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History of the Telephone in Australia and Worldwide

Before the invention of electro magnetic telephones, there were mechanical devices for transmitting spoken words over a greater distance than ordinary speech. The very earliest mechanical telephones were based on sound transmission through pipes or other physical media. Speaking tubes long remained common, and can still be found today. A different device, the lover's telephone or string telephone has also been known for centuries, connecting two diaphragms with string or wire which transmits the sound from one to the other by mechanical vibrations along the string and not by electric current. The classic example is the children's toy made by connecting the bottoms of two paper cups, metal cans, or plastic bottles with string.

Electrical telegraph

The telephone began as improvements to the telegraph. Samuel Thomas von Soemmering constructed his electrochemical telegraph in 1809. An electromagnetic telegraph was created by Baron Schilling in 1832. Carl Friedrich Gauß and Wilhelm Weber built an electromagnetic telegraph in 1833 in Göttingen. The first commercial electrical telegraph was constructed by Sir William Fothergill Cooke and entered use on the Great Western Railway in Britain. It ran for 13 miles from Paddington station to West Drayton and came into operation on April 9, 1839.

An electrical telegraph was independently developed and patented in the United States in 1837 by Samuel Morse. His assistant, Alfred Vail, developed the Morse code signaling alphabet with Morse. America's first telegram was sent by Morse on January 6, 1838, across two miles of wiring.

In 1854 the first telegraph line was laid from Melbourne city to Williamstown. This was followed in South Australia with a line from Port Adelaide to Adelaide city in 1856. These telegraph lines were immediately popular. In Victoria there were 14,738 messages sent in 1856 and this almost tripled in a year to 35,792 in 1857.

The separate colonies soon agreed to collaborate on an intercolonial telegraph network. The first links between Melbourne and Adelaide and then Melbourne and Sydney were activated in 1858. At this time any messages crossing colonial borders were transcribed onto paper by an operator, transported across the border and then retransmitted.

An underwater cable was laid from Tasmania to Victoria in 1859. However, this soon failed and it wasn’t until 1869 that a replacement was working successfully.

Queensland’s first telegraph line was introduced in 1861 and connected to Sydney in the same year. However, the first line in Western Australia was not introduced for another ten years and Perth was not connected to the intercolonial network until 1872 with a line to Adelaide.

By 1861 there were 110 telegraph stations spread across the eastern colonies and by 1867 Victoria alone was sending 122,000 messages a year (compared to about 7.92 million in the US and 5.78 million in the UK).

The first international news service, Reuters, opened its doors in Australia in 1860, but the price of news was very high. The cost per word for a message from London was about equal to the average weekly wage.

In the 1870s, the colonies began establishing international telecommunications links, with a privately owned cable to Singapore from Port Darwin introduced in 1870. The first link to New Zealand was in place by 1876 and a link to Jakarta (Batavia) by 1889.

Australians took to the new technology very quickly. In many ways this system helped Australia begin thinking of itself and acting as one nation rather than as a collection of isolated colonies.

During the late 19th century inventors tried to find ways of sending multiple telegraph messages simultaneously over a single telegraph wire by using different audio frequencies for each message. These inventors included Charles Bourseul, Thomas Edison, Elisha Gray, and Alexander Graham Bell. Their efforts to develop acoustic telegraphy to reduce the cost of telegraph wires led to the telephone.

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Invention of the telephone

Credit for inventing the electric telephone remains in dispute. Charles Bourseul, Antonio Meucci, Johann Philipp Reis, Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray, amongst others, have all been credited with the invention. The early history of the telephone is a confusing morass of claim and counterclaim, which was not clarified by the huge mass of lawsuits which hoped to resolve the patent claims of individuals. The Bell and Edison patents, however were forensically victorious and commercially decisive. Johann Philipp Reis 1860 constructed one of the first working telephones, today called Reis' telephone.Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the U.S. patent for the invention of the telephone in 1876.

Alexander Graham Bell is often credited as the inventor of the telephone, and the Italian Antonio Meucci was recognized by US Congress on June 11th, 2002 for his pioneer work on the telephone. However, the modern telephone is the result of work done by many people, all worthy of recognition of their contributions to the field. Bell was merely the first to patent the telephone, an "apparatus for transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically", 16 years after Meucci, who did not have sufficient funds to file a patent application, demonstrated his "teletrofono" in New York in 1860.

The first telephone system in Australia was a private system connecting the offices of Robinson brothers in Melbourne and South Melbourne in 1879. The first telephone exchange was in place in Melbourne the following year, shortly before Ned Kelly was convicted and hung. By 1884 there were about 8,000 calls per year handled by the exchange, or around 20 per day.

The first coin-operated public phones appear to have been installed around 1890, only a few years after the first ones appeared in the USA. At this stage there was still no national telephone network – each colony’s Postmaster General was responsible for the network in their colony.

Early telephones were technically diverse. Some used a liquid transmitter, which was dangerous, inconvenient, and soon went out of use. Some were dynamic: their diaphragm wriggled a coil of wire in the field of a permanent magnet or vice versa. This kind survived in small numbers through the 20th century in military and maritime applications where its ability to create its own electrical power was crucial. Most, however, used the Edison/Berliner carbon transmitter, which was much louder than the other kinds, even though it required an induction coil, actually acting as an impedance matching transformer to make it compatible to the impedance of the line. The Edison patents kept the Bell monopoly viable into the 20th century, by which time the network was more important than the instrument anyway.

Early telephones were locally powered, using a dynamic transmitter or else powering the transmitter with a local battery. One of the jobs of outside plant personnel was to visit each telephone periodically to inspect the battery. During the 20th century, "common battery" operation came to dominate, powered by "talk battery" from the telephone exchange over the same wires that carried the voice signals. Late in the century, wireless handsets brought a revival of local battery power.

Early telephones had one wire for both transmitting and receiving of audio, with ground return as used in telegraphs. The earliest dynamic telephones also had only one opening for sound, and the user alternately listened and spoke (rather, shouted) into the same hole. Sometimes the instruments were operated in pairs at each end, making conversation more convenient but also more expensive.

At first, the benefits of an exchange were not exploited. Telephones instead were leased in pairs to the subscriber, for example one for his home and one for his shop, who must arrange with telegraph contractors to construct a line between them. Users who wanted the ability to speak to three or four different shops, suppliers etc would obtain and set up three or four pairs of telephones. Western Union, already using telegraph exchanges, quickly extended the principle to its telephones in New York City and San Francisco, and Bell was not slow in appreciating the potential.

Signalling began in an appropriately primitive manner. The user alerted the other end, or the exchange operator, by whistling into the transmitter. Exchange operation soon resulted in telephones being equipped with a bell, first operated over a second wire and later with the same wire using a condenser. Telephones connected to the earliest Strowger automatic exchanges had seven wires, one for the knife switch, one for each telegraph key, one for the bell, one for the push button and two for speaking.

Rural and other telephones that were not on a common battery exchange had a "magneto" or hand cranked generator to produce a high voltage alternating signal to ring the bells of other telephones on the line and to alert the exchange operator.

In 1877 and 1878, Edison invented and developed the carbon microphone used in all telephones along with the Bell receiver until the 1980s. After protracted patent litigation, a federal court ruled in 1892 that Edison and not Emile Berliner was the inventor of the carbon microphone. The carbon microphone was also used in radio broadcasting and public address work through the 1920s.
1896 Telephone (Sweden)

In the 1890s a new smaller style of telephone was introduced, packaged in three parts. The transmitter stood on a stand, known as a "candlestick" for its shape. When not in use, the receiver hung on a hook with a switch in it, known as a "switchhook." Previous telephones required the user to operate a separate switch to connect either the voice or the bell. With the new kind, the user was less likely to leave the phone "off the hook". In phones connected to magneto exchanges, the bell, induction coil, battery and magneto were in a separate "bell box." In phones connected to common battery exchanges, the bell box was installed under a desk, or other out of the way place, since it did not need a battery or magneto.

Cradle designs were also used at this time, having a handle with the receiver and transmitter attached, separate from the cradle base that housed the magneto crank and other parts. They were larger than the "candlestick" and more popular.

Disadvantages of single wire operation such as crosstalk and hum from nearby AC power wires had already led to the use of twisted pairs and, for long distance telephones, four-wire circuits. Users at the beginning of the 20th century did not place long distance calls from their own telephones but made an appointment to use a special sound proofed long distance telephone booth furnished with the latest technology.

By 1904 there were over three million phones in the US, still connected by manual exchanges. In 1901, the newly introduced Australian Constitution gave the new Commonwealth Government power over all postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and ‘all other’ communications services. The first Postmaster-General (PMG) became responsible for managing all domestic telephone, telegraph and postal services. The colonial networks (staff, switches, wires, handsets, buildings etc) were transferred to the Commonwealth and became the responsibility of the first Postmaster-General (PMG), a federal Minister overseeing the Postmaster-General's Department that managed all domestic telephone, telegraph and postal services.

When the department was founded there were around 33,000 phones across Australia, with 7,502 telephone subscribers in inner Sydney and 4,800 in Melbourne’s central business district. A trunk line between Melbourne (the headquarters of the PMG Department) and Sydney was in place by 1907, with extensions to Adelaide in 1914, Brisbane in 1923, Perth in 1930 and Hobart in 1935.

What turned out to be the most popular and longest lasting physical style of telephone was introduced in the early 20th century, including Bell's Model 102. A carbon granule transmitter and electromagnetic receiver were united in a single molded plastic handle, which when not in use sat in a cradle in the base unit. The circuit diagram of the Model 102 shows the direct connection of the receiver to the line, while the transmitter was induction coupled, with energy supplied by a local battery. The coupling transformer, battery, and ringer were in a separate enclosure. The dial switch in the base interrupted the line current by repeatedly but very briefly disconnecting the line 1-10 times for each digit, and the hook switch (in the center of the circuit diagram) permanently disconnected the line and the transmitter battery while the handset was on the cradle.

After the 1930s, the base also enclosed the bell and induction coil, obviating the old separate bell box. Power was supplied to each subscriber line by central office batteries instead of a local battery, which required periodic service. For the next half century, the network behind the telephone became progressively larger and much more efficient, but after the dial was added the instrument itself changed little until touch tone replaced the dial in the 1960s.

y the early 1960’s, telephone availability was becoming widespread, and many homes had more than one phone. Phones in various colours were used to match the décor. Wall phones became popular for kitchens to save on bench space. Throughout the world, there was to be only minor differences in features and appearance of their own plastic telephones. Some manufacturers produced moulded plastic telephones very similar in appearance to the Western Electric 500 series from the USA.

In Australia, a quite different shaped plastic telephone called the 800 series was available to telephone subscribers in 1963. The Australian Post Office had recognised for some time that a range of colour phones would be demanded by subscribers. Eventually a consortium of STC, AWA and APO engineers all contributed to the development and manufacture of the 800 series. Based on a design by Bell Telephone Manufacturing Co of Antwerp, Belgium with considerable change to internal design and reasonably cosmetic changes externally. The 802 series teelphone was available in Light Ivory, Mist Grey, Fern Green, Topaz Yellow, Lacquer Red, and Black.

In the picture below, can be seen the wall phone versions of these 800 series of telephones

In 1946 the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC) was created under the Postmaster-General’s control to manage overseas telecommunication services.

The Postmaster-General's Department (PMG) continued to grow in size and became a very influential part of the Commonwealth Government. Beginning with 16,000 staff it grew to over 120,000 by the late 1960s, or almost 50 per cent of all Commonwealth employees.

By 1975 the telecommunications industry had become so large that the Commonwealth government decided to separate post and telecommunications. The Postmaster General’s Department was split into the Australian Postal Commission (Australia Post) and Australian Telecommunications Commission (ATC).


Time line of Australian and Worldwide Telecommunications:

1830 - Joseph Henry constructs the first long distance telegraphic device, by sending electronic currents across over a mile of wire, subsequently activating an electromagnet, causing a bell to ring.
1835 - Samuel Morse builds the first American telegraph (which is also being developed independently in Europe).
1837 - Samuel Morse patents a working telegraph machine, using a dots and spaces code in place of the letters of the alphabet.
1838 - Samuel Morse successfully sends up to 10 words per minute through his new system.
1842 - Alexander Bain invents the first facsimile machine, capable of receiving signals from a telegraph wire and translating them into images on paper. He uses a clock mechanism to transfer an image from one sheet of electrically conductive paper to another.
1850 - Samuel Morse and his assistant evolve the simple code of dots and dashes, now internationally known as 'Morse code'.
1858 - The first inter-colony telegraph links are built between Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Three years later, Brisbane is linked with Sydney.
1861 - The Sydney-Brisbane telegraph line is inaugurated.
1869 - The first successful submarine telegraphic cable linking Tasmania to the mainland is laid.
1872 - The 2000 mile Overland Telegraphic Cable line is completed under the direction of South Australian Post-Master General Charles Todd. At Darwin it later connects with a submarine cable in Java, putting Australia in touch with the rest of the world.
1876 - At the age of 29 Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone.
1877 - The Perth-Adelaide telegraph line opens. South Australia becomes the first Australian colony to join the International Telegraph Union later to become the Telecommunication Union.
1878 - Following the invention of the telephone, several long-distance transmission experiments are successfully conducted in Australia, at distances of up to 400 km.
1880 - Only two years after the first exchange in the world is built, Australia's first telephone exchanges open in Melbourne and Brisbane, followed by Sydney in 1881.
1883 - Exchanges open in Adelaide and Hobart, the Perth exchange opens in 1887.
1893 - The first public telephone is opened at Sydney GPO.
1898 - The Overland Telegraph Line, also known as the Magic Chain, is made from a single strand of iron wire. A second copper wire is added to the telegraphic connection with Europe and it remains a vital link for decades.
1900 - 30,000 telephone services are operating in Australia.
1901 - The newly formed Commonwealth Government takes over all phone, telegraph and postal services.
1902 - Dr Arthur Korn invents and improves a practical facsimile machine: the photoelectric system.
1907 - The Sydney-Melbourne trunk telephone line opens.
1912 - The first public automated exchange is introduced in Geelong, Victoria.
1912 - Automated telephone switching came into place.
1914 - The first automatic exchange opens in New South Wales, in the suburb of Newtown.
1914 - Edouard Belin establishes the concept for remote fax photo/news reporting.
1922 - The Sydney-Brisbane telephone trunk line opens following the introduction of thermionic repeaters.
1923 - The first Australian radio broadcasting stations, 2BL and 2FC, open in Sydney. The conversion is made from Morse to machine operation on main telegraph routes.
1925 - Australia's first telephone carrier system (with three channels) is installed between Melbourne and Sydney enabling one wire to carry more than one conversation.
1930 - The Australia-UK beam wireless service starts and a year later international manual exchanges open in various Australian States.
1934 - The first wireless beam picturegram service opens between England and Australia.
1936 - A submarine cable is laid between Tasmania and mainland Australia, and at this time it is the longest in the world.
1946 - The Commonwealth Government establishes the Overseas Telecommunications Commission which becomes a monopoly provider of all forms of telecommunications linking Australia and the rest of the world.
1948 - A telephone service to ships at sea is established and the same year a direct radio telephone service links Australia and the Antarctic expedition stations at Heard Island and Macquarie Island.
1952 - Temporary services are established between Australia and Finland for the duration of the Helsinki Olympic Games. Permanent services are to follow.
1953 - Perth becomes the first capital city to have an all automatic telephone network. By 1957, 98% of telephones in capital cities are automatic.
1954 - Australia's first teleprinter exchange service opens in Melbourne and Sydney with 80 customers.
1956 - The Melbourne Olympic Games proves a starting point for all forms of telecommunications growth in Australia with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission developing many resources and facilities to cater for the unprecedented demand. A new radio telephone exchange is established linking Perth to London.
1959 - Growing telegram traffic makes the APO apply a message switching system called Teleprinter Reperforator Exchange Switching System (TRESS). It was an innovation which hastened the end of morse telegraphy.
1964 - Australia becomes a founding member of International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (INTELSAT).
1964 - The first major installation of coaxial cable opens and links Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. It has a potential capacity of thousands of simultaneous phone calls, with the added possibility of relaying television programs.
1966 - The telex service is converted to fully automatic. It is linked to 100 overseas countries and about 4000 customers throughout Australia.
1966 - The first international satellite broadcast between Australia and the UK takes place.
1967 - First direct satellite broadcast from North America to Australia. Australia is one of the first 22 countries to participate in a world-wide live television link-up via satellite during the 'Our World' program.
1970 - Transistors enable most coaxial cable equipment to be placed in small underground containers, accessible through a manhole.
1970 - Optical fibres are commercially produced for the first time.
1974 - Videotex links three already well-established technologies of television, computer and telephone into a new tool, an interactive system that includes the possibility of purchasing goods, booking travel, sending messages and transferring money at the touch of a button.
1975 - On 12 June, the Australian Telecommunications Commission was established, trading as Telecom Australia - separating the Australian Postal Commission and the Australian Telecommunications Commission.
1976 - Automated direct dialing is introduced in Australia, giving access to 13 countries. Its popularity is such that by the end of the decade its use has grown eightfold. This international dialing is now called IDD and has universal acceptance.
1977 - 2 million is spent on telecommunications materials in this year alone.
1978 - Push button dialing is introduced to Australia.
1979 - The first major solar powered trunk system in the world opens between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.
1980 - The internet makes its appearance: an electronic code that enables computers across the world to communicate with each other via a phone line.
1981 - The first fully computerised telephone exchange opens in Victoria.
1981 - Telecom launches the mobile phone, a significant development in communication for travelling workers.
1983 - The conference phone is introduced to the public, a phone that can store numbers, have abbreviated dialling and call-back facilities.
1985 - Computerised customer billing starts.
1987 - Cardphone payphones which accept major credit cards are introduced.
1988 - The Electronic White Pages are introduced to provide direct access to a constantly updated national White Pages database.
1989 - The first data network phase of the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) launches.
1990 - Phonecards are introduced with cards available in , , and denominations.
1992 - On February 1st, Telecom and the Overseas Telecommunications Corporation (OTC) are merged to become the Australian and Overseas Telecommunications Corporation.
1993 - Telecom changes its trading name for trading overseas to Telstra Corporation Limited in April.
1993 - The last mail-delivered lettergram was sent in Melbourne by Australia Post on 1st October at 5pm EST.
1995 - On 1st July 1995 Telecom changes it's trading name to Telstra for domestic trading.

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