The Real History Of The Telephone.

Inside Out and Upside Down

This morning, I was speaking to Brian on the phone. At the same time a carpenter was using his machinery. Noisily. Brian noted that the telephone transmitted the sound perfectly, yet human voice less well. Now, Brian may be an engineer, he doesn’t know the real history of the Telephone. 

Actually, I replied, the phonelines were developed to transmit the noise of hammer-drills and other equipment. This meant that testing could be undertaken remotely.

And this is how it all happened …


Engineers with measuring equipment could sit in their office and measure the noise levels of new tools using this remote technology. A technician could be on site to do all the grunt work. Thus saving a great deal of time and effort. Only later one of the technicians had a problem, and he picked up the transmitter. The listening engineer was startled from his reverie by the technician asking him about his problem.

The engineer gathered his wits. He curtly responded that the system was designed to transmit the noise of machines. Not human voices. Across the ether, the poor technician whined that he had a problem. The engineer sitting at his desk stated that the procedure was to write everything down and post the report at the end of the day. So the technician sat himself down and wrote out the problem in triplicate. Thus spending the rest of the day dealing with the paperwork for the problem. Dutifully, he put his letter in the post, second class as befits the lower orders.

Another engineer was doing a background check for the same machine. And he came across the letter that this technician had sent dated some two years previously. There was mention of his having used it to speak through. The brilliant simplicity struck him. You could use this for transmitting speech! At his next managerial meeting he raises the issue. Astonishingly, his peers are unmoved. Fussing, objecting, tapping their pencils. In the end, the entire matter was dropped as not being something that people would want to do. The business community didn’t need anything of the sort as they all met in their clubs at lunchtime anyway. Which is what they promptly did on closing the meeting. With the exception of the engineer whose wife had made him sandwiches.

A manager is looking through some papers trying to find the name of that person he had dismissed some five years previously. Something to do with always being annoying and having stupid ideas. The very cheek! The man was known to be on a management committee and so would be noted as present. Something caught his eye. Someone had suggested using the remote sensing tool for the transmission of speech.

Hmmm …

Later, the same manager is attending a board meeting. Tapping his papers in order, he stands and explains the of use of the remote sensing technology for human voice communication. Only the poor manager meets with stony faces. Why is it that the directors aren’t convinced? One of the directors stands in confrontation. It is imperative to meet face to face. Shake hands. That sort of thing. (No doubt with a glass of sherry and a Turkish cigarette in the comfort of the drawing room).

Our manager tries to explain that a lot of travel would be saved if this system were to be developed. The directors all agreed that such things were simply unnecessary. They were all happy enough travelling in the comfort of the new motor-carriages. And anyway, they all had chauffeurs, drivers and runners if there were any problems.

Fifteen years later and there comes the proposed American takeover of The Remote Machine Sensing and Telegraphy Company, Limited. Robert Ardler heads the American consortium. He stands in the airy board room, the grey English light falling from high arched windows. Bored, he flicks idly through the minutes of past board meetings that are arrayed on the large table. Something catches his eye. He begins reading with interest. The conversation revolves around a suggestion to use the remote technology to transmit the human voice.

How blindingly simple!

Robert Ardler is intrigued by this thought. He and his colleagues have just spent three weeks bobbing listlessly across the Atlantic on a paddle steamer. Such a thing would save them a great deal of time.

Make him a very tidy sum of money too.

Why had nobody thought of this before? Such a simple notion, the system was used for measuring equipment right across the planet! All the infrastructure was in place and – astonishingly – lying almost unused. Nobody had thought to use it for the businessman.

The remote sensing company was drowning in debt incurred from their failed venture into measuring the noises given by animals. It was a good idea, only the development costs hadn’t been recouped. The farmers didn’t have the sort of money to pay for such a system. Nor did they have any electricity to power the system on their farms.

So he carefully laid the memos back on the leather table top. He and his consortium bought the company for three English guineas in silver coinage. Along with all their debts. Everyone was happy.

Three months later the revamped company brought out the first “American Human to Human Electric Sonograph Communication Device”. This utilized the existing infrastructure already in place. People took to the idea with vigour, everybody said how such a simple idea could have been missed. One woman even had the effrontery to phone her husband to ask him to bring a pint of milk on returning home from work. The newspapers were shocked at the misuse of such expensive equipment. Why couldn’t she just ask the servants?

Robert Ardler made millions as president of what became American Human to Human – today’s massive AHH conglomerate.


If you think that this is entirely unlikely, remember that the first fax was transmitted in the 1840s. Owing to the laws in force at the time, legal contracts had to bear a hand written signature. That the expense of transmitting a document meant that the only use for such a medium was legal contracts.


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