What was communication like 100 years ago?

In the fast paced digital environment we live in, and with continual developments from the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter, I wanted to take time out to step back in time and look back 100 years to see what communication was like then.

If like you enjoy looking back at our history, then I think you will agree there are some pretty interesting facts detailed below.

Timeline from 1900 – 1910 showing the advances made in telecommunications

1900 – 676,733 Bell telephone stations owned and connected.

1900 – Basic trunking principles established for large exchanges.   Bank terminals molded in plaster of Paris.

1901 – Formation of Automatic Electric Company to take over Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange.   Installation at Fall River, Mass., used line banks with fibre insulators and aluminum fillers.   First use of “slip multiple.”

1901 – Marconi transmits first trans-Atlantic radio message (from Cape Cod).

1901 – Guglielmo Marconi sends first transatlantic wireless signals, 12 December.

1902 – First conversation by long distance underground cable, 10 miles – New York to Newark.

1902 – First installation in Chicago begun. Earliest use of measured service in automatic exchanges.

1902 – Poulsen-Arc Radio Transmitter invented.

1903 – Large Strowger installations placed in service in Grand Rapids, Dayton, Akron, Columbus.

1903 – AIEE Committee on Telegraphy and Telephony formed.

1904 – First use of multi-office trunking, and connections between automatic and manual offices (Los Angeles, Califonia).

1904 – John Ambrose Fleming invents the two-element “Fleming Valve”.

1905 – Earliest extended use of party lines and reverting calls.   First system using common battery talking (South Bend, Indiana).

1905 – Marconi patents his directive horizontal antenna.

1906 – Lee deForest invents the vacuum tube.

1906 – Conversation by underground cable, 90 miles-New York to Philadelphia.

1906 – Invention of Keith Line Switch, resulting in enormous reduction in cost of automatic boards. First used at Wilmington, Delaware.

1906 – Dr. Lee de Forest reads a paper before an AIEE meeting on the Audion, first of the vacuum tubes that would make long distance radiotelephony possible. Reginald Fessenden broadcasts Christmas Carols on Christmas Eve from Brant Rock, MA.

1907 – United States start to regulate telcos. Mississippi was among the first. (The idea of regulation goes back several centuries, when in England, innkeepers were required to post their charges to prevent gouging “Common carrier” regulation refers to government approval of tariffs filed by railroads, truck lines, telcos, etc which provide the terms and conditions whereby the public can make use of their services.

1907 -Theodore Vail returns as President of AT&T (and Western Union). He is responsible for the concept of “end-to-end” service that guided AT&T and other telcos in providing the C.O., transmission systems, and CPE that lasted until the Carterphone and Specialized Common Carrier Decisions.

1907 – First installation in Canada (Edmonton, Alta.).   Invention of small dial and two-wire system eliminating ground at subscriber’s station.

1907 – The world’s first transatlantic commercial wireless services is established by Marconi with stations at Clifden, Ireland and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

1908 – First two-wire system (large dial) installed at Pontiac, Illinois. Earliest use of automatic, intermittent ringing.   Installation at Lansing, Michigan.   Features use of small dial, secondary line switch, and 200-point selectors and connectors.

1909 – Invention of out-going secondary line switch, resulting in economy of inter-office trunks.   First used at San Francisco.

1909 – Marconi shares the Nobel Prize in Physics, with Karl Ferdinand Braun for their work in the development of wireless telegraphy.

1910 – Peter DeBye in Holland, develops theory for optical waveguides. He was a few years ahead of his time. Interstate Commerce Commission starts to regulate telcos.

To view the rest of the timeline: Timeline of Telecommunications – A compilation of various timeline and historical date references/sources -

Below are a number of videos outlining some of the early communication successes.

In a recording made in the 1920s, Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant Thomas Watson describes the invention of the telephone in 1876.


Before automatic switching equipment, phone calls were routed by manual switchboard. This video shows advances in switchboard technology.


As this video shows, the original telephone operators were not women but they were soon replaced by women. In effect, the new technology created an occupation for women.

I hope you enjoyed this step back in time as much as i did!

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