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Verizon’s Legacy of Innovation

by Employee ‎01-17-2013 09:24 AM - edited ‎01-18-2013 03:01 PM

            On Dec. 17, Verizon hosted a special event at its corporate headquarters in Basking Ridge called “Legacy of Innovation: A Celebration of Our History,” where Verizon employees and retirees gathered to celebrate the long history of Verizon telecommunications. Verizon veterans and historians brought historic industry artifacts including iconic wireline and wireless phones, an operator switchboard, a teletype machine, a digital base station, and even copper cable samples taken from the New York City vault that were destroyed after Hurricane Sandy. Throughout this month, I will be writing about the evolution of telecommunications and different telephony artifacts and the stories behind them that make up the rich history of Verizon, dating all the way back to 1876 with Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone.




            In the late 1800s, increased travel at greater distances created the need for faster and more efficient communication technology. Horse and letter was soon replaced by telegraph via the railroad; the iron horse could outrun in both distance and speed the pony express. However, the telegraph was limited in that it required fluency in Morse code and the physical presence of operators to send and receive messages. This ultimately led to the invention of sending human voice over wire, also known as the telephone.




           Alexander Graham Bell had his father and grandfather to thank for being an expert in sound. Both men worked with people with hearing and speech difficulties and taught Bell to understand how the voice box produced sound and how the ear responded to sound waves. Just as there was a race in the world in the late 1900s to send man to the moon, there was also a race to develop the technology to take the human voice and transmit it over wire. To do so, Bell required an expert in electromagnetics, leading him to hire Thomas A. Watson. With Watson’s knowledge of electricity and Bell’s knowledge of sound, they were the first to successfully develop the telephone.




            The early telephones were crudely made.  Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and Alexander Graham Bell were among inventors who engineered things using readily available natural materials, which is why many early phones, such as the crank phone, were made of wood. Bell eventually progressed to a point where no new progress could be made until he had improved materials. This led to the telecommunications era of phones made of metal and other synthetic man-made materials: from the iconic candlestick phones of the early 1900s all the way up to the iPhone 5s of today. 


A big thank you to Virginia Telephone Museum Historian Curtis Anderson for sharing your wealth of knowledge on telephony with me.   


Author's note: Many of the telephones at this event were reproductions and not originals.

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