BT Archives


Events in Telecommunications History

1878

Bell demonstrated the telephone to Queen Victoria on 14 January at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight with calls to London, Cowes and Southampton. These were the first long-distance calls in the UK.

The Telephone Company Ltd (Bell's Patents) was formed to market Bell's patent telephones in Great Britain. The company was registered on 14 June with a capital of £100,000. Its premises were at 36 Coleman Street. One of the first telephone lines to be erected in the vicinity of London was from Hay's Wharf, south of the Thames, to Hay's Wharf Office on the north bank.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) of Milan, Ohio, patented in America a carbon telephone transmitter invented the previous year - a great improvement on Bell's telephone transmitter which worked by means of magnetic current.

The first trial of long-distance telephony in Great Britain as a commercial proposition was held on 1 November with a call between Cannon Street in London, and Norwich - a distance of 115 miles - using an Edison transmitter on a telegraph wire.

Professor David Edward Hughes (1831-1900) invented the microphone.

Francis Blake, an officer in the US Coast Survey from 1866 to 1878, developed a transmitter based on the experiments of Professor Hughes. Blake offered his transmitter to Bell who accepted it as a practical and reliable rival to Edison's transmitter which was superior to Bell's own. The Bell Companies throughout the world, including in Great Britain, went on to use the Blake transmitter in their telephones for 20 years. It was ultimately replaced by a transmitter originally patented in September 1878 by Rev Henry Hunnings of Bolton Percy, Yorkshire, which used particles of carbon in loosely compacted form between two electrodes. The Hunnings transmitter was later developed by others to replace Blake's as the standard instrument of the Bell Companies.

In the United States, a legal wrangle erupted in September when the Bell Company sued Western Union to protect Bell's patents. Western Union contended that it was Gray, not Bell, who had invented the telephone. However, because Bell had filed his patents before Gray, albeit only by hours, settlement was eventually made on 10 November 1879 in favour of Bell, and gave the Bell Company all Edison's telephone rights. Following this court judgement, Western Union withdrew from the telephone business and Bell's company absorbed the American Speaking Telephone Company, reforming as the American Bell Telephone Company - Boston on 17 April 1880.

The Post Office provided its first telephones, obtained from Bell's UK agent, on rental terms to a firm in Manchester.

Back to events in telecommunications history