the style and design of telephones changed, being stationary with your phone did not.

1970s-1980s

The ’70s and ’80s were all about pushing for new telephone technology. Deemed too expensive and cumbersome for telephones of the time, a rudimentary version of video calls did not take off after a trial. Phone makers in the ’70s developed and introduced cordless phones, giving people more freedom to move around their home or office while taking phone calls.  

In the ’80s, phone providers wanted to capitalize on a new invention—the internet. People started testing the first VoIP (voice over internet protocol) service, which aimed to let users make phone calls over an internet connection instead of traditional phone lines. This process, however, wouldn’t become functional or popular until the late ’90s.

1990s

Phone makers in the ’90s continued to improve our home phones while also focusing on creating new cellphones. From 1990 to 1999, developers aimed to streamline design and increase the portability of home phones and mobile phones alike.

2000s

Rapidly changing technologies offered rapidly changing mobile phones at the beginning of this century. Home phones were still popular, but the focus moved to improving cellphones as fewer people chose to buy a home phone. VoIP technology became more popular and functional, meaning text, voice, and video software were more accessible to the masses.

2012 On

Cellphones have been the prevailing phone option since 2012. Most people have gotten rid of their home phones in favor of mobile technology, and almost every person in a household has their own cellphone, also known as a smartphone.

With advancing technology, cellphones aren’t just for phone calls anymore. You can use a cellphone for almost anything, from social media, to games, online shopping, photography, and so much more. People see their cell phones as their lifelines to the rest of the world, meaning they are usually willing to pay for yearly upgrades to ensure they have the latest model and technology.

The Captioned Telephone

Even though Bell’s wife and mother were both Deaf, original telephones weren’t exactly accessible to deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals, but phones have slowly become more accessible to everyone.

In the 1960s, scientist Robert Weitbrecht invented the teletypewriter (TTY) to make phone calls more accessible to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. The modern evolution of TTY uses a relay service and scrolling captions to help people with hearing loss use telephones just like everyone else, and for people with hearing loss who want to speak on the phone, Internet Protocol (IP) captioned telephones are the latest development.

The Future of Telephones

Phones have evolved to be more mobile and accessible, and phone technology continues to advance. Phones in the future could look and function very differently, but while smartphones may change, phone call captioning will always be around—helping people connect to the life that’s calling them.

If you have hearing loss and need captioned telephone service, you are eligible to receive the no-cost CaptionCall service and phone. To learn more about captioned telephone service or request service, contact CaptionCall today.