I hate the phone! Absolutely despise it! On a personal basis, I find it a wasted piece of technology. Objectively, I realize it’s an evil necessity, and honestly admit it is a bit of genius . . . or at least, it started with a few geniuses.
From the ringing magnets of Charles Grafton Page to Elisha Gray’s “harmonic telegraph,” and a dozen brilliant minds in-between, many an electrical current was passed to and fro before the inventor of a practical telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was able to to ask Mr. Watson to come see him in the next room. Yes, practical. Nothing quite like phoning the guy in the next room, practically speaking.
According to Bell’s notes, he held the crude device and asked Mr. Watson “to come here, I want to see you.” Very deliberate, indeed! There is another version, probably from Watson, that is less romantic. It involves Bell spilling a cup of tea into his lap, and while mopping it up, he shouted, “Mr. Watson! Come here, I need you!” An amazed Watson accidentally heard Bell’s voice through the liquid transmitter. I think Bell was the kind of guy that probably called for a pal when he needed him, not just to take a look at him. I’m sure we’ll never know exactly what happened.
Of course, no one in the late nineteenth century understood the promise and ramifications of the phone, as demonstrated by the less-than-visionary President of Western Union refusing to purchase Bell’s patents for $100,000.00, but Mr. Bell took his show on the road to promote “practical” uses of the telephone. The telegraph dominated the communications scene in the the late 1800’s, but Alex and his boys worked hard convincing the general public that the phone was the way to go.
The ultimate popularity of the telephone was inevitable, and by the turn of the century, the telephone quickly went from luxury to necessity. In 1919, first deskset was introduced, the candle stick, and from there the styles and shapes of phones changed dramatically. The one constant was the big, rotary dial mounted the the front of every model. Well . . . until 1963.
In 1963, a 10-button key pad was introduced and no longer did people with fat fingers worry about getting their digits lodged, stuck or twisted in the “self-return” rotary dial. To be honest, I remember a lot of folks with skinny fingers getting pinched once in a while. As the 1960’s and 1970’s rolled by, phones adorned multiple locations in a typical home– the living room, the kitchen, the den (before “family rooms”), and one or more bedrooms. Why so many telephones? Because they were tethered, nailed, glued or screwed to the wall. No luxury of moseying about the house, let alone into the yard, without a trailing cord. The necessary umbilical started out as a straight cable connecting the body of the phone to the headset. Another less fancy cord connected the body to the wall. Curly cords were found on phones as early as the 1920’s, but it wasn’t until the Model 500 in the 1950’s before the curly cord was standard equipment allowing a seemingly shorter cord to magically expand into a longer cord, thus giving the “telephonee” a false sense of space and freedom.
This started a new industry of phone cord wars. As phones became stylish and colorful, so did the cords. My favorite was the kitchen wall phone cord. When you bought a kitchen wall phone cord, it was already incredibly long. Many hung down to the floor and beyond, and because they were “curled,” the reach was phenomenal. One could stroll from the kitchen into the living room or den for a distance of thirty feet or more. This was 1970’s mobility! You could do a lot of damage with such monsters, however, from knocking off mom’s favorite knick-knacks, to wiping out a small village. We quickly learned there were some downsides to this modern necessity. After a few fleeting years of this expansion we knew . . . something had to change!
It did change with a little invention known as the “cordless” phone, next time on We are the Borg! Part 2.