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We Didn't Always Have Cell Phones

Updated on December 20, 2014

Alexandar Graham Bell

Actor portraying Alexander Graham Bell in early AT & T promotional film 1926.
Actor portraying Alexander Graham Bell in early AT & T promotional film 1926. | Source
Dick Tracy talking into his watch.
Dick Tracy talking into his watch. | Source
Maxwell Smart answering his shoe!
Maxwell Smart answering his shoe! | Source

Depending on how old you are you may remember a cartoon character called Dick Tracy talking into his watch or years later a TV character named Maxwell Smart answering his matter, the fascination we've had with phones started back in 1870 when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. (Though their was a legal battle with one Elisha Gray who also developed a telephone. Bell won the battle and patented the first telephone.)

I digress. It was actually in 1875 that the first voice was transmitted over this wired telephone. So began the history of the telephone. Actually Bell invented the telephone as a communication device to help his hearing impaired family communicate. In 1876 Bell signed his patent application for the telephone and in March 1876 the patent was granted. Bell filed for and was granted more patents as he refined the development of the telephone, and so began the love affair with the telephone.

The Bell Telephone Company was founded in 1877. At the start of the 1900s the Bell Company had 800,000 phones in service while independent companies had 600,000. In 1915 the Bell Company installed the first coast to coast telephone line. The parent company of the Bell Company became AT&T.

In the 1920s the candlestick phone and desk phone were introduced. The most popular phones among collectors are those made in the 1920s. Phones now had a rotary dial! The poor candlestick phone, which I personally think is cool, was phased out by the end of the 1920s. I guess the desk phone was more practical and easier to use.

In a 1920s ad, AT&T stated, "All other means of communication are cold and colorless in comparison...The Bell System has provided this wonderful faculty for all the people"

Old desk phone with rotary dial
Old desk phone with rotary dial

Along comes the 1930s and that desk phone were now more common. No more bells on the wall to tell you your phone was ringing. That mighty desk phone had bells built in! Kids today have probably never seen that old, beloved black phone we all knew and loved for decades. However, in the 1920s and 1930s it was mostly rich people who owned these phones. Oh, and phone numbers were short, sometimes only four numbers or an exchange and number like PI-304. The dial now enabled people to dial phone numbers without having to contact the operator first, but that depended on where they lived and what services were available.

1949 telephone advertisement.
1949 telephone advertisement. | Source

Even up to the 1950s and 1960s there were still areas of the country where it was necessary for the operator to help you connect your call and many people were on a party line. That meant you shared your line with other 'parties' on your road. You could pick up your phone and hear your neighbor's conversations...sometimes it was fun to listen, but not when they were listening to you. There were times if you had to make an emergency call, you'd get on the phone and ask the person talking to please get off the phone so you could use it. The operators actually came in handy because they knew the numbers you were trying to reach and if not, they had them at their finger tips.

One of Lily Tomlin's famous characterizations was a telephone operator, based on those old time operators. Who doesn't remember Lilly's line, "One ringy dingy, two ringy dingys..."

1920 to 1969

(Taken from

Early 'mobile' phones or car phones.
Early 'mobile' phones or car phones. | Source

Right around the same time, 1945 to be exact, yes I said 1945, the first mobile-radio-telephone service was established but it wasn't until 1956 that the first real car phone appeared on the scene. The phones used at the time were big and bulky. Can you see where these two phones, the house phone and the car phone are both on the scene and leading to what we know today?

The first 'handheld' mobile phone was invented in 1973 but weighed 2.5 pounds and took 10 hours to recharge! Until the 1990s 'cell phones' were working on a 1G network using analog transmissions to limited air space; towers were few and far between so transmissions were limited. In 1990 transmission switched to digital. People began to use cell phones and 2G technology was born coupled with texting...yes texting way back in 1990. In 2001 the 3G network was introduced. I think you know the rest. The 3G network took us to where we are today with a newly introduced 4G network. So the network evolved allowing us to use those cell phones anywhere, anytime. We weren't limited to certain areas or talk times anymore

1873 cell phone (All of these photos are from
1873 cell phone (All of these photos are from | Source
1992 cell phone
1992 cell phone
2001 cell phone
2001 cell phone

The evolution in the design of the cell phone itself began in the 1980s. Looking at the photos to the right you can see the evolution of the cell phone over twenty years. The phones got smaller and more and more people began to use them. As more people used them they gained in popularity causing further growth. I d on't have to tell you where cell phone growth has gone, I would say it's gone through the roof. Not only do you want a cell phone but many places are making it as if you have to have a cell phone. Not only can you do your banking on your cell phone but now you can use your cell phone to photograph a check for deposit and it will be deposited right away! Many stores offer extra discounts that can be read only by your cell phone...and the list goes on!

There isn't a kid today who can live without their cell phone and yet not so long ago we were tethered to our phones with twenty foot cords so we could walk around while we were talking on the phone. Of course we were amazed and thrilled when the cordless phone hit the market. All these wireless technologies (including the cell phone) are based on radio frequencies but I did not detail that as I really didn't want this to be overly technical. Imagine, a phone you could use anywhere in the house without a wire attached! At the time this was better than sliced bread. It was funny to be talking on your cordless phone and hear your neighbor down the street talking to her husband on the phone, it hearkened back to the days of party lines! Of course it was all a matter of radio frequencies and you had to remember if you could hear your neighbor talking on the phone chances are he could hear you too!

Today, it is so common nothing else is remembered or thought of. Show a kid today a rotary phone and they'll probably ask what it is. A house phone with wires? You're kidding! No cell phones? How did you live?

A myriad of articles have been written about kids not having cell phones and actually going to their friend's house to talk to them. A time when there was no texting, only talking, when you spent your time running around with your friends outdoors till dark instead of sitting next to them and texting. Not having cell phones was probably not such a bad thing for kids but progress and technology never stop.

Cell phones are definitely hear to stay. Today, it's not so funny to think of Maxwell Smart talking into his shoe. What about Dick Tracy? I have a feeling his wristwatch phone might not be too far off.

Your thoughts and comments are more than welcome. Due to layout of this hub page I'm not seeing a vote up button but would appreciate whatever you choose to vote.

Copyright Tillsontitan - All Rights Reserved.

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    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Glad you enjoyed Lyricwriter. It is always good when our memories are fond ones. I think we'll be going the Dick Tracy route before you know it!

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 4 years ago from West Virginia

      What a joy this was Mary! Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, and shared via Facebook. I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, I remember wanting a cell phone when Zack from Saved By The Bell had that big chunk of technology! I remember having the dial phones, the rotary dial. I remember them costing thousands, now you can set one for $10. I hope computers take the same route as far as price :) Another great article.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      I know what you mean Mary, and now these kids can't go anywhere or do anything without their cell! Thanks for stopping by.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      I grew up with the phone on the wall, and you hand cranked the thing! We had to tell the operator the 4 digit number we wanted.

      Interesting Hub. I voted it UP, and shared.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      True Alecia, all things have many sides...the good, the bad, and the ugly!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I remember those large early 90s phones and when I was in elementary and middle school when people could look up your number in the phone book. Some smart-aleck classmates actually found my number since I lived right down the street from my middle school and tried to crank call me. That's one thing I'm grateful to cell phones about- nobody can have your number unless you specify they can have it. And solicitors don't try as hard to call you on them as well but it is amazing to think how technology has evolved in a little less than 100 years.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Glad you found it interesting Vinaya...I'm sure cell phones are infiltrating more and more places around the world.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      Cellphones arrived in my country with the turn of new millennium. I remember how it was like when we did not have cellphones.

      The telephone timeline is very informative.

      Thanks for sharing this interesting post.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Glad you enjoyed this Pamela...I think it shows my age more than anything ;) It was fun to do, because I, like you, never suspected cell phones would take over the earth!

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I enjoyed all of this information. It was fun watching Lily Tomlin, too.

      I remember the first time I saw someone with a cell phone. It was the spring of 1997 in Vancouver, BC. I thought it was ridiculous that the man had to drag a phone out with him in public. I had heard about cell phones prior to that, but that was my first impression. Well, I guess we can't go back.....

      You put lots of work into this hub. It's great information for all ages but especially for young people to see all the great eras they missed.

      Voting up and interesting.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Thanks Alocsin. I know what you mean...never mind how to operate it, they don't even know what it is half the time!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I know I'm getting old when a kid looks at a dial telephone and have no idea how to operate it. Am probably going to ditch the landline since most of my calls come in on the cell. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Au fait I am not as conservative as I might appear ;) I too am not thrilled with the dominance of cell phones but it is definitely a generational thing. I'm also unhappy with the new format here on HP as the Vote up button is missing! (Maybe I am a conservative)

      Glad you enjoyed Stephanie. I was a bit surprised myself to see that cell phones have been around so long.

      Au fait, thank you for sharing and returning to vote!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      Sent this to friends and relatives (who don't read on here much beyond me) and got high marks from them for you. Also voted this hub awesome -- just found the button for that, so I guess my eyesight was better this morning. ;)

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      Your hub is a great reminder of how the cell phone technology has changed our lives forever. While I love the convenience and security of a cell phone, I do miss the "olden days" of face to face communication, long conversations in the car and going to a restaurant, store or movie without having to listen to someone's personal phone call.

      Your research for this hub was great! I was surprised to see how far back cell phone technology existed. Thanks for a really interesting hub!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      Great history lesson! I love the Tomlin skit. Going to have to send this to friends and relatives. I think they'll enjoy! I also like the Maxwell Smart photo -- know you're a Conservative so I hope you won't be offended when I tell you that picture reminds me of George W.

      Cell phones seem to have created human Borg (Star Trek). So many people of all ages can no longer cross the street, drive a vehicle, or even use the ladies room without one of those things stuck in their ear! I realize their convenience, but for the most part, I try to pretend I don't have a cell phone.

      Great hub. I'd vote you up, but there are no buttons on this new format for doing that.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      You've always been complex...I can relate having 4 kids of my own. I'm going to go look up your hubs right now!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Till....with 4 kids, I guess it's clear I never wore my chastity belt!! BTW (If I had your cell number, I'd text you so you know I have 2 hubs waiting for my GF to read!) and we still don't know why I'm not showing up on your thread, do we? I'm gettng a complex.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Jools, the younger generation is joined to their cell phones. I'm not sure we can understand but their children will have the next generational 'thing'. Glad you enjoyed my hub.

      Joanveronica, you are so right, technology changes do occur faster and faster. I think we really need cell phones to keep us in communication with others. The degree of use varies by age.

      Wowsite, you are right, your daughter will probably have a phone like Dick Tracy, on her wrist!

      How exciting PeoplePower. You were part of history! Thanks for telling us about one tiny part of your interesting career.

      Effer, we know that you and I are so far over the hill we're not sure where the hill went ;0 LMAO at your comments as always! Gater belts, almost as bad as chastity belts.

      lindacee you make a good point. Texting seems to be the talk of the future and the future is now.

      ARsf you are showing your are the youngest among the current readers and I'm sure use your phone very often. There is nothing wrong with that, like so many things it is generatonal and we're becoming fossils :) Thanks.

    • ARsf profile image

      Asia | Filipino 5 years ago from PHILIPPINES

      all cellphone is ubiquitous .. and important to the life aspect of life living nowadays :))

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Such a fun read and great historical information! When I was young we had alpha-numeric phone numbers in the city. When I moved to rural Louisiana in the late 60s, we had a party line and 3 digit number. We had to call the operator to make a LD call. Oh, how times have changed! Now we use cell phones and very rarely speak into them -- most communication is done via texting. Go figure! Voted up, awesome and interesting!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Till....I hate admitting this, but I remember WAY back when, we had to wait for an Operator and give her a 3-digit phone number....there wasn't even a numbers dial...Then I guess we graduated to one like the picture of the desk model rotary....but for awhile we had a "party-line!!"....

      The incredible progress is amazing......and like everything else we've become spoiled with, I can't imagine what we did before the cell phones.....the micrwave, computers..automatic transmissions!...even PANTY HOSE! Jeesh, what horrible contraption those garter belts were!!

      OK...that's enough.. I can hear the chatter already....."Holy Crap, Effer must be 98 years old!!!!" LMAO!!!!!!!!!!

    • peoplepower73 profile image

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Great hub. I shared it with my followers. I remember the party lines as a kid, great fun! I worked for Toshiba in Telecommunications for 10 years before retirement. Here is an interesting fact about telephones. The push button tones came from the military, it was called Autovon. I used it in the Air Force to send codes to radar sites. It uses DTMF (Dual Tone Modulated Frequency). When you push a button, it generates two unique tones one for the row the button is in and the other for the column. There is a hidden row and column that is used for caller ID and sending commands to the phone system. Thanks for bringing back old memories.

    • wowsite1234 profile image

      wowsite1234 5 years ago from Moncks Corner, SC

      Great Hub. I often wonder if my daughter will ask me what a "cell phone" is when she gets older.

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Very good Hub! How interesting to see how the innovations started to accelerate over the years, coming faster and faster. I never really liked cellphnes, but when I moved to the suburbs and changed my lifestyle, I now use it out of necessity and feel lost without it.Voted useful, awesome and interesting!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      I have a phone but rarely use it to ring anyone but I was never a big phone user anyway. My daughter could not survive without hers. She even leaves it switched on all night. I think excessive social networking/texting/phoning devalues contact with people and that too much is not necessarily a good thing - we all need time away from one another sometimes.

      Your research into early communication is very good by the way, great photos too.