Alexander Graham Bell was always interested in sound – his mother and wife had hearing problems and his father was responsible for the first international phonetic alphabet. While in his teens he realised that a chord played on one piano would echo on a second piano in the same room due to the sound vibrating through the air. Thinking these vibrations could be used to send more than one telegraph message at the same time, he realised they might also be used to transmit human speech. Bell's version of the telephone received a patent in 1876. When he tested it five days later with the line, ‘Mr Watson, come here, I want you,’ he was 29 years old and Mr Watson was 22.
An earlier version of the telephone had been registered by an Italian-American named Antonio Meucci. He called his device the teletrofono and used it to talk to his bedridden wife while he was working in a different room. He filed a caveat (a kind of stopgap patent) in 1871, five years before Bell's telephone patent, but couldn't afford to renew it. When Bell's patent was registered in 1876, Meucci sued. He'd sent his original sketches and working models to the lab at Western Union where Bell worked. Meucci died in 1889, while his case against Bell was still under way. As a result, it was Bell, not Meucci, who got the credit for the invention. And he only managed that by a few hours; American inventor Elisha Gray was also developing a system to transmit the human voice and filed his patent on the same day. Gray's patent was the 29th to be recorded on February 14 1876; Bell's was number five.
The telephone is a good way to talk to people without having to offer them a drink.
A ton of mobile phones contains more gold than a ton of ore from a gold mine.
The very first phone book was a single sheet, issued in New Haven, Connecticut, in February 1878. No copies are known to have survived. The oldest existing phone book dates from later in the same year. It was 20 pages long and contained the names of the 391 subscribers in New Haven but not their phone numbers. To contact somebody you had to ring the operator and ask to be put through. Christie's auctioned the book in 2008 – it went for $170,500.
La Porte, Indiana, was the first town to abandon the staffed telephone exchange. Residents could simply enter the number they desired and be connected. The new development didn't go down well as it was thought that typing out numbers would be too time consuming. There used to be a height requirement for switchboard operators (5ft 3in), to ensure they could reach the top of the board.
Buckingham Palace used to be listed in phone books as Victoria 6913.
In Britain, 885,000 mobile phones are flushed down toilets each year.
The first mobiles had to be charged for 10 hours to give 30 minutes of battery life.
Americans tie up 911 phone lines when testing out their new phones on Christmas Day. By US law, 911 has to work even on phones not signed up to a service provider, so it's is likely to be the only number that will work on a brand new phone.
911 didn't go nationwide in the US until 1999. Some people used to call it ‘nine-eleven’ but that usage has disappeared since the World Trade Center disaster. 112 is now a pan-European number which works in the UK the same way as 999 does.
President Rutherford B. Hayes’ telephone number was 1.
In the early 90s, the people of the Pacific island of Niue were constantly woken in the middle of the night by heavy breathers. The country was the home of an extremely lucrative sex-line business, but people who used it often dialled the wrong number.
In 1990, there were only 387 telephones on the island but, seven years later, Niuewians were getting tens of thousands of calls a week from abroad, and had many more phone lines than people. Because Niue is so small and their phone numbers only had four digits, people didn't always realise they were calling an international number.
When sex-lines were banned in Belgium, companies responded by making cookery lines which read out recipes in the most sexual way possible. Recipes would involve a banana and a pair of pink knickers...
46-771-793-336 is the 'Swedish Number'. It was a scheme set up by the country's tourism authority to celebrate 250 years of free speech. Anybody can dial the number and speak to a 'random Swede' - volunteers who are happy to speak to anyone from anywhere in the world.
Topics of conversation suggested by the organisers include the northern lights, hiking, gay rights and darkness.
68% of mobile phone owners experience ‘phantom vibration syndrome’; they sometimes feel their phone vibrating when it isn’t.
NOMOPHOBIA - the anxiety caused by not having your mobile phone with you.