Telco History


Here are some images of places and objects associated with the early years of the telephone. Click on any of the images to see a larger version of the picture.

Bell invented the telephone in Boston at 109 Court Street and here are markers commemorating the event.

Bell monumentBell and historical plaqueBell monument

Here are some examples of early customer premises equipment (CPE).


Voice transmitterEarly police telephoneVoice transmitterCrank phonesCrank phones


There aren't too many signs of the old Bell System around. Here are two manhole covers from Washington, DC.

Manhole coverManhole cover

This is an image of the Strowger telephone, the first one to use a dial rather than an operator to route calls.

Strowger dial phone

Multiplexing has always been a difficult problem for both voice and data communications. The big idea here is to consolidate as many voice or data signals on a single medium (wire, fiber, radio channel, etc.) as possible. This reduces the overall cost because a large number of users can be spread over a single expensive channel.

This is a view of a pole from "the old days." In this era there was one circuit for one wire. You can see why multiplexing is a good idea.

This ad is from the March 1919 National Geographic and touts the very advanced (at that time) capabilities of multiplexing. Five simultaneous conversations could be sent over a single circuit! And note that all of the conversations are between men. As an added bonus note the references to One System, One Policy, Universal Service etc. at the bottom of the ad. This was the result of Theodore Vail's negotiations with the federal government which resulted in the Bell System acquiring a "natural monopoly" on telephony.

Multiplexing ad


Here are some miscellaneous images from telephone history. .

First (?) telephone exchangeEarly telephone test setHow to use the telephone

Before divestiture the Bell System was vertically integrated. This means that it provided all services to the customers. Here's a list of services:

1. Dial tone, business services and customer contact through the 23 Bell Operating companies.

2. Long distance through the Long Lines division.

3. Research and development through Bell Labs

4. Manufacturing through Western Electric.

Naturally Bell was anxious to preserve this monopoly and resisted any attempt by anyone to infringe on their turn. This got carried to extremes: it was considered illegal to tape a memo to your Bell-provided telephone. This was technically "an attachment."

There are two notable precedents for "foreign" attachments. The first is the Hush-A-Phone which was nothing more than a device that reduced extraneous noise. No electrical connection to the network. The company started making the device in 1921 without incident but Bell pressured them to "cease and desist" from manufacturing. They petitioned the FCC in 1948 and the FCC ruled in 1956, saying that the Hush-A-Phone was illegal. That wasn't the end of it, however, The courts ruled that the FCC had overstepped its authority and allowed the Hush-A-Phone to be used. By 1956 the need for the device was greatly diminished due to improvements in the PSTN so it was a hollow victory.

Later, Bell lost out again to an acoustical coupler made by Tom Carter's company. Like the Hush-A-Phone this device did not electrically connect to the network. It was used to connect a radio system to the PSTN through an acoustical coupler. There was sound coming in and out of the Carterfone but there was no electrical connection to the network

However, Bell viewed it as a foreign attachment. Bell lost in court. Here's an image of the Carterfone from 1968. The Bell monopoly on CPE was effectively broken with the Carterfone Decision.



Hill Associates is now located in a large modern building but they had humble beginnings. The FCC also has a modern headquarters.


Hill AssociatesFCC headquarters

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