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7 things you didn’t know about the telephone

The telephone has come a long way since Victorian times, from a phone book with no numbers and an automated system born out of the death trade, to neurotic conditions, a diamond-encrusted iPhone and revelations about its inventor 140 years too late. Here are seven things you (possibly) didn’t know about the telephone.

1 - Am I going mad?

More than half of us suffer from ‘nomophobia’ (no mobile phone phobia) according to research by the Post Office. This condition, more of an anxiety than a phobia, is caused by being out of contact due to no network, no battery, no credit…or no phone. While we’re on the subject of neurosis, frigensophobia is the fear that mobile usage causes brain damage and telephonobia is the terror caused by making or receiving calls.

2 - Will my insurance cover this?

The world’s most expensive mobile phone, the iPhone 4 Diamond Rose Edition, was made by jeweller-cum-designer, Stuart Hughes. It flaunts 500 individual flawless diamonds, a rose gold Apple logo with 53 diamonds, and a 7.4-carat pink diamond set in platinum on the home button — it costs £5 million.


3 - Three decades of mobile calls

Britain’s first mobile phone call was made by comedian, Ernie Wise, on New Year’s Day, 1985, to Vodafones head office in Newbury, which was above a curry house. At the time mobile phones were the size of a briefcase and cost £3,000 (around £8,600 in today’s money).

4 - Not the inventor?

Alexander Graham Bell was awarded his patents for the telephone in 1876, but a 2008 book claims the Scotland-born, US inventor copied some ideas from Elisha Gray, a teacher in Ohio. Inventor, Antonio Meucci, may also have snatched the credit, if he’d had deeper pockets — he submitted an intention to file a patent in 1871, but couldn’t afford to renew it.

5 - Burying the switchboard operator

The idea for the automation of the switchboard was born out of paranoia and business rivalry in the late 1880s. US undertaker, Almon Strowger, thought his competitor’s wife, who manned the telephone switchboard, was diverting business to her husband. When Strowgers close friend died and was buried by his rival, he pushed through his invention which put all its operators out of a job in 1891. He did publicly say sorry, but early advertising of the technology was not so merciful, proclaiming it as: "girl-less, cuss-less, out-of-order-less, wait-less telephone.”

Almon Strowger

6 - ‘Ahoy there, I’ll just put you on hold’

The origin of the phrase ‘on hold’ comes from a simple action by Alexander Bell: he handed his telephone device to his partner, Mr Watson, saying: “Here, hold this”. While this phrase stuck, his suggestion for answering calls, with the word Ahoy, did not. It was fellow inventor, Thomas Edison, who recommended saying Hello.

7 - A phone book with no numbers

The first UK phone book was released in 1880 with details of three exchanges and 250 subscribers, but no numbers. Thankfully, our online telephone directory service is a lot more sophisticated. If you’re looking for UK phone numbers or are trying to find someone we can help even if you don’t have the complete information — just type in a name or part of an address and we’ll do the searching for you.

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