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Antique Communications Equipment

Antique Communications Equipment

This exhibit traces the development of technologies used by offices for two purposes, communications within an office or office building, and communications between an office building and the outside world. It is reasonable to assume that, before our story begins in the mid-1800s, office boys and messengers were used for both types of communication. The technologies discussed here were revolutionary for their times, just as CMMS software is today. CMMS is used in a variety of facilities for equipment maintenance management.  

Communications Within a Company

In 1884, it was reported that at the Boston Herald, "electric call-bells, speaking tubes, and pneumatic tubes furnish means of communication with all the departments." (The Bay State Monthly, Oct. 1884, p. 32). This brief statement accurately describes the state of interoffice communications technology at that time.

Speaking Tubes

"Two persons standing at each end of a simple tin pipe, 1 inch in diameter, 50 to 100 feet or more long, with several elbows in it, and carried through a half a dozen rooms, can still converse quite readily in a low voice." (Manufacturer and Builder, Mar. 1872, p. 67)

Insofar as we have been able to determine, experiments with the use of pipes and tubes to carry acoustic messages occurred during the early 19th century, and speaking tubes were installed in some large residences by the later 1830s. These early developments took place in Europe.  "In 1824, M. Biot made a number of experiments in Paris by transmitting sound through long tubes of 1,039 yards and heard whispers at that distance." (Scientific American, Jan. 27, 1849)  In 1839, in a scene set in a large Englsih residence, Charles Dickens wrote that "the voice of  Madame Mantalini, conveyed through the speaking tube, ordered Miss Nickleby up stairs." (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Chap. 21.)  A speaking tube also appears in a story published by a different author three years later.  ("The King's Bride," The Boston Miscellany of Literature and Fashion, Apr. 1, 1842.) A description of a mansion being constructed in London in 1849 reported that it was equipped with speaking tubes. (The Albion, Nov. 17, 1849)  And Scientific American (Jan. 27, 1849) declared that "It is not a chimerical scheme by any means but one which sooner or later will be adopted on a small scale in every factory, foundry and public building."  Beginning in 1851, we have found a number of references to speaking tubes in hospitals. 

Also in 1851, speaking tubes were exhibited at the London Exposition.  In a review of items exhibited, Granville Sharp wrote that "Among the most useful means of saving unnecessary labor in offices may be placed the speaking tubes by which messages may be sent from room to room. Gutta percha is a most desirable substance for the tubing, as it possesses a remarkable sound-transmitting quality; and speaking-tubes are made by the Gutta Percha Company. The manner of calling attention to the pipe is by blowing into the whistle at one end, when the sound is immediately transmitted to the other, and conversation may be commenced.  Perhaps these tubes might form a most useful means of communication between the board room and the several offices in the bank, as well as from the counter to the ledger office, by which any inquiry might be immediately answered."

During the second half of the nineteenth century, speaking tubes were commonly installed in the walls of mansions, office buildings, ships, and other structures to enable people in different rooms to speak with each other. In some cases, only a mouth-piece was visible, while in other cases a piece of flexible tube extended into the room. Early systems contained whistles, so that a person could alert someone in another room that they were wanted on the speaking tube. (Scientific American, May 29, 1852, p. 292) Later systems incorporated electric call bells that could be used for the same purpose. In 1860, offices at the New York telegraph building were connected by speaking tubes. (Scientific American, June 8, 1860, p. 372) In 1876, the new Post Office building in New York City had eight miles of speaking tubes. (Manufacturer and Builder, Dec. 1876, p. 272)  The catalog of the Fourteenth Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanical Association, Boston, Mass, 1881, p. 195, reports that Seth W. Fuller of Boston exhibited speaking tubes and annunciators.  

1881-1884_New_York_Produce_Exchange.jpg (171311 bytes)American Counting-Room, An Illustrated Monthly Magazine (June-Dec. 1883, p. 6), carried an article on the new New York Produce Exchange building, shown in the 1883 image to the left.  The article stated that a "comprehensive system of speaking-tubes is being put into the building, by which it will be possible for any office in the building to communicate with the main office. In the main office, or Exchange Room [also known as the Main Hall or Exchange Hall], the mouths of the several speaking-tubes are formed into banks, and the peculiar mechanism of the system is such that one of five mouthpieces may be made to connect with any one of twenty-five offices."  The 1884 Prospectus of the Bryant & Stratton Commercial School, Boston, MA, states "The Principal's private study is connected with all the school-rooms by a system of electric signals and speaking-tubes, by which he is enabled to direct all the exercises of the school, if necessary, without leaving his room."  

We have found three photographs of offices with speaking tubes, all of which,  are shown to the right. In the middle photograph, four speaking tubes are visible at the front left.  In the bottom photograph, a button that operated an electric call bell is visible below the mouth-piece of each speaking tube on the pillar on the right side of the photo.

1895_Office_with_Speaking_Tube_Abbott_Check_Perforator_OM.jpg (230433 bytes)
Office of Roberts Hardware Co., Denver, CO, 1895. On the side of the roll-top desk is a flexible speaking tube that connects to a tube in the wall.

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Office with speaking tubes (along desk, front left), 1903.  A cropped version of this photograph is posted in Wikipedia without the permission of, or a credit to, the Early Office Museum, which owns this photograph.
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Counting Room, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, MA, 1896-1905.  Courtesy of Cambridge Historical Commission.  See P. A. Rodgers et al., A Photographic History of Cambridge, 1984, p. 77.

Call Bells and Annunciators

Around 1850, some large homes had mechanical call bell systems that connected various room with the kitchen so that servants could be summoned. We do not know whether such systems were used in offices.

In 1876, the new Post Office building in New York City had battery-powered annuciators in 75 offices connected by two miles of conducting wire. By tapping a knob on an annuciator, a person could summon someone from one of the other offices. (Manufacturer and Builder, Dec. 1876, p. 272)

Electric_bell.jpg (42003 bytes)

Pneumatic Tubes

In 1881, pneumatic tubes carried cash and receipts between sales counters and the central cashier at the John Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia (Manufacturer and Builder, Jan. 1881, p. 20) and documents among offices in the London Times building (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Nov. 1881, p. 843).  In 1896, pneumatic tubes were used at the New York Postal Telegraph to transport written telegrams between the main telegraph office and the room where the telegraph operators worked. (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Oct. 1896, p. 734) 

During 1898-1906, Lamson Consolidated Store Service Co. advertised a foot power pneumatic tube system for transmission of papers between offices within a building. Lamson's 1898 brochure included photographs of one of its pneumatic tube systems at the Boston Journal. A 1906 Lamson ad stated: "Pressure of the foot gives quick service between floors or departments, or between office and shipping room."

In 1906, a considerably larger Lamson pneumatic tube system was operating in the Chicago post office building, "connecting all the offices of the postal department as well as the other federal officials who are located there, with the central receiving and sending station on the main floor of the post office. This local system comprises 16 lines of four-inch brass tubing, requiring more than two miles of tubing altogether. Cartridges fly through these tubes at the rate of 30 miles an hour. This system is used for intercommunication between offices and for delivery to the post office." (The Business Man's Magazine, 1906)

Automatic messenger systems, such as Lamson Mechanical Messengers, were used in offices to carry documents and other light articles. (Lawrence R. Dicksee, Office Machinery and Appliances, London, 1916-18, p. 10)

Lamson_carrier.jpg (31084 bytes) Lamson_carrier_2.jpg (123674 bytes)  Basket_Lamson_Consolidated_Store_Service_Corp_Boston.jpg (125639 bytes)
Lamson mechanical messenger system, Lamson Consolidated Store Service Corp., Boston, MA

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Main Operating Room of the Western Union, New York, Scribner's Magazine, July 1889.  
Image shows the pneumatic tube system for transmitting messages to and from city stations, and 
the mechanical messenger system for collecting from and distributing to the 600 operators in the room.

According to a 1937 text, "Pneumatic tube conveyors are used quite extensively in modern office buildings. Large elliptical pneumatic tubes are used for the distribution of mail, while 1 1/4 inch 'baby tubes' may be used to transport small papers. Belt conveyors are often used to carry papers, while basket conveyors and dumb-waiters quickly carry more bulky material up and down through the floors of the building." (John S. MacDonald, Office Management, 1937, pp. 85-86)

Click on this link to the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Historical Image, No. 13866, for a photograph of the pneumatic tube system in the State Capitol Annex, Madison, WI, 1942.

For additional information about and photographs of pneumatic tube systems and mechanical messenger systems, see The Cash Railway Website.

Image W coming
Lamson Foot Power Pneumatic Carrier, 1898

Click on the link to the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Historical Image, No. 24438, for a photograph of the Pneumatic Tube Terminal at the Milwaukee Electric, Railway, and Light Co., Milwaukee, WI, c. 1910 (not c. 1890) 

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Lamson pneumatic tube equipment. Cartridge is inserted into hole front center. Red end of delivered cartridge is visible front left. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

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Lamson pneumatic tube cartridges


Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated a telephone at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The first telephones were point-to-point systems, and Yates reports that "early installations of point-to-point telephones often linked the office and factory of a single firm....Beginning in the 1890s, private branch exchanges were widely adopted to link many locations within large facilities." (JoAnne Yates, Control through Communication, 1989, p. 21)

More information on early telephones is provided below.

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Bell Telephone, 1876
 National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
1876 Bell Telephone
1876 Bell Transmitter Telephone (Replica)

Acoustic Telephone
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Holcolm's Acoustic Telephone, 1879 ad

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Holcolm's Acoustic Private-Line Telephone, J.R. Holcomb & Co., Cleveland, OH, patented 1878

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Kellogg Intercom Phone, Stromberg-Carlson Mfg. Co.,
Rochester, NY, patented 1894

Intercommunicating Telephone System (Intercom)

The Kellogg intercom phone pictured above was patented in 1894.  The Simplex Interior Telephone Co. offered intercommunicating equipment in 1896, and offered the model pictured to the right in 1900.
  The Electric Utilities Co. advertised the Metaphone intercommunicating system in 1905.   "How would you like to simply put out your hand, unhook a small device, and be in instant communication with [someone in your company]?  The Metaphone enables you to do this.  It is a transmitter and receiver mounted on opposite ends of a small metal handle.  It requires only the current necessary to ring an electric bell."  The devices could be connected in a network, so that any two could communicate without a central switchboard, or radially, in which case only the central station could communicate with the others.

Intercommunicating telephone systems similar to the DeVeau and Stromberg-Carlson pictured below and the Lennox pictured to the right were advertised in 1905 and the following years by several additional companies, including Electric Goods Mfg. Co. (1908-10) and Western Electric Co. (1908-14). One ad stated: "No operator is required. Simply pressing a button calls the desired person and you talk."  A 1912 advertisement for the Dictograph-Turner telephone system stated "no switchboard, no operator, no waiting."  With that system, a user had a choice between listening with a handset or a loudspeaker in the desktop console.

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DeVeau Intercom, patented 1899-1905

1905_Intercom_Stromberg-Carlson_Telephone_Mfg_Co._Rochester_NY_Beach.jpg (79558 bytes)   1905_Intercom_Stromberg-Carlson_Telephone_Mfg_Co._Rochester_NY_Beach_v.jpg (67149 bytes)  
Stromberg-Carlson Intercommunicating Telephone System, 1905.

1907_Dictating_to_Stenographers_in_a_Distant_Room_using_Dictograph.jpg (307414 bytes)1907_Dictograph_system_diagram.jpg (80479 bytes)The image to the left shows drawings of a 1907 Dictograph Master System and Sub-Station. The image to the right shows a man dictating while his voice is transmitted from the Dictograph Master Station on his desk to a Sub-Station on a stenographer's desk in another room. (General Acoustic Co., The Dictograph and What It Does,  1907). 

1919_Dictograph__Standard_Intercom_Substation._30.jpg (253522 bytes)  1934_Dictograph_Staff_Station_advertised_1934-40.jpg (214681 bytes)  1940_Dictograph_Executive_Station.jpg (244241 bytes)  Three Dictograph systems, 1919, 1934-40, and 1940.

A 1937 text states: "The Dictograph is frequently used, particularly in large organizations where a supplementary inter-communicating system which provides direct connection between a relatively small number of individuals, often officers and chief executives, is desired. The receiver and mouthpiece are similar in appearance to the hand telephone. Connection is made by the person calling simply by depressing a small key, which is marked to indicate a particular individual." (John S. MacDonald, Office Management, 1937, pp. 87-88, showing a unit similar to that in the lowest photograph to the right)

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Simplex Interior Telephone Co., 1900

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Metaphone, advertised 1905

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The General Telephone Co intercom, parts patented 1897

1910_Lenox_Intercommunicating_Telephone_Electric_Goods_Mfg_Co_Canton_MA.jpg (40106 bytes)

Lennox Intercommunicating Telephone, Electric Goods Mfg. Co, Canton, MA, 1910





1907_1913_Intercom_Dictograph_Products_Company_Inc_NY_1.jpg (23078 bytes)
Dictograph Products Co., NY, NY.

Communications With Parties Outside the Company  
Postal Service

Click here to go to the Early Office Museum's Mail Room Equipment Exhibit

The transmitting device in a Morse telegraph system was a key, which the operator used to close and open an electric circuit following a code consisting of dots and dashes.  The receiving device included a pencil that wrote the dots and dashes on paper tape, and then a sounder, which converted electric impulses into noises that were transcribed by telegraph workers. On long lines, a relay with a local battery was used to move the lever of the sounder with greater force, making the sounds more audible.  In a Callard battery, zinc was located above copper in jars filled with a solution of blue vitrol in water and connected in series.

Detail from "Men of Progress," painted by Christian Schussele, 1862, showing Samuel Morse (right foreground) and early Morse Recording Register.  The photo on the right shows that early Morse Recording Register.
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

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Morse telegraph equipment used by students at the Eastman Business College, 1862.  
From the 1862 college catalog.  
Courtesy of Jim Drummond.

According to an account by Robert Sobel:  "In 1832 Samuel F. B. Morse developed the first practical [electric wireline] telegraph. He hoped to interest businessmen in his scheme of linking large cities by telegraph, but for ten years he attracted little attention. In 1844 he built the first land telegraph, a line which ran between Baltimore and Washington. Business finally awoke to the potential of such devices, and the Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed in 1844 to operate a line from New York to Philadelphia. [W]ithin two years Magnetic Telegraph showed a profit. By the mid-1850s there were over fifty telegraph companies in operation; in 1856 Western Union was formed, and began absorbing smaller firms." (The Big Board, 1965, pp. 52-53) 

Yates (pp. 23-24) reports that in 1851 "The New York and Erie Railroad was the first line to initiate regular telegraphic control of train movement, called dispatching....Dispatching was a specialized railroad function, but the telegraph could also be used for more generic managerial functions.  Once again, the Erie Railroad led the way, this time under the general superintendency of Daniel McCallum. As his 1856 Superintendent's Report explained, hourly telegraphic reports were a key element of the system he designed to control and evaluate performance." Other railroads did not routinely use the telegraph for dispatching or managerial control until the 1860s. Yates (pp. 118-19) reports that "After 1863, the [Illinois Central] Railroad regularly used telegraphic dispatching to handle schedule disruptions" and "the telegraph was also used to speed routine reporting along the road and, to a lesser extent, to New York." 

In 1855, the Du Pont black powder manufacturing company installed a private telegraph line connecting its Brandywine offices to the telegraph office in Wilmington, DE. (Yates, p. 207)  During the administration of President Hayes (1877-1881), according to a recent report the "White House ignored the newly invented typewriter, and although it boasted a telephone, there were so few elsewhere that it was seldom used.  The center of communications in the White House was its busy telegraph office."  (Ari Hoogenboom, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, 1988, p. 58) After railroads, the leading meat-packing companies, Swift and Armour, were early users of the telegraph. Beginning in the 1880s, these companies slaughtered cattle in the midwest and shipped beef east to markets in refrigerated railroad cars. (Yates, pp. 24-25)

In 1861 transcontinental telegraph wires connected the eastern US with California, and in 1866 a transatlantic telegraph cable running between Canada and Ireland permanently connected telegraph systems in North America with those in Europe. An earlier transatlantic cable worked for a few weeks during 1858 but then went dead.

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Key, 1883

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Sounder, 1883

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Sounder & Key, 1883

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Relay, 1883

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Callard Battery, 1883

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Sounder, 1900

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Key, Germany

1875_Telegraph_Sounder__Camelback_Key_L.G._TILLOTSON__CO_NY.jpg (68969 bytes)
Sounder & Camelback Key, 
L. G. Tillotson & Co., 
New York

1859_George_Phelps_printing_telegraph_patent_model_NMAH_Smithsonian_OM.jpg (23244 bytes) Printing Telegraph, George Phelps, patent model, 1859, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

1877_Phelps_Electro-Motor_Printing_Telegraph_Sci_Amer_OM.jpg (66625 bytes) Phelps Electro-Motor Printing Telegraph, Scientific American, 1877 

1891_Essick_Typewriter_ad.jpg (110698 bytes) Essick Telegraph, National Print. Tel. & Co., 1891 ad
Telegraphing Typewriters

G. W. Mares, The History of the Typewriter, 1909, Ch. 12, discusses the early history of typewriters that were designed to transmit telegraphic messages. Printing telegraphs from 1859 to 1945 are shown in images to the right.

An 1892 publication reports that "the Essick telegraph system, which S. V. Essick patented in 1883, is now being used successfully in all parts of the world. Stock companies are being formed in many places with vast capital for the purpose of operating this system of telegraphy." (Portrait and Biographical Record, Stark County, 1892.)  Mares (1909, pp. 301-02) reports that Essick systems were being used to send financial and other news from a central bureau to machines located elsewhere in the same city.

Ilion 1852-1952
reports that the Yetman Transmitting Typewriter was manufactured at Ilion, NY, "for several years - 1890's -1906." See illustration to the right. Mares (1909, p. 310) reports that the Yetman was introduced in 1903 and that production ceased by 1909. By moving levers, the Yetman's keyboard could be connected to the typing mechanism, the telegraph transmitter, or both simultaneously. For further information and photographs, visit The Classic Typewriter Page

To the right is an image of the Burlingame Telegraphing Typewriter (1908) with a standard typewriter mounted on top. An operator typed a message on the standard typewriter, producing a typed record of the message. At the same time, as each key was depressed, the Burlingame device sent electrical impulses to a remote receiving Burlingame device equipped with a typewriter, which typed the same message. The electrical impulses could be sent over wires or without wires. Company stock certificates are decorated with an illustration of ship-to-shore communication. During 1908-09, the Burlingame Telegraphing Typewriter Co. produced demonstration machines and set up a factory. In an effort to raise equity capital, employees, including George C. Clark, "demonstrated the Burlingame telegraph on road trips for about a year in 1908 and 1909. No one seems to know for certain what happened to the company, but I suspect it was lack of money to continue. The sales crews did not sell anywhere near the amount of stock [certificates] that they had planned to." (Information courtesy of Clark Family Research and George C. Clark: Burlingame Telegraphing Typewriter Company, 1908-1909, A description of life on the road demonstrating the Burlingame Telegraphing Typewriter, Clark Family Research (333 Avenue B, Lakeport, CA 95453), 2003.) According to Adler (1997, p. 89), the machine did not go into commercial production.

 Telautoprint_1.jpg (51702 bytes)          Wireless_Printing_Telegraph.jpg (88195 bytes)          Telautoprint_4.jpg (34097 bytes)


A 1937 text states: "Many companies which have a number of branch offices located in different parts of the country use the teletypewriter service provided by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company through the associated companies of the Bell Telephone System. The system provides for the installation of machines, similar to typewriters, at each point, all being connected by wire with the headquarters. Sales orders, memoranda, or anything that can be written on the ordinary typewriter can be transmitted between the home office and the branches." (John S. MacDonald, Office Management, 1937, p. 86)

Teletype_Model_15_front.jpg (171294 bytes) Teletype Model 15

Man_Repairing_Teletype_Machine_OM.com_0908c12.jpg (527113 bytes) Man next to a teletype machine repairing a second teletype machine

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Typewriter Telegraph, Scientific American, Jan. 19, 1895

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Yetman Transmitting Typewriter
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology

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Stearns Visible Typewriter mounted on a Burlingame Telegraphing Typewriter, 1908-09

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American Keyboard Transmitter, American Transmitter & Mfg. Co. This transmitter, which was advertised in 1910, sent Morse code.

MBHT_1915_Pierson_Telegraph_Transmitter.jpg (128075 bytes)
Pierson Telegraphic Transmitter, 1915 ad
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology

Edward_Kleinschmidt_printing_telegraph_punched_code_on_tape_NMAH_Smithsonian_OM.jpg (36055 bytes)
Printing Telegraph that punched code on tape, Edward Kleinschmidt, c. 1915, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

1939_Sending_a_telegram_on_multiplex_machine_Can_NatTelegraph_Can_Sci__Tech_Museum_CN000701.jpg (41992 bytes)
Sending a telegram on a multiplex machine, Canadian National Telegraph. 
Canadian Science & Technology Museum, CN000701

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Telegraph Office, possibly 1945

Office_Military_Teletype_Machines.jpg (147648 bytes)
U.S. Military Office with Teletype Machines, probably 1940s.


A ticker system uses telegraph technology to distribute stock and commodity quotations as well as related financial news to subscribers, including particularly brokerage houses.  The first ticker system was patented by E. A. Calahan in 1867.  The Gold and Stock Telegraph Co. began using Calahan tickers to report New York Stock Exchange transactions to brokerage houses on Nov. 15, 1867.  According to Robert Sobel, "The tickers sent out prices from the floors of both the [New York Stock] Exchange and the Open Board to brokerages for a fee of $6.00 a week.  The machine caught on immediately....Soon every major house had its crude battery-operated machine." (The Big Board, 1965, pp. 86-87.)  During 1869-1873, Thomas A. Edison made a number of improvements to stock ticker technology for the Gold and Stock Telegraph Co. and for the Western Union Telegraph Co.  Edison's Universal stock printer became the industry standard.

A ticker system consisted of transmitters and tickers. As of 1883, quotations were sent using a 1883_Office_with_Tickers.jpg (178665 bytes)transmitter, "the keyboard 1889_Sending_Coffee_Quotations_over_Ticker_System_Scribners_OM.JPG (298167 bytes) of which has much the same appearance as the keyboard of a piano, the black keys representing letters and the white keys figures and fractions."  A transmitter of this type is pictured in the 1889 illustration to the left ("Sending Messages over Ticker System," Scribner's Magazine, July 1889) When an operator struck a key on the transmitter, one of two small wheels (one for letters, the other for numbers) in each connected ticker revolved until the desired letter or figure came into position to print on a paper tape that passed through the device.  To the right is an 1883 illustration of a broker's office with two tickers.

According to an 1883 report, "At present the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company has about 1,000 instruments [tickers] in operation in the various brokers' and bankers' offices, the leading hotels and other places of resort by speculators, all of which furnish only the sales and quotations of the Stock [New York] Exchange.  The Commercial Company has several hundred tickers in operation.  It has been in business only a short time and the number is rapidly increasing.  The Gold and Stock Company also operates about 300 instruments, which give quotations of cotton and petroleum and of mining stocks, and about 300 more which furnish financial news, miscellaneous quotations and other matters of interest on Wall Street." (G. L. Howe & O. M. Powers, The Secrets of Success in Business, 1883)



Callahans_Stock_Ticker_in_1905_book.jpg (34373 bytes)
Calahan's Stock Ticker
Stock_Ticker_ENHS_33000021.jpg (54174 bytes)
Courtesy Edison National Historic Site
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Edison Stock Ticker, 
Model 35-A
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Western Union Universal Stock Ticker


Telephone exchanges were invented in 1877-78.  

The world's first commercial telephone system, the Connecticut District Telephone Co., opened in Jan. 1878.  Its Nov. 1878 directory lists 391 subscribers, who paid $22 a year each.  Users needed to transfer the telephone between their mouths and ears, and "were limited to three minutes a call and no more than two calls an hour without permission from the central office."  The system was a single party line, that is, only one call could be made at a time, and any subscriber who picked up a phone could listen in.  (New York Times, June 10, 2008, p. D3, discussing a forthcoming Christie's auction at which a copy of the telephone directory was to be sold.)

A telephone was installed on the New York Stock Exchange trading floor on Nov. 13, 1878. 

Telephones that had handsets one end of which was placed against an ear, the other end of which was placed close to the mouth, and that rested horizontally in a cradle when not in use, were introduced in the U.S. in 1928.

1882_Telephone_adx.jpg (47369 bytes)   American Bell Telephone Co. ad, 1882                                 Wall_telephone.jpg (67187 bytes)  Telephone_OM.jpg (48696 bytes)   Wall telephones                         

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Telephone switchboard ad, 1904

1912_Man_with_Candlestick_Phone.jpg (172782 bytes)   Man with Two Candlestick Telephones, 1912.

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Stromberg-Carlson Candlestick Telephone, patented 1895-96

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Strowger Pot Belly Telephone, Automatic Electric Co., Chicago, IL, 1905

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Chicago No. 2 Bell with Blake Transmitter, 1882, American Bell Telephone Co., manufactured by Western Electric Co.  Courtesy of Tom Adams.

Telautograph -- A system to transmit handwriting by wire -- also used within companies

Telegraphs using Morse code or typewriters could not transmit handwriting, including signatures, or drawings. Telautographs were designed to fill that gap. After attempts by a number of inventors, in 1887-88 Elisha Gray invented what became the first commercially successful telautograph. The Gray National Telautograph Co. was founded in 1888, and its products based on Gray's patent were introduced to the market in 1893.  The first commercial units were installed at the American Bank Note Co. The telautograph was refined during 1893 and 1900, and the improvement designed in 1900 was marketed for several decades. 

According to a 1893 description of the Gray Telautograph, "In transmitting a message, drawing, sketch, or whatever may be desired, the sender takes an ordinary lead pencil and writes or draws his message with it on a sheet of paper, and simultaneously another pencil at the receiving end of the line reproduces every movement of the sender's pencil on a similar sheet of paper. The receiving pencil is actuated entirely by automatic electric mechanism, and is not touched by the human hand. The result is a fac-simile in every detail of the letters of the message or lines of the drawing sent from the transmitting station." (Manufacturer and Builder, April 1893, p. 76.  This article includes illustrations of the first three models of the telautograph.)  Messages were transmitted over two-wire circuits such as telegraph wires. Apparently early telautographs did not work well for transmission over long distances and as a result were used primarily within metropolitan areas.

An 1893 catalog for the Gray National Telautograph Co. described the transmitter as follows: "An ordinary lead pencil is used, near the point of which two silk cords are fastened at right angles to each other. These cords connect with the instrument, and, following the motions of the pencil, regulate the current impulses which control the receiving pen at the distant station. The writing is done on ordinary paper five inches wide." The receiver was described as follows: "The receiving pen is a capillary glass tube placed at the junction of two aluminium arms. This glass pen is supplied with ink which flows from a reservoir through a small rubber tube placed in one of the arms.  The electrical impulses coming over the wire move the pen of the receiver simultaneously with the movement of the pencil in the hand of the sender. As the pen passes over the paper, an ink tracing is left, which is always a fac-simile of the sender's motions."

The Gray National Telautograph Co. was still operating in 1905.  A 1905 article states that "the telautograph did not come into extensive general use until quite recently.  Business people did not begin to take real hold of it till the middle of 1903." The article continues: "the leading banks and trust companies of New York, Boston and Philadelphia have adopted it.  In some large banks it is used as an intercommunicating system connecting the various departments.  The advantage of the telautograph system in banks lies largely in the value of the records kept of communications.  The big insurance companies have also adopted the telautograph.  Up to the present these have found it most useful for communications between their policy loan department  and the index room where the records of policies are kept on file.  Several Wall Street firms have installed the machine in the place and stead of messenger boys for service between their offices and those of the telegraph and cable companies. (H. V. Ross, "Commercial Use of the Telautograph," The Business Man's Magazine and The Book-Keeper, May 1905.  This article includes an illustration of a 1905 model telautograph.)  

According to another report in 1905, an "interesting instrument that one finds in an up-to-date electrically equipped office is the telautograph, which automatically reproduces handwriting in facsimile at a point more or less distant. Where it is necessary to give exact information to a number of persons simultaneously and have the same a matter of record, this instrument is very convenient. For example, a train-dispatcher can announce the movements of trains to a number of officials stationed at different points by simply writing a single message. The device is also employed by newspapers and other concerns for writing bulletins. When used in a bank the cashier or teller may inquire from the bookkeeper as to the amount of balance or other particulars of a customer's account, the message and the answer being noiselessly received." (Harper's Weekly, July 1, 1905. This article includes a photograph of a 1905 model Telautograph.)

A 1937 text states: "The Telautograph is used rather extensively for transmitting written messages between offices.  Messages are written in longhand with a special pen. The writing is then reproduced in exactly the same way, usually on a roll of paper, at the receiving station." (John S. MacDonald, Office Management, 1937, p. 86)  In the 1940s, Telautograph marketed an improved model under the Telescriber name.

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Transmitter, Gray National Telautograph Co., NY, NY, 1893

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Receiver, Gray National Telautograph Co., NY, NY, 1893

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MBHT_1927_Telautograph.jpg (119776 bytes)
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology

Telegraphones -- Telephone recording machines

According to an 1889 report, Malone Wheless invented a telegraphone that recorded telephone messages, but we have found no evidence that this device was manufactured commercially. (The Phonographic World, Oct. 1889, p. 44)

In 1898, Valdemar Poulsen, a Dane, obtained the first patent for electromagnetic sound recording.  In 1900, he demonstrated a telegraphone based on his patent.  The U.S. rights were purchased by the American Telegraphone Co. in 1903. This company was still in business in 1923.

The telegraphone could record sound from live dictation or from a telephone line and could play back the recording through a speaker or over a telephone line.  As a result, it could be used (a) to record dictation to be played back to a stenographer on the same machine or to be sent to a stenographer over a telephone line; (b) to record a two-way telephone conversation; (c) to record telephone messages when no one was available to answer the phone; and (d) to send a pre-recorded message over the telephone to multiple receipt points.

There were two types of telegraphone as of 1905. One type recorded magnetically on a steel wire and the other magnetically on a steel disc.  The wire telegraphone "contains about two miles of fine (.01 inch in diameter) steel wire, which is sufficient for about a half-hour's conversation, but at any time a message or all messages may be effectively effaced at will, when the apparatus is ready for new records."  It has recently been reported that "the most successful of the early office dictation Telegraphones was the Model C [produced in 1911], with horizontally-mounted spools for better wire control" (in contrast to the earlier 1905 model top right, which had vertically-mounted spools). (Pavek Museum of Broadcasting)

In the case of a disk telegraphone, "the record is made on a thin metal disc.  The record is quite permanent, and can be removed only by a strong magnet, which, however, will efface it altogether."  The disc telegraphone pictured to the right had a recording capacity of 2 minutes per disc. For a 1905 photograph of a different disc telegraphone model that used a smaller disc, see Harper's Weekly, July 1, 1905.  

According to an article published in 1906, "the telegraphone is not in use as yet among the business public."  (E.F. Stearns, "A Spool of Wire Speaks," Technical World Magazine, Dec. 1906, pp. 409-12.)  

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Telegraphone, Telegraphone Co of America, New York, NY, 1905

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Wire Telegraphone, 1907

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Disc Telegraphone, 1907

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Wire Telegraphone, 1917
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology

Facsimile Machines

During the 19th century, at least three systems were invented for transmitting copies of messages, drawings, and photographs.  These systems used a transmitter with a stylus that passed over the message or image numerous times, and activated a remote receiver with another stylus that drew a facsimile.  The first of these systems was introduced by Alexander Bain, a Scot, in 1842.  This system was not a commercial success.  Another system was introduced by Frederick Bakewell in 1848.  And another system was introduced by N. S. Amstutz c. 1892.  The top two images to the right show Amstutz's Electro-Artograph.  According to the description, when a stylus in the transmitter went over a specially prepared photographic image, a stylus in the receiver created a line engraving that was ready for press printing.  For further information on the Anstutz system and an example of an image created by the receiver, see "The Photo-Electro-Artograph," American Journal of Photography, Jan. 1892, pp. 34-35, and N.S. Amstutz, "Acrograph Engraving Machine," The Photographic Times, 1899, pp. 446-47.

Arthur Korn introduced the first practical photoelectric technology for scanning and transmitting photographs in 1902.  During the mid-1920s, Western Union and other companies introduced photograph transmission services, mainly for use by newspapers, and in 1930 Western Union introduced facsimile message service.  The bottom photo to the right shows Warren Jones in New York watching the signature of his client Ralph Beaver Strassburger, a wealthy businessman, being transmitted by wire from London.  The photo is undated, but the internet has many references to Mr. Strassburger dating from the 1930s.

In 1966, Xerox introduced the desktop Xerox Magnafax Telecopier.  Office use of facsimile machines expanded during the 1970s and, particularly, the 1980s.  The number of fax machines in the US increased from 300,000 in 1982 to 1,500,000 in 1988 (Xerox Crop., Facsimile: A Quarter-Century of Innovation, 1989)..  During that period, office workers typed documents, or printed documents created on word processors and computers, and then scanned and transmitted the documents using fax machines. By the end of the 1990s, use of fax machines declined because documents were increasingly transmitted directly between computers over the internet.

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N.S. Amstutz's Electro Artograph Transmitter (top) and Receiver(bottom), Scientific American, Apr. 1895.
Courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology

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