The first century of the telephone covers a wide range of designs as the technology developed. Early designs were significantly influenced by the restrictions of the technology. The earliest phones had primitive and heavy transmitters and receivers. Only when they became lightweight could the modern combined handset be produced and desk-sets became practical. Even then, patents often meant that manufacturers had to stay with less capable designs and the fact that many transmitters had to stay at a fixed angle was the reason for the development and longevity of the ‘candlestick’ telephone. Exchange systems developed from local battery to central battery and finally to automatic and these developments were reflected in the telephone design. Materials changed too. Wood and metal gave way to bakelite in the late 1920s and from the 1950s, modern thermoplastics came to the fore.
Throughout the period, many telephone designs were purely functional machines, but some designers managed to transcend the functional to produce iconic designs, such as Ericsson’s ‘Skeleton’, Siemens Bros ‘Neophone’ (GPO 200 series) and Ericsson’s ‘Ericofon’. Sometimes, however, the designers delivered a stylish product but they were let down by failings in basic usability. STC’s ‘Trimphone’ is one example.
This section covers the period 1876-1977 and includes phones from around the world – the industry was global in character right from the start.