Artifact Corner: Telephone

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a piece that is not actually in our collections. This very early telephone was donated to the museum, but was never actually accessioned. We know that Fannie Delord Webb Hall, had a phone installed in the home, but are not sure what happened to the original phone. After the home became a museum, someone donated the phone we currently have, which was a very similar model to the one that Fannie had installed. Fannie refused to have all other modern conveniences, such as electricity, indoor plumbing, and central heating added to the home. But, she really wanted a telephone, a way to be better connected to a cause she cared deeply about, the Temperance movement. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of the telephone.

A telephone is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be easily heard directly. The word telephone comes from the Greek roots tēle, meaning “far,” and phonē, meaning “sound.” It was applied as early as the late 17th century to the string telephone familiar to children, and it was later used to refer to the megaphone and the speaking tube. Most American’s today will almost always associate the telephone with Alexander Graham Bell. But, Italian innovator Antonio Meucci is credited with inventing the first basic phone in 1849, and Frenchman Charles Bourseul devised a phone in 1854. Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the telephone in 1876, and his device was the first one actually granted that patent. The telephone was about to explode onto the scene in the United States, and rapidly across the world.

In 1877-78, the first telephone line was constructed, the first switchboard was created and the first telephone exchange was in operation. Three years later, almost 49,000 telephones were in use. In 1880, Bell (in the photo below) merged this company with others to form the American Bell Telephone Company and in 1885 American Telegraph and Telephone Company (AT&T) was formed. In January of 1878, Bell brought his invention to England. He demonstrated his invention to Queen Victoria, and he made the first publicly-witnessed long-distance calls in the UK. Queen Victoria also tried the phone and remarked that it was “quite extraordinary.” By 1900 there were nearly 600,000 phones in Bell’s telephone system; that number shot up to 2.2 million phones by 1905, and 5.8 million by 1910. By the 1960’s almost every home in the United States had a telephone, proving how much of an indispensable part of everyday life it had become in less than 100 years. Amazingly enough, Bell even predicted having conversations over the phone while being able to see each other. In 1878 Bell said, “While two persons, hundreds of miles apart, are talking together, they will actually see each other.”

The telephone changed the way we communicated. Prior to it’s invention, you either had to travel to have a conversation with someone, or write a letter, and wait quite some time for a response. We are not quite sure when Fannie had the phone installed in the home, but we know it was as soon as it was available to her. Telephone lines came to Plattsburgh in the early 1880’s, so that must be when Fannie had it installed. Our telephone is in good condition, and is a wonderful addition to our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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