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On February 14, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell filed for a patent on the telephone two hours before a rival inventor, Elisha Gray.  The new instrument was soon incorporated into the rapidly expanding world of American business, where the telephone eased distant communication by connecting offices throughout a building and with the outside world.  That change made it profitable to locate a business on the upper floors of the ever-taller skyscrapers of large cities.  At the same time, the invention necessitated additional space to house telephone switchboards and their operators, an occupation soon dominated by women.  By 1900, there were 1.3 million telephones in the United States; by 1920, the figure had risen to 13.3 million.

Valemar Pousen successfully applied recording technology to the telephone when he invented the first telephone answering machine in 1900.  A photograph and discussion of Pousen’s Telegraphone appeared in the July 1, 1905 issue of Harper’s Weekly.  (See the introduction and conclusion of the article.)  The answering machine recorded the varying magnetic fields of the sound on a wire, and the sounds could then be played back on the magnetized wire.  Other models were designed over the ensuing decades, the most notable being the Dictaphone in 1926, and were used primarily by physicians and salespeople.  The price tag remained high until the 1980s, when telephone answering machines first gained widespread popularity in the marketplace.

Harper's Weekly References

1) July 1, 1905, pp. 944-945
illustrated article, telautograph and telegraphone

2) July 1, 1905, p. 957, col. 1
continuation of illustrated article,
telautograph and telegraphone

Sources Consulted

“The History of Answering Machines.”  Inventors

Morton, D.  “The Answering Machine Industry Since Edison.”  The History of Sound Recording Technology, Research Computing Initiative, Rutgers University. and

Thomas J. Schlereth, Victorian America:  Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 (NY:  Harper Collins, 1991).






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