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The invention of the telephone still remains a confusing morass of claims and counterclaims, which were not clarified by the huge mass of lawsuits to resolve the patent claims of commercial competitors. The Bell and Edison patents, however, dominated telephone technology and were upheld by court decisions in the United States. Bell has most often been credited as the inventor of the first practical telephone.

Alexander Graham Bell was the first to patent the telephone as an "apparatus for transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically".

The telephone exchange was an idea of the Hungarian engineer Tivadar Puskás (1844 - 1893) in 1876, while he was working for Thomas Edison on a telegraph exchange. Before the invention of the telephone switchboard, pairs of telephones were connected directly with each other, practically functioned as an intercom. Although telephones devices were in use before the invention of the telephone exchange, their success and economical operation would have been impossible with the schema and structure of the contemporary telegraph systems.

A telephone exchange was operated manually by operators, or automatically by machine switching. It interconnects individual phone lines to make calls between them.

The first commercial telephone exchange was opened at New Haven, Connecticut, with 21 subscribers on 28 January 1878, in a storefront of the Boardman Building in New Haven, Connecticut. George W. Coy designed and built the world's first switchboard for commercial use. The District Telephone Company of New Haven went into operation with only twenty-one subscribers, who paid $1.50 per month, a one-night price for a room in a city-center hotel.

Coy was inspired by Alexander Graham Bell's lecture at the Skiff Opera House in New Haven on 27 April 1877. In Bell's lecture, during which a three-way telephone connection with Hartford and Middletown, Connecticut, was demonstrated, he first discussed the idea of a telephone exchange for the conduct of business and trade.
402 Media in collectionpage 1 of 5

Professor Bell in Lyceum Hall, Salem, addressing a party of scientific men in Boston / From sketches by E.R. Morse.

Print shows the inventor Alexander Graham Bell demonstrating his experimental telephone, which had a connection between Salem and Boston, Massachusetts. Bell had given previous demonstrations in February 1877 a... more

"Speak out" N.Y. Herald

President-elect Grover Cleveland holds a telephone receiver to his ear. Behind him on the wall is a portrait of President Chester A. Arthur captioned, "Pres. of U.S. till March 4, 1885."

"Here's a health to the mugwumps, who helped in the strife, and have made this the happiest day of my life!" / F. Opper.

Illustration shows Samuel J. Tilden sitting in a rocking chair, raising a glass of the "Elixir of Youth" over his head and holding a telephone receiver to his ear; hanging on the wall is a plaque that states "T... more

Don't they wish they had never taken hold of it! / J. Keppler.

Illustration shows three men, Isham G. Harris, Augustus H. Garland, and Joseph E. Johnston holding hands and onto connectors attached to an electrical device operated by a figure labeled "Pan Electric Co." and ... more

George Witherell, the murderer of Wall & McCain. Lynched Dec. 4, 1888

Photograph shows George Witherell's lifeless body hanging from a telephone pole in Canon City, Colorado; a crowd stands nearby.

Hello! Santa Claus

Girl speaking into telephone.

Divine right vs arbitration / K.

Print shows German Emperor William II talking on a telephone labeled "To the Hague", he is holding papers that state "Plan of Arbitration Submitted by the United States"; he is wearing armor and a robe, his swo... more

E.H.R. Green

Photograph shows businessman Edward Howland Robinson "Ned" Green (1868-1936), son of Hetty Green with telephones, microphone and other equipment. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2015)

The Bell Telephone office at Hamburg, N. Y.

Photograph shows an interior view of telephone office with four workers; two women operators work at switchboard.

"Worth hearing"

Photograph shows a young woman, standing, posed using wall mounted telephone.

Hello Central, give me heaven

Small girl seated on man's lap, wall telephone in background.

[Illustration to popular song, "Hello Central, give me Heaven"]

Shows child in living room about to use telephone.

[Illustration to popular song, "Hello Central, give me Heaven"]

Shows child in living room about to use telephone.

[Young girl playing with a wall telephone]

Photograph shows little girl sitting in chair with dog and holding telephone receiver to dog's ear.

Man and woman in an unidentified office

She is typing; he is at desk surrounded by various appliances, telephone, fan, hot plate, percolator.

[Woman using early home telephone]

Photograph shows a woman, wearing fancy hat and dress, seated at a small table in the parlor, holding a rose, and posed using telephone.


Photograph shows young woman using wall mounted telephone.

"At the telephone"

Photograph shows young woman, wearing fancy dress, posed with hand holding onto telephone receiver on desk and transmitter (mouthpiece) to mouth.

Taft at the phone

William Howard Taft, three-quarters length portrait, facing front, using telephone.

The telephone girl

Photograph shows young woman, wearing lacy dress, seated, posed using telephone.

[Hatted girl with telephone]

Photograph shows a woman, wearing large hat and fancy dress, seated, posed using telephone.

[Young woman talking into a telephone]

Photograph shows young woman, wearing lacy dress, posed using telephone.

[Young woman with telephone]

Photograph shows young woman, wearing lacy dress, seated, posed using telephone.

Good news

Photograph shows a woman fancily dressed, seated at a table, holding an umbrella and posed using telephone.

Oscar Straus /

Close shot of Oscar S. Straus, author, United States ambassador, member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague for six three-year terms beginning in 1902, and Secretary of Commerce and Labor in TR's... more

"A Telephone Operator"

Bust of woman, facing left, wearing earphones and a mouth piece.

Cal Rodgers

Telephoning his safe arrival in Pasadena to friends.