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Commercial Transatlantic Radio Telephone Service - History

Commercial Transatlantic Radio Telephone Service - History

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(1/7/27) AT&T inaugurated transatlantic radio telephone service. The first call was made by AT&T's president, who uttered "Hello London."

Telephone History Part 9: 1951 to 1965

We come to the 1950s. Dial tone was not widespread until the end of the decade in North America, not until direct dialing and automatic switching became common. Dial tone was first introduced into the public switched telephone network in a German city by the Siemens company in 1908, but it took decades before being accepted, with the Bell System taking the lead. AT&T used it not only to indicate that a line was free, but also to make the dialing procedure between their automatic and manual exchanges more familiar to their customers.

Manual exchange subscribers placed calls first through an operator, who listened to the number the caller wanted and then connected the parties together. The Bell System thought dial tone a good substitute for an operator’s “Number please” and required this service in all of their automatic exchanges. Before the 1950s most of the independent telephone companies, but not all, also provided dial tone. And, of course, dial tone was not possible on phones such as crank models, in which you signaled an operator who then later connected your call. [Swihart]

I mentioned direct number dialing, where callers made their own long distance calls, This was first introduced into the Bell System in a trial in Englewood, New Jersey in 1951. Ten years passed before it became universal.

On August, 17, 1951 the first transcontinental microwave system began operating. [Bell Laboratories Record] One hundred and seven relay stations spaced about 30 miles apart formed a link from New York to San Francisco. It cost the Bell System $40,000,000 a milestone in their development of radio relay begun in 1947 between New York and Boston. In 1954 over 400 microwave stations were scattered across the country. A Bell System “Cornucopia” tower is shown at left. By 1958 microwave carrier made up 13,000,000 miles of telephone circuits or one quarter of the nations long distance lines. 600 conversations or two television programs could be sent at once over these radio routes.

But what about crossing the seas? Microwave wasn’t possible over the ocean and radiotelephony was limited. Years of development lead up to 1956 when the first transatlantic telephone cable system started carrying calls. It cost 42 million dollars. Two coaxial cables about 20 miles apart carried 36 two way circuits. Nearly fifty sophisticated repeaters were spaced from ten to forty miles along the way. Each vacuum tube repeater contained 5,000 parts and cost almost $100,000. The first day this system took 588 calls, 75% more than the previous ten days average with AT&T’s transatlantic radio-telephone service.

In the early 1950s The Bell System developed an improved neoprene jacketed telephone cord and shortly after that a PVC or plastic cord. [BellLaboratoriesRecord] These replaced the cotton covered cords used since telephony began. The wires inside laid parallel to each other instead of being twisted around. That reduced diameter and made them more flexible. Both, though, were flat and non-retractable, only being made into spring cords later. In the authoritative Dates in American Telephone Technology, C.D. Hanscom, then historian for Bell Laboratories, stated that the Bell System made the neoprene version available in 1954 and the plastic model available in 1956. These were, the book dryly indicated, the most significant developments in cord technology since 1926, when solderless cord tips came into use.

On June 7, 1951, AT&T and International Telephone and Telegraph signed a cross-licensing patent agreement. [Myer] This marks what Myer says “led to complete standardization in the American telephone industry.” Perhaps. I do know that ITT’s K-500 phones are completely interchangeable with W.E. Model 500s, so much so that parts can be freely mixed and matched with each other. But whether Automatic Electric and other manufacturers produced interoperable equipment is something I am still researching. [William Myre discussion on interchangeable parts]

It is significant, though, that after seventy-five years of competition the Bell System decided to let other companies use its patents. Myer suggests a 1949 anti-trust suit against WECO and AT&T was responsible for their new attitude. On August 9, 1951 ITT began buying Kellogg stock, eventually acquiring the company. In 1952 the Kellogg Switchboard and Supply company passed into history, merging with ITT.

Roger Conklin relates, “In just a few years after the buyout, ITT changed the name from Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Company to ITT Kellogg. Then, after merging Federal Telephone and Radio Corporation, its separate telephone manufacturing company in Clifton, NJ. into ITT Kellogg and combining manufacturing operations into its Cicero Ave. facility in Chicago, the name was changed again to ITT Telecommunications. . . . The last change to ITT Telecommunications [took] place [in]1963.”

“In 1989, ITT sold its entire worldwide telecommunications products business to Alcatel and withdrew totally from this business. In 1992 Alcatel sold what had formerly been ITT’s customer premises equipment (CPE) business in the US, including its factory in Corinth, MS. to a group of private investors headed by David Lee. Initially after purchasing this business from Alcatel, this new company was known as Cortelco Kellogg. It continues to manufacture and market what had formerly been ITT’s U.S.-made telephones and related products. The name ‘Kellogg’ has since been dropped from its name and the company is now known as Cortelco. For a short while Cortelco continued to use the ITT name and trademark on its products under a license from ITT, but this also has been discontinued.”

The ITT information above came from the excellent history site (external link, now dead), produced by the U.K.’s Andrew Emmerson, a first rank telephone historian. Much has been archived here:

In 1952 the Bell System began increasing payphone charges from a nickel to a dime. [Fagen] It wasn’t an immediate change since both the payphone and the central office switching equipment that serviced it had to be modified. By the late 1950s many areas around the country were still charging a nickel. Most likely AT&T started converting payphones in New York City first.

In the mid-50s Bell Labs launched the Essex research project. It concentrated on developing computer controlled switching, based upon using the transistor. It bore first fruit in November, 1963 with the 101 ESS, a PBX or office telephone switch that was partly digital. Despite their computer expertise, AT&T agreed in 1956 under government pressure not to expand their business beyond telephones and transmitting information. Bell Laboratories and Western Electric would not enter such fields as computers and business machines. In return, the Bell System was left intact with a reprieve from anti-monopoly scrutiny for a few years. It is interesting to speculate whether IBM would have dominated computing in the 1960s if AT&T had competed in that market.

In 1955 Theodore Gary and Company merged into General Telephone, forming the largest independent telephone company in the United States. The combined company served �,000 domestic telephones through 25 operating companies in 17 states. It also had interests in foreign telcos controlling 426,000 telephones.” Automatic Electric, Gary’s most well known company, retained its name but fell under an even larger corporate umbrella.

The Gary merger package included Automatic Electric Co. (AE), which now had subsidiaries in Canada, Belgium and Italy. GTE had purchased its first telephone-manufacturing subsidiary five years earlier in 1950 – Leich Electric. But the addition of AE’s engineering and manufacturing capacity assured GTE of equipment for their rapidly growing telephone operations.

An excellent timeline on Automatic Electric history was at the AGCS site, now dead. The “A” in the name stands for AT&T, the “G” for “GTE”. Divisions from both companies combined in 1989 to form AGCS.

General was founded in 1926 as Associated Telephone Utilities by Sigurd Odegard. The company went bankrupt during the Great Depression and in 1934 reorganized itself as General Telephone. General had its own manufacturing company, Leich Electric, which began in 1907. Growth was unspectacular until Donald C. Power became president in 1950. He soon bought other companies, building General Telephone into a large telecommunications company.

After the merger of Automatic Electric, General acquired answering machine producer Electric Secretary Industries in 1957, carrier equipment maker Lenkurt Electric in 1959, and Sylvania Electronics in that same year. In 1959 the newly renamed General Telephone and Electronics provided everything the independent telephone companies might want. Although they were not the exclusive manufacturer for the independents, Automatic Electric was certainly the largest. And where GTE aggressively went after military contracts, the Bell System did not, with the exception of grand projects like helping with the NIKE missile program. In the late 1950s, for example, Lenkurt Electric produced most of the armed forces’ carrier equipment. GTE lasted until 1982.

In January, 1958, Wichita Falls, Texas was the first American city in the Bell System to institute true number calling, that is, seven numerical digits without letters or names. Although it took more than fifteen years to implement throughout the Bell System, ANC, or all number calling, would finally replace the system of letters and numbers begun forty years before at the advent of automatic dialing. Telephone numbers like BUtterfield8, ELliot 1-1017 or ELmwood 1-1017. For a history of exchange names, please click here to read my article on them. Keep in mind, too, that many independent telephone companies did not use letters and numbers.

For a history of country codes, all number dialing that let people call overseas on their own, the original URL below was very useful. It is now dead. Click now on the archived link.

For a look at the overwhelming subject of American area codes, this now dead link has been archived below:

The 1960s began a dizzying age of projects, improvements and introductions. In 1961 the Bell System started work on a classic cold war project, finally completed in 1965. It was the first coast to coast atomic bomb blast resistant cable. Intended to survive where the national microwave system might fail, the project buried 2500 reels of coaxial cable in a 4,000 mile long trench. 9300 circuits were helped along by 950 buried concrete repeater stations. Stretched along the 19 state route were 11 manned test centers, buried 50 feet below ground, complete with air filtration, living quarters and food and water.

In 1963 the first modern touch-tone phone was introduced, the Western Electric 1500. It had only ten buttons. Limited service tests had started in 1959.

Also in 1963 digital carrier techniques were introduced. Previous multiplexing schemes used analog transmission, carrying different channels separated by frequency, much like those used by cable television. T1 or Transmission One, by comparison, reduced analog voice traffic to a series of electrical plots, binary coordinates to represent sound. T1 quickly became the backbone of long distance toll service and then the primary handler of local transmission between central offices. The T1 system handles calls throughout the telephone system to this day.

In 1964 the Bell System put its star crossed videotelephone into limited commercial service between New York, Washington and Chicago. Despite decades of dreaming, development and desire by Bell scientists, technicians and marketing wonks, the videotelephone never found a market.

1968. Even the astute Japanese fell victim to developing picturephones as this unflattering photograph shows. This model was probably developed by Nippon Telephone and Telegraph.

The Japanese and the picture phone

In 1965 the first commercial communications satellite was launched, providing 240 two way telephone circuits. Also in 1965 the 1A1 payphone was introduced by Bell Labs and Western Electric after seven years of development. Replacing the standard three slot payphone design, the 1A1 single slot model was the first major change in coin phones since the 1920s.

1965 also marked the debut of the No. 1ESS, the Bell Systems first central office computerized switch. The product of at least 10 years of planning, 4,000 man years of research and development, as well as $500 million dollars in costs, the first Electronic Switching System was installed in Succasunna, N.J. Built by Western Electric the 1ESS used 160,000 diodes, 55,000 transistors and 226,000 resistors. These and other components were mounted on thousands of circuit boards. Not a true digital switch, the 1ESS did feature Stored Program Control, a fancy Bell System name for memory, enabling all sorts of new features like speed dialing and call forwarding. Without memory a switch could not perform these functions previous switches such as crossbar and step by step worked in real time, with each step executed as it happened. The switch proved a success but there were some problems for Bell Labs engineers, particularly when a No.1ESS became overloaded. In those circumstances it tended to fail all at once, rather than breaking down bit by bit.

[Myers] Myer, Ralph O, 1995, Old Time Telephones!: Technology, Restoration and Repair, Tab Books, New York. 123 Excellent.

[Swihart, Stanley] Telecom History: The Journal of the Telephone History Institute, Issue 2, Spring 1995

[ETH] Events in Telecommunication History, 1992 ,AT&T Archives Publication (8.92-2M), p53

[Bell Laboratories Record] “Coast to Coast Radio Relay System Opens.” Bell Laboratories Record, May, 1951. 427

[Bell Laboratories Record] Weber, C.A., Jacketed Cords for Telephones, Bell Laboratories Record, May, 1959 187

[Fagen] Fagen, M.D., ed. A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: Volume 1 The Early Years, 1875 -1925. New York: Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1975, 357 Briefly mentions coin services. (back to text)

[William Myre discussion on interchangeable parts]

As a teenager in the 60’s, I did a detailed examination of both our Western Electric keyed telephones (installed in 1960) and a couple of Automatic Electric phones (on of which was keyed). All the phones were dial telephones. At the time I was attempting to understand the wiring and reverse engineer the circuitry.

It is my opinion that the parts were not designed to be mechanically interchangeable. The inside of the phones were laid out differently. The dial on a WE seemed to be different from a AE mechanically.

The electrical “guts” of both the WE and AE phones was a metal box with a plastic top on which screw terminals were located. The layout of these terminals and the box size was not the same.

The handset had dimensional differences as well, although the AE and WE mic and speaker might fit interchangeably.

Electrically speaking, of course, all phones had pretty much the same circuits and components, so it would probably be possible to wire a AE circuit box into a WE phone, and it likely work.

The electrical differences, if they exist, would have to be in the microphone, speaker, or capacitor used in series with the ringer coil (and the coil impedance).

I don’t remember if the same color coding was used on the internal wiring, but I can certainly say that having a WE phone to examine did not help me re-wire the inside of an AE phone that had been unwired.

I still have a keyed AE phone in my garage. I also somewhere probably still have the technical bulletin AE sent me to rewire the AE phone.

Commercial Transatlantic Radio Telephone Service - History

Radio Telephone Service
Geodetic Surveying

Harold E. Nelson
14 Hill Avenue,
Newport, ME 04953
[email protected]

Riverhead. LI, was the receive radio station for RCA, and Rocky Point, the transmit station. During the period of time when longwave ruled transatlantic radio, Belfast Maine was the site for the transoceanic relay station of RCA. See:

The Maine Section of the IEEE is planning on dedicating a Milestone Plaque in Belfast this summer.

Also, the first radio telephone service of AT&T went like this: phone calls to England were transmitted longwave from Rocky Point to Cupar, Scotland. On the other end, the transmit site was Rugby, England, and the receive station was Houlton, Maine. Both Belfast and Houlton ran Beverage Longwave antennas. Belfast had 3 10 mile long antennas spaced 6 miles apart covering the heart of Waldo County. Each 10 mile antenna was one wavelenght. Houlton used a shorter wave, hence the antenna there, 4 of them, were about 4 miles long each. The Houlton Transoceanic Radiotelephone Receiving Station is now a residence, with a copper lined room in the basement where the electrical entrance was, and probably the battery charging room.

I also worked on the IEEE Milestone Plaque dedication for TELSTAR in 2002, the 40th anniversary of the first transmissions via an active satellite. The plaque is in the Andover town square.

Believe it or not, MIT operated Camp Technology, a summer geodetic surveying camp for engineering students the first half of the 20th century. It was located at East Machias on Gardner Lake. It was quite a complex, some of the buildings are still there and being renovated into a kids camp. There was a seismograph building, built like a Maine potato barn, and also an observatory.

The MIT observatory is nestled in the woods where no one would see it, and inside it is a concrete block for the astronomical transit. They probably used a Bamberg, or Wild T-4, not like the kind used at Calais. The roof has slits in it for observing the stars. This building is very close to the same type of building that was at Calais.

Click Photo for Enlarged View
MIT Observatory MIT Observatory MIT Observatory Concrete Block MIT Observatory Skylight North Inside MIT Observatory Skylight South Inside

On the Calais Alumni website is an image of the observatory at Wai-Ki-Ki, again similar to Calais. I do have a complete description of the observatory built at Farmington, ME, in 1866, but it is probably a bit more advanced than the Calais building of 1857. They planned on doing longitude observations in Farmington, and that observatory had both a transit stone and a zenith telescope stone, but longitude work was never done there. At Calais, both latitude and longitude work, I believe were done off the transit stone. A few years ago, when the Washington Monument was being refurbished, NGS observed GPS from the top of the monument. Many GPS vendors were there to take turns observing satellite data.


Jeremiah F. Hayes, “Paths Beneath the Seas: Transatlantic Telephone Cable Systems,” IEEE Canadian Review, Spring 2006.

Jeremiah F. Hayes, Reminiscences of TAT-1

Homer Bigart, “First Call Made by Phone Cable to Europe,” The New York Times, Sep 26, 1956.

“Routing the Cables”

“The First Transatlantic Telephone Cable (TAT 1)”

“Scanning Our Past from London: Voices under the Atlantic.” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 90, No. 6, June 2002, 1083-1085.


1915: The first “official” coast-to-coast call is made between A.G. Bell in New York to Thomas Watson in San Francisco
1927 Transatlantic telephone service inaugurated for commercial service (US to Britain), using radio telephony
1929: Herbert Hoover becomes the first president of the United States with a phone on his desk. Until this time, the president talked on a phone from a booth outside his executive office
1946: 250,000 women employed as switchboard operators for public service and businesses

Milestones:Reception of Transatlantic Radio Signals, 1901

At Signal Hill on December 12, 1901, Guglielmo Marconi and his assistant, George Kemp, confirmed the reception of the first transatlantic radio signals. With a telephone receiver and a wire antenna kept aloft by a kite, they heard Morse code for the letter "S" transmitted from Poldhu, Cornwall. Their experiments showed that radio signals extended far beyond the horizon, giving radio a new global dimension for communication in the twentieth century.

The plaque can be viewed in Signal Hill National Park, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

On 12 December 1901, Guglielmo Marconi and his assistant, George Kemp, heard the faint clicks of Morse code for the letter "s" transmitted without wires across the Atlantic Ocean. This achievement, the first reception of transatlantic radio signals, led to considerable advances in both science and technology. It demonstrated that radio transmission was not bounded by the horizon, thus prompting Arthur Kennelly and Oliver Heaviside to suggest, shortly thereafter, the existence of a layer of ionized air in the upper atmosphere (the Kennelly-Heaviside layer, now called the ionosphere). Marconi's experiment also gave the new technology of "wireless telegraphy" a global dimension that eventually made radio one of the major forms of communication in the twentieth century.

In 1901, Marconi built a powerful wireless station at Poldhu, Cornwall, (corresponding IEEE Milestone) in preparation for a transatlantic test. The spark-gap transmitter fed a mammoth antenna array -- four hundred wires suspended from 20 masts, each 200 feet tall, placed in a circle. A similar station was set up on the American side of the Atlantic at South Wellfleet, Cape Cod.

Then a series of disasters struck. On 17 September a ferocious gale hit the Poldhu station, destroying the elaborate antenna system. A temporary one was put in its place a week later, but tests showed that it was too inefficient to reach the Cape Cod station. Consequently, before leaving England for North America, Marconi decided to set up his equipment at St. John's, Newfoundland, which was much closer to Poldhu. The decision proved academic in any case, because on 26 November, the day before Marconi's scheduled departure, the Cape Cod antenna blew down in a hurricane.

Landing at St. John's on 6 December, Marconi and his assistants set up their experimental apparatus on a table in the Signal Hill barracks near the harbor. Meanwhile, an improved antenna: had been installed at the Poldhu station, whose operators had instructions to send Morse code for the letter "s" from 3 to 7 pm (GMT) starting on 11 December. Marconi tested the winds on the 10th by sending aloft a kite trailing a wire antenna, but the kite broke loose. At the prearranged time on the 11th, Marconi and his assistants sent up a balloon, but heard nothing from their receiver. They next dispensed with the tuned receiver and tried a more sensitive detector, but the balloon broke loose. On the 12th, a strong gale still blew and carried away the first kite they sent up. The second kite, which trailed 500 feet of antenna wire, stayed up long enough for Marconi and Kemp to hear the transatlantic signals through a telephone earpiece connected to the receiver. Marconi's diary for that date has the simple entry, "Sigs. at 12:30, 1:10 and 2:20. 11 more signals were confirmed on the next day, Friday the 13th, but none on Saturday. On Monday the 16th, Marconi released the news to the press and then began packing for a new location because the Anglo-American Telegraph Company threatened legal action for violating its communication monopoly in Newfoundland.

Marconi's announcement met with enthusiastic acclaim, but also with some skepticism. After all, the only witness was George Kemp, hardly an impartial observer, and the signals were too weak to operate an automatic recorder. Two months later, though, Marconi received transatlantic signals of sufficient strength from Poldhu to operate a Morse inker in the presence of witnesses. (Although later knowledge of radio-wave propagation indicates that the Signal Hill reception occurred under inopportune conditions, recent historians have suggested that Marconi picked up a high-frequency harmonic on his un-tuned receiver.) In January 1902, between the time of the Signal Hill reception and the later verification, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers held their annual dinner meeting in honor of Marconi. In attendance were such electrical engineering notables as Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, and Michael Pupin. Thomas Edison, who sent his regrets, called Marconi "the young man who had the monumental audacity to attempt, and succeed in, jumping an electrical wave clear across the Atlantic Ocean."

Commercial Transatlantic Radio Telephone Service - History

The History of Communication Technology

By Logan Wyman, [email protected]

The radio has been the first device to allow for mass communication. It has enabled information to be transferred far and wide, not only nationally wide but internationally as well. The development of the radio began in 1893 with Nikolai Tesla’s demonstration of wireless radio communication in St. Louis, Missouri. His work laid the foundation for those later scientists who worked to perfect the radio we now use. The man most associated with the advent of the radio is Guglielmo Marconi, who in 1986 was awarded the official patent for the radio by the British Government.

Old Time Radio

The early uses of the radio were mainly for maintaining contact between ships out a sea. However, this initial radio was unable to transmit speech, and instead sent Morse code messages back and forth between ships and stations on the land. During time of distress, a sinking ship would use a radio messaged nearby vessels and stations on the land to ask for aid. The radio saw a surge of use during the First World War. Both sides used the radio to relay messages to troops and top officials as well as people not on the battle front. At the end of the war, President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points was sent to Germany via use of the radio. After the war’s end, with the growth of radio receivers, broadcasting began in Europe and The United States.

Europe’s most famous broadcasting station, the British Broadcasting Company or BBC, began following in 1922. In fact, Marconi was one of the founding members along with other prominent leaders in the field of wireless manufacturers. Broadcasts began locally in London, but by 1925 it has spread to most of the United Kingdom. The station aired plays, classical music and variety programs. However, the newspaper industry maintained a strong hold over the new. In 1926 this all changed due to a newspaper strike in England. With no news being published it fell on the BBC to supply the information for the public. In 1927 the BBC became the British Broadcasting Corporation when it was granted it a Royal Charter. When the Second World War began all the television stations shut down and it fell on the shoulders of the radio to cover the war.

The Radio Act of 1912 required all land radio stations and ship stations to be staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Following the war radio saw its greatest advancements and a turn towards its more modern form. The devastation of Britain made its citizens look for an outlet in radio entertainment. People enjoyed listening to the music, plays and discussion that the BBC played. During the 1960s with the expansion of radio to FM more programs were played and local BBC stations opened up across England. Radio in Europe continued to expand and in the 1990s new radio stations, like Radio 1, 4 and 5 began broadcasting with genres like sports and comedy appealing to new audiences. As the BBC entered into the new millennium its popularity continued to grow. Its broadcasts of “The Century Speaks”, an oral history of the 20th century and a reading of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” helped to gain more listeners. In 2002 the BBC expanded to the digital market and saw its greatest expansion as new stations like 1Xtra, 5 Live, Sports Extra, 6 Music and BBC 7 were launched and World Service were made available to domestic listeners. The history of radio broadcasting in the United States followed a similar path.

Radio broadcasting in the United States started with the Westinghouse Company. The company asked Frank Conrad, one of their engineers, to start regularly broadcasting of music, while they would sell radios to pay for the service. Westinghouse applied for a commercial radio license in 1920, and started their station KDKA, the first officially government licensed radio station. The station’s first broadcast was the election returns of the Harding-Cox presidential race. Westinghouse also took out ads in the newspaper advertising radios for sale to the public. Soon, thousand of radio stations emerged that played a wide variety of broadcasts and reached people across the country that had bought or built their own receivers. The home building of receivers created a problem in the market, since people could simply build their own radios rather than going out to buy them and the government was forced to step in. To curb this a government-sanctioned agreement created the Radio Corporation Agreements, RCA, was formed to manage the patents for the technology of the receiver and transmitter. Companies like General Electric and Westinghouse were allowed to make receivers while Western Electric was allowed to build transmitters. Also in the agreements, AT&T was made the only station that was allowed to engage in toll broadcasting and chain broadcasting. This paved the way for the next step in radio development in America, radio advertising.

KDKA - The first offically licensed radio station in Pittsburgh, Pa.

WEAF, an AT&T station in New York broadcasted the first radio advertisement in 1923. Even with the RCA agreements, other station began radio advertising. Most of the other radio stations were owned by private businesses and were used exclusively to sell that company’s products. The RCA agreements did create a problem though, it gave AT&T a monopoly over toll broadcasting and therefore radio advertisements. To break the monopoly, NBC and CBS were created and became the first radio networks in the late 1920s era. Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow became the first radio journalists, and by the end of the decade the radio had become an important source for news in America. In the next decade war in Europe again broke out and it fell on the radio to cover it. The radio acted to pacify and assuage the worries of a confused and scared public. More importantly the radio helped to pull together the nation’s moral and backing of the war effort. With the end of the war in 1945 television saw its rise to prominence and radio began to go on a slow but steady decline. But in the 1950’s thanks to Rock and Roll the radio saw new life.

Following the Second World War the radio turned into its more recognizable for of musical entertainment. AM stations played a top-40 time and temperature format, which meant they played popular three minute songs in constant rotation. All programming and music became aimed at a target audience of ages twelve to thirty five, newly emerging “middle class”. The sixties and seventies also saw the rise of FM radio. The new music that FM aired began to pose a threat to the old top-40 music AM stations still played in rotation, and the growing music of the hippie and psychedelic generation took over the FM airwaves. Through the 80s and 90s radio broadcasting continued to expand. Thousands of more stations sprung up playing all different kinds of music, world, pop, rock, jazz, classical, etc… However, in the 21st century the radio has reached its greatest heights.
With the year 2000 the radio expanded into the satellite and internet markets. The need for live DJ’s is dwindling since everything can be done via a computer all the editing and broadcasting can be done using hard drive of a computer. Jobs that used to take hours to do can now be done with the simple click of a mouse. Car companies have paired up with satellite radio stations like XM radio to offer special deals on satellite radios which offer every kind of music, news, and entertainment stations one could ask for.

XM Radio is a popular form of entertainment in the United States.

From a tiny receiver that could transmit only sounds to a complex device with satellites in space and wireless systems in cars, the radio has seen tremendous development. The purpose of the radio, however, has remained constant. From its inception the radio was created to communicate messages in mass for. Whether it be strictly news stories like in its early days, or binging new music to fans across the nation information is always being shared via this device. In almost every country radios are present, and in some it is a primary means for communication. Without its invention our world would be vastly different, it offered the first true means of mass communication and allowed leaders and people alike to impart valuable information to each other with the ease and efficiency.

Two Hundred Years of Global Communications

From the printing press to Instagram, technological advances shape how people communicate.

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Humans communicate in various ways. They have been writing to each other since the fourth millennium BCE, when one of the earliest writing systems, cuneiform, was developed in Mesopotamia. These days, the internet enables people to send and receive messages instantaneously and internationally with the rise of social media, people share more—and more quickly—than ever before. This timeline follows nearly two hundred years of innovations in communication that have helped people all over the globe connect.

Technical innovation in the nineteenth century made the era one of rapid and significant change, and laid the groundwork for today’s interconnected world. Railway lines were being laid extensively, as were telegraph lines, which allowed people to send messages across long distances at unprecedented speed. As telegrams grew in popularity, the telephone was not far behind. Meanwhile, improvements to the press made printing news much quicker. The combination of these changes meant that news began to travel much faster during this period: for the first time, news could reach people in hours instead of days or weeks.

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Currier & Ives via the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Philip B. Meggs, A History of Graphic Design

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Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg perfected his printing press, which could print 3,600 pages in one day, facilitating access to media book prices dropped by two-thirds between 1450 and 1500. Printing technology continued to improve throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An important milestone was the steam-powered printing press. When the Times of London acquired one in 1814, the speedier technology—it could print at least 1,100 pages in an hour—helped boost circulation tenfold in just a few decades.


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Samuel Morse sent the first message from an electrical telegraph in 1844, from Washington, DC, to Baltimore. His message: “What hath God wrought?” Coinciding with the rise of the railroad, the telegraph profoundly changed communications by making it easier and faster to send near-instantaneous messages across long distances. In just six years, twelve thousand miles of cable crisscrossed the United States by 1861, Western Union had finished work on the first telegraph line that reached the East Coast from the West. In 1929, at its apex, Western Union transmitted more than 200 million telegrams.


Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper via Library of Congress

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Before people relied on nearly 750,000 miles of undersea fiber optic cables to facilitate their internet communication, they used telegraph cables to exchange messages. The first transatlantic telegram was sent fourteen years after Samuel Morse sent the first telegram. In 1858, Queen Victoria sent the first transatlantic telegram to President James Buchanan in just sixteen hours, and Buchanan’s response arrived in ten, as opposed to the twelve days it would have taken via ship and land. The telegraph would continue to be the dominant mode of long-distance communication, used to share both personal news and major world events. When the Titanic sank in 1912, for example, the news was transmitted via telegram.


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As the popularity of the telegram grew, Alexander Graham Bell was working on an even more direct form of communication: the telephone. He was granted a U.S. patent for the device in 1876. Once adopted, the telephone’s popularity grew rapidly: in 1900, there were 600,000 telephones in the United States by 1910, there were 5.8 million. In 1927—the same year as the first television transmission—the telephone officially went international. That year, the first commercial transatlantic telephone conversation, happened, between Evelyn Murray, secretary to the British General Post Office and W. S. Gifford, president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), still a leading telecommunications company.

The twentieth century was defined by many great technological achievements, including advancements in mass communications. Radio and television gave a broader audience immediate access to news and entertainment—a significant leap from receiving information by train or telegraph. Later, people could communicate on the go with cellular phones. And satellites—introduced for military purposes—enhanced the global reach of them all.

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Underwood & Underwood via Library of Congress

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Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi received a U.S. patent for radio technology in 1904, three years after he claimed to have sent the first transatlantic radio signal. Radio was the first technology that could instantaneously communicate to a mass audience. Because it allowed continuous, up-to-date news and entertainment for people regardless of their income or literacy levels, it became immensely popular. In many parts of the world today, radio remains a dominant source of news and entertainment it is considered to be the most important means of mass communication in Africa, where literacy rates are relatively low and electricity access is inconsistent. In 2010, an estimated 44,000 radio stations operated around the globe.


Los Angeles Public Library

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Around the same time as the radio, another form of mass entertainment also became widely popular: movies. By 1907, just over a decade after the first motion picture was released in France, two million Americans were going to the movies at nearly eight thousand movie theaters nationwide. Two-thirds of the films being shown at that time were European imports. But soon, World War I destroyed the European film industry. By 1918, 80 percent of movies globally were produced in the United States. Today, despite Hollywood’s enduring status as the commercial center of cinema, the industry is largely global. The top-grossing Hollywood films make the bulk of their revenues abroad. And the top producer of movies these days, in terms of films released per year, is India.


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The first television broadcast, in 1928, marked the beginning of a new era of mass consumption of news and entertainment. However, television didn’t become popular until after World War II: in 1946, about six thousand TV sets were in use in the United States by 1960, 90 percent of American homes had a TV. Television programs produced in the United States have global viewership. In 2016, the crime drama NCIS was the most watched television drama globally, with forty-seven million viewers.


National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. As the United States sought to catch up, and the space race took off, scientific developments pioneered a wide range of uses for satellite technology. Since the launch of the first communications satellite in 1962, satellites have been an integral part of global communications. That year, the first transatlantic broadcast of live television entertained an audience of tens of millions. In North America, viewers saw, among other highlights, the Big Ben, the Louvre, and Sicilian fishermen at work in Europe, viewers were treated to sights of an American baseball game, the Statue of Liberty, and a press conference by President John F. Kennedy. Today, more than 2,500 satellites orbit the earth to track weather, monitor military movements, give users accurate directions through the Global Positioning System (GPS), and more.


Rico Shen via Wikimedia Commons under GFDL and CC BY-SA 3.0

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A century after the telephone’s invention, Motorola placed the world’s first call from a cell phone (to its rival AT&T, of course). Motorola’s cell phone looked nothing like the ones available today: it was big, weighed almost three pounds, and could be used only for about thirty-five minutes. As a research prototype, it also wasn’t publicly available. Motorola’s first cell phone for sale, based on this prototype, could cost up to $4,000, meaning cell phones were even more of a luxury item then than they are today, when 96 percent of Americans own cell phones.

In 1989, British engineer and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee pioneered the World Wide Web, which paved the way for today’s internet communication. Access to the internet has gone up: in 2000, only 6.5 percent of people globally used the internet as of 2018, around 51 percent do—thanks in part to technological advancements such as high-speed broadband and smartphones. The internet has given rise to new developments in communication too, including search engines and social media. The internet has become so integral to modern life that in 2016 the United Nations passed a resolution declaring access to the internet a human right.

The Advent of Space Telegraphy

Lee de Forest was the inventor of space telegraphy, the triode amplifier, and the Audion, an amplifying vacuum tube. In the early 1900s, the development of radio was hampered by the lack of an efficient detector of electromagnetic radiation. It was De Forest who provided that detector. His invention made it possible to amplify the radio frequency signal picked up by antennae. This allowed for the use of much weaker signals than had previously been possible. De Forest was also the first person to use the word "radio."

The result of Lee de Forest's work was the invention of amplitude-modulated or AM radio, which allowed for a multitude of radio stations. It was a huge improvement over the earlier spark-gap transmitters.

The History of Electrical Communications

The complete history of communications dates back to prehistoric times when cavemen grunted sounds to each other, but that is not the beginning of the timeline we are concerned with on RF Cafe. Here it is the earliest use of electrical signals for transmitting data between two or more points either by conduction through cables or by radiation through the air. According to most accounts, Stephan Gray was the first, in 1729, to accomplish such a feat. From there we eventually got the telegraph, the telephone, and then radio and cellphones (which are, or course, themselves radios), and of course the Internet.

The table below summarizes many of the major technological advancements in the evolution of electrical communications.

Year First-Time Event Person
1729 Discovery that electricity can be transmitted Stephan Gray
1746 Electrometer measuring device invented Gralath
1831 Electromechanical generator invented Michael Faraday
1844 Telegraph and Morse Code developed Samuel Morse
1847 Boolean algebra developed George Boole
1858 Transatlantic cable laid Cyrus Field
1876 Bell telephone system established
1895 Photographic film developed Eastman
1897 Ship-to-shore wireless transmission demonstrated Guglielmo Marconi
1900 Speech transmitted by wireless method Landell de Moura
1901 Transatlantic wireless message Spark-gap transmitter
1904 Crystal radio detector patented J.C. Bose
1915 Transatlantic radio telegraphy message from the U.S.
1917 Electric wave filter Campbell
1920 Commercial radio broadcast (KDKA, Pittsburgh, PA)
Superheterodyne circuit developed

1923 Iconoscope television camera tube invented Zworykin
1929 Kinescope (TV picture tube) invented Zworykin
1930 radar system demonstrated Blair
1931 Oscilloscope invented Allen DuMont
1934 Telecommunications Act of 1934
1937 Klystron tube developed
1939 Television broadcast by NBC
1941 FM broadcasting begins in United States
1942 Magnetic recording tape invented ENIAC electronic computer
1948 Transistor developed at Bell Labs
1951 UNIVAC 1 computer introduced
1953 Early laser demonstrated Zeigler
1955 Varactor diode developed
1956 Electronic movie camera (Bell and Howell)
1957 Sputnik satellite launched (Russian)
1958 Integrated circuit developed Stereo broadcasting
1962 Light-emitting diode (LED) introduced Telstar communication satellite
1963 Commercial mini-computer
1966 Magnetic bubble memory developed Andrew Bobeck
1970 Arpanet introduced (early version of Internet) VP Algore
1971 Microprocessor developed Hand-held calculator introduced
1975 Home video tape recorder introduced
1977 Fiber optic communications for regular telephone service
1996 Telecommunications Act of 1996 established
1999 RF Cafe established Kirt Blattenberger

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Watch the video: A Look at a 1950s-era AM Radio Transmitter (May 2022).