Telephone answering and secretarial services
because every business needs an extra pair of hands
Interesting facts, trivia and history about telephones
- 1. One of the first answering machines was popular with Jews
- Valdemar Poulsen, the Danish telephone engineer and inventor, patented what he called a 'telegraphone' in 1898. The telegraphone was the first practical apparatus for magnetic sound recording and reproduction, and enabled telephone conversations to be recorded. This was followed by Willy Müller who invented the automatic answering machine in 1935. It was a three-foot-tall machine popular with Orthodox Jews who were forbidden to answer the phone on the Sabbath.
"Month after month, the little Bell Company lived from hand to mouth. No salaries were paid in full. Often, for weeks, they were not paid at all. In Watson's note-book there are such entries during this period as 'Lent Bell fifty cents,' 'Lent Hubbard twenty cents,' 'Bought one bottle beer - too bad can't have beer every day.'" - from The History of the Telephone by Herbert N. Casson.
- 2. The city of Hull is the only place in the UK not served by British Telecom
- Hull City Council was granted a licence to operate a municipal telephone system in the 1902, a role now fulfilled by Kingston Communications.
- 3. The automatic switchboard was inspired by undertaker rivalry
- Almon Strowger was an undertaker in Kansas City, USA, who suspected that he was losing business to a rival. The rival's wife worked as a telephone switchboard and he thought she was diverting calls to her husband. One morning his suspicions were founded as he read in the newspaper that a close friend had passed away and been buried by this rival. This was Almon's incentive to replace the human operators (who were not universally loved) with an automatic switchboard.
"I am often told that the telephone girls will be angry to me for robbing them of their occupations. In reply, I would say that all things will adjust themselves to the new order of change. ... The telephone girls replaced the messenger boy as this machine now displaces the telephone girls. Improvement will continue to the end of time, strike where they may."
The new system was described as "girl-less, cuss-less and wait-less".
- 4. Telephone wires were ranked according to how tasty they were to mice and rats
- "I remember setting up a little cage with a mouse in it, because I was familiar with the fact that mice would occasionally eat the wiring in this kind of equipment. So any kind of wire we were going to use, we put in the mouse cage and kept the mouse not too well fed, and would see if he'd try to eat the wire before we'd use that kind of wire in the machine." (Interview with the chief engineer of the ENIAC computer)
"AT&T did extensive testing of this sort for telephone components. I don't know when they started doing, but when I was at Bell Labs in 1982-83, there was a fenced off section of the grounds, kind of like a family garden, except instead of vegetables it contained telephone components, exposed to the elements. They apparently did this at other sites too." (source)
- 5. Telephone operators used to be young men
- But they were prone to prank calling and chatting up female callers... "In the first exchanges, boys were generally engaged as operators, but due to their inquisitive spirits, mischievous behaviour etc they did not give their best attention and girls began to replace boys in this role.."
"Remove the hand telephone from the hook and say 'Here is Main 297' (or
whatever your number may be). The party calling should say 'Here is main 298,' (or whatever the number may be). Much friction and annoyance will be avoided if this simple plan is carried out." - advice from the 1906 Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Company directory
- 6. "Ahoy" was the original telephone greeting
- Alexander Graham Bell suggested 'ahoy' (as used in ships), but was later superceded by Thomas Edison, who suggested 'hello' instead.
- 7. Mark Twain was one of the first to have a phone in his home
- There was no technology for timing calls in the early days of telephones, so the phone company used to charge a flat monthly rate for service
- 8. The concept of allocating telephone numbers to individual phone lines was invented by a doctor
- When a fever epidemic hit a small town in Massachusetts, the local doctor realised that relying on their local telephone operators was risky - what if they all fell sick at once? Their replacements wouldn't know the names of the townsfolk or how to direct emergency calls. The doctor came up with a solution - replace names with numbers, allowing the operator to connect without needing to know the exact name.
- 9. The 555 prefix is reserved for fictional US telephone numbers
- In the 1970s the various American phone companies requested that TV and film producers use the 555 prefix for fictional numbers to prevent genuine numbers from being accidentally used. This backfired slightly in the 1980s when a Gary Larson cartoon, depicting Satan's number as 555-1332, was reprinted in Australia where 555 is a genuine areacode. The owner of the number became the subject of harrassment and he later sued Gary Larson and his syndicate.
- 10. Computer pioneer Steve Wozniak managed to acquire the telephone number 888-8888...
- ...and later abandoned it due to the hundreds of mostly silent calls he was getting each day. Eventually he realised they were all children who had started playing with a telephone and dialed his number by mistake.
- 11. In 1884 New York City suffered a bad winter and some of the wooden poles that supported telephone and power cables crashed through private buildings.
- Later that year legislature was passed decreeing that all telephone cables should be relocated underground. This was initially ignored as the technology to insulate the cables did not yet exist, so Mayor Hugh P. Grant took matters into his own hands and led a team of axemen around the city cutting down the offending poles.
- 12. Britain's first mobile phone call was made twelve years later by the comedian Ernie Wise.
- It was made to Vodafone's head office in Newbury which at the time was situated over a curry house. At the time mobile phones were the size of a briefcase and cost £2000.
- 13. The origin of the phrase 'to put someone on hold' was Alexander Graham Bell handing over his telephone instrument to his partner Mr Watson and saying, "here, hold this".
"I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone." - Bjarne Stronstrup
- 14. The very first phone call was "Watson come here, I want you!"
- It was made on March 10 1876 in Boston, Massachusetts, between Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Thomas A. Watson.
- 15. NTL's customer service voicemail was hacked by a disgruntled customer
- After Ashley Gibbins was kept on phone for over an hour, he stumbled across a way of changing the automated message heard by incoming callers to "Hello, you are through to NTL customer services. We don't give a fuck about you, basically, and we are not going to handle any of your complaints. Just fuck off and leave us alone. Get a life." Guardian.co.uk
- 16. As a tribute to Alexander Graham Bell when he died in 1922, all the telephones stopped ringing for one full minute.
- On the day of Bell's funeral, the USA and Canada paid tribute to him by closing down their telephone systems for a minute's silence, affecting over 14 million telephones.
- 17. Thousands of people around the world collect antique phones and accessories
- Different types of collectible telephone include the ashtray, butterstamp, candlestick, eiffel tower, fatboy and the oilcan.
- 18. Johann Phillip Reis built a telephone-like device using a cork, a knitting needle, a sausage skin, and a piece of platinum
- It was incapable of conveying intelligible voices because the transmitter's diaphragm made intermittent contact with the electrical circuit, and reproducing speech requires continual contact. It was, however, capable of transmitting snatches of music and other sounds.
Alexander Graham Bell's phone was made out of a wooden stand, funnel, a cup of acid, and some copper wire.
- 19. The soundproof booth was invented by Alexander Graham Bell's assistant, to stop his landlady from eavesdropping on his conversations
- The first prototype was built in 1877 using bed blankets wrapped around a box. Some members of the public disliked the early models because the doors would get stuck, forcing them to fight their way out.
- 20. The first telephone answering service started in 1923
- Hello, Inc in Virginia, US, began under the name of Mrs Smith's Doctors Exchange. A bedridden Margaret Redmond Smith offered to answer calls for local doctors, and operated her business using an old French-style telephone mounted on a scissors-type extension near her bed. After her death in 1925, Margaret's son and his wife continued to operate the company. In 1933 they expanded to include commercial customers as well as medical clientele, in 1955 the business was moved from the Smiths' residence into downtown offices, and in the 1980s they moved to a fully computerized system.
- 21. The 'Special' Nokia tone for receiving SMS text messages is Morse code for 'SMS'
- Likewise, the 'Ascending' tone is Morse code for 'Connecting People,' (Nokia's slogan) and 'Standard' is Morse code for 'M' (Message).
- 22. The Nokia tune is based on a 1902 Spanish guitar melody
- It is a synthesized extract from a composition for solo guitar, Gran Vals, originally written and performed by the Spanish classical guitarist and composer Francisco Tárrega. You can hear it on the Wikipedia page.
- 23. In Milan, Italy, when an operator dialed a wrong number, the phone company fined the operator.
- And it was once a crime to be rude to a telephone operator in Prussia.
- 24. Alexander Graham Bell also invented the metal detector
- The device was quickly cobbled together in an attempt to find the bullet lodged inside U.S. President James Garfield. It worked perfectly in tests but failed to locate the assassin's bullet, either due to interference from metal bedsprings or because it was buried too deep inside his body.