1605

Francis Bacon used for cryptography the five unit code applied to telegraphy in 1874 by Jean Maurice Emile Baudot (1845-1903).

1667

Robert Hooke described how sound could be transmitted by means of a tightly stretched wire.

1678

Swammerdam demonstrated to the Grand Duke of Tuscany that the muscle of a frog's leg contracted in an electrical convulsion when brought into contact with silver or copper. This phenomenon was rediscovered over a century later by Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna in Italy, who was unaware of his predecessor.

1753

A letter from a correspondent with the initials C M was published in the 'Scots Magazine' on 17 February which predicted the electric telegraph and suggested a way in which such a telegraph might be worked. He proposed using an insulated wire for each letter of the alphabet and passing a charge along the wires to spell words.

1774

George Le Sage tried a telegraph system at Geneva similar to that proposed in 1753.

1795

The British Government adopted a semaphore with three pairs of movable arms. It took 15 minutes to transmit a message 70 miles, with the potential problem of the weather causing many delays.

Don Francisco Salva, at the Academy of Sciences at Barcelona, suggested electric communication by means of 44 wires (a pair for each of 22 letters) each charged by a Leyden jar, the combinations of which could be arranged to indicate the various letters of the alphabet. He proposed that the wires should be separately insulated and rolled into a single cable. He described experiments in which the wires were covered with pitch coated paper and tied together, the whole being bound around with paper. Salva also suggested that such cables could be laid in tubes underground or beneath the sea.

1798

The French Minister of War ordered the apparatus of Claude Chappe to be called the 'Telegraphe'.

1800

Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), professor of the University of Pavia in Italy, announced his invention ofthe Voltaic Pile, the first electrical battery.

1809

Dr S T Von Soemmering (1783-1850), a surgeon, described to the Munich Academy of Sciences a telegraph apparatus in which, at the receiving end, 27 lines (each allotted to a letter or symbol) terminated in a container of acid. At the sending station a key, which brought a battery into circuit, was connected as required to each of the line wires. The passage of a current caused the acid to decompose chemically and the message was read by observing at which of the terminals the bubbles of gas appeared.

1816

Francis Ronalds (1788-1873), later Sir Francis, demonstrated a single copper wire electrostatic telegraph cable enclosed in glass tubes encased in wooden troughs in his garden at Hammersmith. The telegraph was offered to the Admiralty who turned it down, preferring to continue with their existing semaphore system.

1819

Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851), Professor of Physics at Copenhagen University, discovered by chance that a magnetic compass needle moved when placed near a wire carrying an electric current. He had shown the link between electricity and magnetism, an important development in the electric telegraph.

1832

Baron Pavel Lvovitch Schilling (c.1780-1836), a Russian diplomat in Germany, constructed a revolutionary new telegraph, consisting of a single needle system in which a code was used to indicate the characters.

1837

William Fothergill Cooke (1806-1879) and Professor Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) entered into a partnership in May, and on 10 June patented a five-needle telegraph for which five wires were necessary. The telegraph worked by deflecting any two of the needles at the same time to point to any one of 20 letters on the grid behind the needle. Sending and receiving messages was a slow process as each word had to be spelt out. With only 20 letters on the grid, the spelling sometimes contained inaccuracies. On 25 July, Wheatstone's and Cooke's telegraph was demonstrated to the directors of the London and Birmingham Railway between Euston and Camden Town, a distance of just under a mile.

1839

The world's first commercial telegraph line using the Cooke and Wheatstone five-needle system was commissioned by the Great Western Railway and built between Paddington and West Drayton, a distance of 13 miles. It was working to Hanwell by the 6 April and was completed to West Drayton on 9 April. The public could pay one shilling (5p) to view the telegraph and could send their own telegrams. The undertaking marked the first commercial use of electricity. The line was later extended to Slough, but when it was proposed to carry it to Bristol, the Directors of the railway company objected and the agreement with Cooke and Wheatstone was repudiated. Eventually, it was agreed that Cooke was allowed to retain the wires in position on condition that he worked the system at his own expense and sent the railway signals free of charge.

1841

Wheatstone invented the first type printing telegraph. He also proposed a time division multiplex telegraph system.

1843

Facsimile transmission (Fax) was first pioneered by Alexander Bain (1810-1877) and patented. His invention was a system of chemical telegraphy by which handwriting and simple line drawings could be reproduced in facsimile through the chemical action of an electric current on an impregnated tape.

1844

A message was sent by Samuel Finley Breeze Morse (1791-1872) on 24 May over the first telegraph line in the USA from Washington to Baltimore, a distance of about 40 miles. The line was built with the help of Congress, which gave a grant of $40,000 to Morse and his associates to put it into operation. The first message sent was "What hath God wrought". Morse used equipment of his own invention which was totally different from that of Cooke and Wheatstone. He also used what became known as the Morse Code. The line was not fully operational until 1 January 1845.

1845

The first public telegraph line was opened in February and ran between London and Gosport. The first communication transmitted was Queen Victoria's speech at the opening of Parliament.

1846

Sir William Fothergill Cooke and Joseph Lewis Ricardo founded the Electric Telegraph Company. It merged with the International Telegraph Company in 1855 to become the Electric and International Telegraph Company, but was subsequently taken over by the Post Office

1847

Gutta-percha, an inelastic latex, was discovered. It was a reliable insulator in water for submarine cables and, along with rubber, was the preferred insulator for almost a century until the adoption of polyethylene from 1933.

1849 - 1850

The world's first central telegraph station was opened by the Electric Telegraph Company in Founders' Court, Lothbury in the City of London. 

1850

The British Electric Telegraph Company was formed, a rival to the monopoly of the Electric Telegraph Company.

The first submarine telegraph cable was laid across the Channel between Dover and Cape Gris Nez. This was also the first telegraph cable laid in the open sea and was laid by HM Tug Goliath accompanied by HM Packet Widgeon. It failed after only a few messages, but a successful cable was laid the following year.

1851

An Englishman, Thomas Russell Crampton devised the first armoured submarine cable which was laid across the channel between Dover and Calais by an empty hulk, the Blazer, towed by two tugs. It was opened for use on 13 November.

The United Kingdom Electric Telegraph Company was established by an Act of Parliament, but did not become operational until July 1860.  It was subsequently taken over by the Post Office (see 1870)

1852

The English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company was granted a Royal Charter in April to provide links between England and Ireland by submarine telegraph.

1853

The Chartered Submarine Telegraph Company opened a telegraph service between London and Brussels on 20 June using a submarine cable.

The International Telegraph Company was granted a Royal Charter to lay a submarine cable from England to Holland.  In 1855 it merged with the Electric Telegraph Company to form the Electric and International Telegraph Company.

The British Telegraph Company was formed through the merger of the European and American Electric Printing Telegraph Company and the British Electric Telegraph Company.

1855

The Electric Telegraph Company and the International Telegraph Company merged to form the Electric and International Telegraph Company in July.

1857

The British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company was formed by the amalgamation of the English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company (formed in 1852) and the British Telegraph Company (formed in 1853). This new company was subsequently taken over by the Post Office (see 1870)

1858

The first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was laid between Valentia Island, Co Kerry, Ireland and Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. The cable was laid by HMS Agamemnon and the USNS Niagara. The first messages were sent on 5 August, but the cable failed after only one month. The first successful transatlantic cable came into operation in 1866.

Charles Wheatstone patented the automatic telegraph system, the forerunner of later systems using punched tape. The message to be sent was first transposed into the form of perforations in a paper tape, and then transmitted and received at high-speed.

The Lowestoft-Zandvoort cable was laid providing telegraphic communication with the Netherlands.

1859

The London District Telegraph Company was formed to develop telegraphic communication within a four mile radius of Charing Cross.  It became the London and Provincial Telegraph Company for a short time in 1867.  It was later taken over by the Post Office (see 1870).

1860

The Central Telegraph Office moved from Founders Court, Lothbury to Little Bell Alley, Moorgate (afterwards renamed Telegraph Street).

A telegraph service was opened with Germany when Sir Charles Bright laid an Anglo-German cable on behalf of the Magnetic and Submarine Telegraph Company.

1861

Phillip Reis (1834-1874), a German electrician, exhibited a form of telephone in October to the Scientific Society of Frankfurt-on-Main. His telephone transmitted by electrical means musical and other sounds. The transmitter comprised a point of loose contact in an electrical circuit, arranged so that the resistance of the circuit was varied according to the intimacy of the contact between the two points, one of which was mounted on a membrane or diaphragm upon which transmitted sound waves impinged. 

The Universal Private Telegraph Company was established by an Act of Parliament in June, but did not become fully operational until 1863.  It undertook to construct and maintain lines of private wire between places of business or between residences and businesses.  It was subsequently taken over by the Post Office (see 1870),

1864

The Telegraph Act of this year gave the Postmaster-General certain wayleave rights over public roads and streets. 

1865

The International Telegraph Union was formed by 20 participating countries, although Great Britain was not originally included. The Union was later to become today's International Telecommunications Union.

1866

The first successful trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, 1,852 miles in length, was laid between Valentia Island, Ireland and Newfoundland by the SS Great Eastern between 13 July and 8 September. A defective cable which had been laid the previous year, also by the Great Eastern, was located and repaired, thus providing two routes for telecommunications between Great Britain and North America. 

1868

The Telegraph Act of this year gave Her Majesty's Postmaster-General the right to acquire and operate the inland telegraph systems in the UK, installed and operated by independent telegraph and railway companies.

1869

The Telegraph Act of this year, passed before the 1868 Act could take effect, conferred on the Postmaster-General a monopoly in telegraphic communication in the UK. Under this Act, the use of all private wires except those 'maintained for the private use of a corporation, company or person' became the monopoly of the Postmaster-General, and companies wishing to conduct telegraph business within the monopoly were henceforth obliged to seek a licence from the Postmaster-General. Overseas telegraphs did not fall within the monopoly. 

1870

The previously privately owned inland telegraph system was transferred to the State on 28 January under the Telegraph Act, 1868. Capital stock to the value of £10,948,173 was created to compensate the Electric and International, the British and Irish Magnetic, the United Kingdom Electric and other telegraph companies. The Post Office took over a service with 1,058 telegraph offices and 1,874 offices at railway stations. About 60,000 miles of wire was in use. Income was c. £550,000 per annum and the number of telegrams transmitted in 1869 was 6,830,812.

Interestingly, state involvement had been foreseen from the outset of the telegraph service. The Act that incorporated the Electric Telegraph Company empowered the Home Secretary to take possession of the Company's telegraphs for one week in times of civil unrest, or longer if necessary. These powers were exercised in April 1848, when the Government was able to obstruct Chartist lines of communication using the resources of the Electric Telegraph Company.

Following the nationalisation of the telegraph service in 1870, the Post Office went on to rapidly expand the UK telegraph network, particularly in more rural areas which had previously not been commercially attractive to the telegraph companies.

Two telegraph cables to Holland and one to Germany were acquired by the Post Office and leased to the Submarine Telegraph Company.

The Post Office Factories Division (later BT Consumer Electronics Ltd. and Fulcrum Communications Ltd.) was born with the acquisition of two small factories in Camden Town and Bolton previously belonging to the Electric and International Telegraph Company and the Magnetic Telegraph Company respectively. At the time of the transfer to the Post Office these factories employed 175 people on the manufacture and repair of telegraph equipment.

The Post Office acquired its first cableship from the International Telegraph Company, a 512 ton paddle-steamer called the Monarch which was originally built in 1830. She was the first of the five GPO cableships to bear the name, but sadly Monarch (No 1) soon broke down and was sold to the Admiralty by whom she was sunk in 1910 as a target for torpedo practice.

A continental telegraph station was set up in Little Bell Alley, Moorgate (Telegraph Street). 

1871

Great Britain was admitted to membership of the International Telegraph Union.

1872

A telegraph service between Britain and Australia was opened on 21 October. The first message, from London to Melbourne, was received early the next day. Each message had to be manually received, registered and transmitted at each of eighteen intermediate stations between London and Darwin. The average time to transmit a message was 20 hours.

1874

The Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was transferred from Telegraph Street to the General Post Office (West) on 4 February, a building which was begun in 1869 on the site of the present BT Centre in Newgate Street/St Martin's Le Grand. GPO West, as it was known, was constructed of granite and portland stone and was originally four storeys high. Originally intended as a headquarters building, the CTO gradually occupied practically the whole building by the early 1890s; the increasing popularity of telegraphic communication was reflected in the growth of the number of staff and quantity of equipment required to meet this demand. A fifth floor was added to the building in 1884.

The CTO's role in the history of telecommunications is a significant one. The first London-Paris telephone service was controlled from here from 1891 and Marconi demonstrated his new system of wireless telegraphy on the roof of the building in 1896. In its heyday the CTO had direct communication with every large town in the UK and was the largest telegraph office in the world. At the peak of the telegraph service in 1945-46 it dealt with 64.9 million telegrams, compared to only 45,000 in 1880.

During wartime such an important communications centre was an obvious target, and the CTO suffered during both world wars. The damage in 1917 during the First World War was relatively minor, but the Second World War saw much more substantial damage; during a raid on 29 December 1940 the CTO was set alight by burning debris from adjacent buildings and the interior was totally destroyed. The shell of the building was refurbished to the first and second floors, and the unsafe upper floors dismantled. The building was reopened in June 1943, although by this time much of the telegraph work had been transferred to the outskirts of London.

Following the war, telegraphic traffic declined as more and more people turned to the telephone, and the CTO never regained its pre-war importance. It was gradually run down from 1959 as work was transferred to other locations and eventually closed in October 1962. It was subsequently declared unsafe and demolished in 1967. The site remained derelict for some years, presenting an ideal opportunity for excavations by the Department of Urban Archaeology of the Museum of London during 1975-1979, yielding much information on the earlier history of the site. Finally, planning permission was granted in 1979 for the construction of a new building: BT Centre, the present headquarters of BT, opened in 1984.

Jean Maurice Emile Baudot (1845-1903) invented the Baudot printing telegraph system using the multiplex principle suggested by Wheatstone. This was the first system to use a code consisting of five units of equal length. 

1875

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) of Salem, Massachusetts constructed his first experimental telephone in Boston. Thomas A Watson (1854-1934) assisted Bell in his experiments.

Bell was a Scot by birth, and had been born at 16 South Charlotte Street, Edinburgh, on 3 March 1847. The Bell family emigrated to Brantford, Ontario, Canada, in 1870 following the deaths of Graham's two brothers from tuberculosis. From here Bell moved to Boston in the United States in 1872 to take up an appointment as a teacher of the deaf. He had inherited an interest in the training of deaf children from his father, Alexander Melville Bell, who had been a teacher of elocution at Edinburgh. Graham Bell's vocation led him to investigate the artificial reproduction of vowel sounds, resulting in a study of electricity and magnetism, and ultimately the development of the telephone.

1876

On 14 February an application was filed in America for a patent for Bell's apparatus for transmitting vocal sounds. Within hours, Elisha Gray of Chicago (1835-1901), a superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company, filed a similar application. Bell was granted his patent on 7 March, before Gray. On 10 March Bell reputedly spoke to his assistant Thomas Watson the first recognisable words ever transmitted by telephone, "Mr Watson, come here, I want you". This first articulate sentence was transmitted over 100 feet of wire.

Sir William Thompson (later Lord Kelvin) exhibited Bell's telephone to the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Glasgow in September. He described it as "the greatest by far of all the marvels of the electric telegraph".

1877

In July, Mr W H Preece (1834-1913), who later became Sir William Preece, FRS and Engineer-in-Chief of the Post Office, brought to this country the first pair of practical telephones seen in Great Britain. Later in the same year Bell's perfected type of telephone was exhibited at a meeting of the British Association in Plymouth.

Also in July, Bell and his financial backers - Thomas Sanders and Gardiner G Hubbard - formed the Bell Telephone Company in the United States. The early demand for the telephone had not been great and prior to forming their company Bell and his partners had struggled in their attempts to promote the new invention. At one point they even offered to sell the Bell patents to the Western Union Telegraph Company - Elisha Gray's employers - for $100,000. At this time the telephone was not seen as a serious rival to the well-established telegraph and the offer was refused. However, following the formation of the Bell Telephone Company, Western Union realised that their telegraph machines were being replaced by Bell's telephones and promptly formed the American Speaking Telephone Company to compete with Bell. The new company employed Thomas A Edison, Elisha Gray and Amos F Dolbear, three leading electrical inventors.

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.

1879

The Telephone Company Ltd (Bell's Patents) opened Britain's first public telephone exchange at 36 Coleman Street, London, in August. It served eight subscribers with a two-panel 'Williams' switchboard. By the end of the year a further two exchanges had been opened at 101 Leadenhall Street, EC2 and 3 Palace Chambers, Westminster, the number of subscribers totalling 200.

Telephone exchanges were also opened by the company later in the year in Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Bristol.

Edison produced a telephone receiver known as the 'chalk receiver', 'motograph receiver' or 'electromotograph'.

The Edison Telephone Company of London Ltd was registered on 2 August with a capital of £200,000 to work the Edison telephone patents. The company's first exchange officially opened on 6 September at 11 Queen Victoria Street, London, with ten subscribers who used carbon transmitters and chalk receivers. By the end of the following February, when the company had another two exchanges in operation, it served 172 subscribers.

Daniel Connolly, T A Connolly and T J McTighe exhibited an eight-line automatic telephone exchange at the Paris Exhibition, although their system achieved little success.

Professor D E Hughes transmitted what he called 'aerial electric waves' from his rooms 500 yards down Great Portland Street, just behind what is now Broadcasting House. He was thus the first person to achieve radio communication. Later in the same year, Oliver Joseph Lodge (1851-1940), another Englishman, also transmitted wireless signals - this time a distance of 150 yards.

1881

Following the court judgement of the previous year the Post Office proceeded to convert some of its telegraph service exchanges for use as telephone exchanges. The first was Swansea, opened on 23 March, followed by Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bradford and Middlesbrough. ABC telegraph instruments were replaced by telephones.

NOTE

Other sources contradict this date and indicate that Swansea telephone exchange was not opened until 22 October 1883 and that the first Post Office exchanges were in fact in Newport and Cardiff in South Wales, both opened on 31 August 1881.

The Provincial Telephone Company was floated in February with a capital of £75,000 to promote telephone companies.

The National Telephone Company was formed in March to exploit the market in Scotland, the Midlands and Ireland. Other companies were the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephonic Exchange Companies (capital £250,000) in May and the Northern District Telephone Company (capital £100,000) in December.

1882

On 17 July the Postmaster-General, Henry Fawcett, decided to grant licences to operate telephone systems to all responsible persons who applied for them, even where a Post Office system was established - reversing the previous policy 'on the ground that it would not be in the interest of the public to create a monopoly in relation to the supply of telephonic communication'.

G L Anders of London patented a central battery system by which telephones could be supplied with electrical power from the exchange, thereby making batteries at the telephone unnecessary.

W H Preece, Post Office Engineer-in-Chief and Electrician (1892-1899) experimented in wireless telegraphy between Southampton and Newport, Isle of Wight.

1883

The second of the 'Monarch' cableships was built for the Post Office, remaining in service until being sunk off Folkestone during the First World War on 8 September 1915. Monarch (No. 2) was the first cableship designed specifically for the Post Office and weighed 1,348 tons.

The Central Telephone Exchange was established at Oxford Court, London.

David Sinclair, an engineer for the National Telephone Company's Glasgow District, patented the first automatic telephone switching device in this country on 7 July. It enabled a subscriber on a branch exchange to be connected to any other on the system by an operator situated at a central exchange, without manual attention at the branch exchange. Sinclair established a working six line automatic exchange at Coatbridge near Glasgow.

1884

On 19 February L M Ericsson of Sweden combined the transmitter and receiver to produce the earliest telephone handset.

The United Telephone Company absorbed the London and Globe Telephone Company on 24 June.

On 7 August the Postmaster-General announced his decision to withdraw the restriction of exchange areas to five miles. Instead, telephone companies were to receive licences to work anywhere in the United Kingdom, and were thus enabled to create exchange areas of any extent and to connect them by trunk wires. The way was now clear for the development of a national system of trunk wires.

This 'liberalisation' by the Postmaster-General also brought about the birth of the public call office. Telephone companies were now allowed to establish telephone stations which any member of the public could use. There were little more than 13,000 telephones in use at this time and the Postmaster-General's decision allowed access to the telephone to a whole new sector of society to whom the new technology was largely only a rumour. The new 'call offices' were soon advertised in the national and local press. They were at first located in 'silence cabinets' found in shops, railway stations and other public places.

London's first trunk telephone line was opened with Brighton on 17 December.

The first upright multiple telephone switchboard in England was installed by Western Electric in Liverpool.

The Western Counties and South Wales Telephone Company was floated in December with a capital of £400,000.

The South of England Telephone Company was floated with a capital of £400,000. Seven companies now covered the whole of Great Britain.

1885

Long-distance telephone trials took place between London and Liverpool. Telegraph circuits were employed and the speakers stationed in Uxbridge and Liverpool.

Through-night service was given for the first time at the Heddon Street and Westminster exchanges of the United Telephone Company, mainly to serve Parliament and its members.

1886

One of the first freestanding call offices (later to be known as 'kiosks') was introduced in Bristol by the United Telephone Company. It was basically a small wooden hut where a three-minute call could be made for just 'tuppence' (a little under 1p). Not all early payphones had a coinbox built into them; some of the kiosks had a penny-in-the-slot mechanism on the door, while others had an attendant to collect the fee. The National Telephone Company actually produced subscribers' Trunk Pass Keys which were used to unlock call offices when members of the public wished to make a trunk call in the attendant's absence.

1887

An Englishman, Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925), propounded the theory that the effect of the large electrostatic capacitance of cables could be minimised by increasing their inductance. This increased the distance telephone signals could travel without fading and led to the successful development of long-distance telephone cables.

1888

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz of Germany (1857-1894) successfully transmitted electro-magnetic waves (radio waves), proving that they could be reflected and refracted, thus confirming the mathematical theory of James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879).

1889

Almon B Strowger (1839-1902), a funeral parlour proprietor of Kansas City, filed a US patent for an automatic telephone system on 12 March, and his patent was issued in May 1891. He had discovered (so the story goes) that his local telephone operator was married to another undertaker to whom she diverted Strowger's calls. Strowger's experiments involved the use of brass collar studs and matches, but the Strowger switching system proved extremely popular and in 1922 was adopted as the standard for all automatic telephone exchanges in the UK. This electro-mechanical technology persisted for over seventy years from 1922. The network of over 6,700 telephone exchanges, which BT inherited on its privatisation in 1984, included many using Strowger based technology. These were gradually replaced by digital or modern electronic exchanges during a £20 billion investment in the UK's phone network by BT, culminating in the closure of the last working Strowger electro-mechanical exchange at Crawford, Scotland on 23 June, 1995.

The United, the National, and the Lancashire and Cheshire Telephone Companies amalgamated on 1 May to form the National Telephone Company with a capital of £4,000,000 and providing 23,585 lines. The new company proceeded to buy up smaller concerns, Northern District Company (1,551 lines) in April 1890, South of England Telephone Company (3,255 lines) in October 1890, Western Counties and South Wales Company (4,027 lines) in January 1892.

The Post Office acquired the Submarine Telegraph Company's Anglo- Continental circuits at a cost of £67,163. The Post Office also acquired the company's 760 ton paddlesteamer, The Lady Carmichael, named after the wife of the company's chairman. The cableship was renamed the Alert in 1894 and remained in service until being scrapped in 1915.

1890

Bell's Patent for the membrane telephone receiver expired on 9 December.

A trunk circuit linking London to Birmingham was brought into service by the National Telephone Company on 10 July. For the first time telephone communication was opened between London and the Midland and Northern Counties.

1891

The first submarine telephone cable was laid by HMTS Monarch (No. 1) between England and France enabling telephone conversations to be made between London and Paris.

The London-Paris telephone service, inaugurated in April of this year, was controlled and worked from the Central Telegraph Office until transferred to the Central telephone exchange in GPO South, Carter Lane in February 1904.

Dry core paper insulated telephone cable was introduced. The first installation of this cable was between Pipewellgate and Deckham in Gateshead-on-Tyne.

The continental telegraph 'Cable Room' was transferred to the Central Telegraph Office.

Edison's Patent for his telephone transmitter expired on 30 July. With both master patents expired, effective competition between the Post Office and the National Telephone Company now became possible.

1892

On 22 March in the House of Commons the Postmaster-General, Sir James Fergusson, opposed Bills presented by the National Telephone Company and the New Telephone Company which sought extensive new powers. He then announced the Government's proposal to purchase the trunk lines of the National Telephone Company, the operations of which would henceforth be confined to local areas under new licences. The shift in policy was a consequence of complaints over the quality of the National Telephone Company's service and the accumulation of its overhead wires in towns. Of even more immediate concern to the Post Office was the increasing competition of the telephone which was now markedly affecting revenue from the telegraph services. The new policy was outlined in a Treasury Minute of 23 May which led to the Telegraph Act, 1892 - passed on 28 June - which made provision for the raising of £1,000,000 for the purchase and extension of the trunk telephone system.

The world's first public automatic telephone exchange, using Strowger's automatic telephone system, was installed at La Porte, Indiana in November; 45 subscribers were connected.

1893

A Hughes duplex telegraph was installed between London and Paris and Rotterdam.

1895

The Post Office trunk telephone system was opened to the public on 16 July.

Trunk lines linked London to Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin for the first time.

1896

A detailed agreement between the Postmaster-General and the National Telephone Company regarding the sale of the latter's trunk telephone lines was signed on 25 March. On 4 April, 29,000 miles of cable in 33 trunk lines were transferred to the Post Office at a cost to the State of £459,114.3s.7d. The transfer was completed by 6 February 1897. Under the terms of the agreement, intercommunication was established between exchange subscribers of the Post Office in one area and those of the National Telephone Company in another area. There was no such facility, however, for subscribers to the two systems in the same area, the company claiming that any other telephone concern with very few subscribers should not benefit from the company's system in the same area.

The Automatic Electric Company in America developed a rotary dial, the forerunner of the later dial which was common until recently.

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) called upon the Engineer-in-Chief of the Post Office in June to demonstrate his new system of 'telegraphy without wires' following a lack of interest from the Italian Government. Marconi with his mother had settled in London from his native Italy the previous year. Marconi gave the first demonstration of his new system of wireless telegraphy before members of the Post Office administration on 27 July of this year. With the transmitter on the roof of the CTO and the receiver on the roof of GPO South in Carter Lane 300 yards away, signals from the transmitter were satisfactorily recorded. This event is recorded by a plaque on the outside of the current BT Centre near the main entrance.

In August, the Post Office permitted Marconi to experiment with wireless apparatus on Salisbury plain and other places, and gave financial backing.

1897

The Marconi Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company was formed in July. Marconi was also granted a British patent for an invention by which 'electrical actions or manifestations are transmitted through the air, earth or water by means of electric oscillations of high frequency'.

An automatic telephone system was introduced into Great Britain by Strowger and exhibited at Winchester House, Old Broad Street, London.

A telephone licence for 14 years was granted to the States of Guernsey on 31 December, the first time a telephone system was to be available in Guernsey. The ties between the States of Guernsey continued until responsibility for telecommunications services was transferred to local control in 1973.

Marconi established the first permanent wireless station at the Needles Hotel, Isle of Wight. Earlier in the year he made the first ship-to-shore communications, while on a visit to Italy, over a distance of 12 miles. The Italian navy was consequently the first in the world to use radio communication.

1898

The first Guernsey telephone exchange was opened at St Peter Port on 28 June.

The first Jersey telephone exchange was opened by the National Telephone Company at Minden Place, St Helier. The Post Office assumed control of the telephone service in 1911, and local control was taken up when responsibility was transferred to the State of Jersey in 1973.

1899

A Telegraph Act was passed in this year to enable local municipalities outside London to set up their own local telephone systems. For some years there had been increasing agitation from local authorities as a result of the inefficiency and excessive cost of the National Telephone Company's local exchange services. The Municipal Corporations Association, representing most of the English boroughs, was in favour of State control of the company's system, whereas the Scottish municipalities led by the Glasgow Corporation (who had unsuccessfully applied for a telephone licence as early as 1893) supported municipal competition with the NTC. The Telegraph Act, 1899 embodied the Government's decision (following the investigations of a House of Commons Select Committee and other official enquiries) to set up a large telephone system in London, and to leave competition with the NTC in provincial towns to local authorities to whom licences would be issued. In rural districts not previously served by the NTC, the Post Office, which mostly had telegraph routes which could carry telephone circuits, opened small exchanges. Later in the year the Post Office began laying an extensive system of telephone lines in London.

The policy of municipal telephony in provincial towns would have seemed a natural development in adding to the already wide powers of local authorities in providing gas, water, electricity, transport and other public amenities. In the event, it was to prove a failure. Of 1,334 urban local authorities that might have sought licences under the Telegraph Act, 1899, only 55 applied for information. Of these, only 13 asked for licences, all of which were granted: Glasgow, Belfast, Grantham, Huddersfield, Tunbridge Wells, Brighton, Chard, Portsmouth, Hull, Oldham, Swansea, Scarborough and West Hartlepool. And only six actually opened telephone systems: Glasgow (1901), Tunbridge Wells (1901), Swansea (1902), Portsmouth (1902), Brighton (1903) and Hull (1904). Only the service provided by Hull continues to the present day. The remaining five services were all sold to the National Telephone Company or to the Post Office by the end of 1913.

Marconi bridged the English Channel by radio for the first time when South Foreland, Kent, established communication with Boulogne-sur-Mer by wireless telegraphy.

The first maritime distress radio call was made when the East Goodwin Lightship brought the Ramsgate lifeboat to the assistance of the stranded German ship Elbe.

1900

The first Central Battery exchange in Europe was opened in Telephone Avenue, Bristol. This development was of great benefit to individual telephone subscribers. The first telephones had a manual Local Battery System where one wire was used to connect the subscriber to the exchange, with the electrical circuit being completed by earth return. Subscribers called the exchange by magneto generator, and local batteries at their premises provided current for speech. Magneto generators were expensive and the local batteries which had to be kept near the telephone were bulky and prone to faults.

In the Central Battery System the whole energy required for signalling and speaking was drawn from one large battery at the exchange. The battery was common to all circuits requiring current and supplied all the needs of the exchange. The subscribers' magneto generator and primary battery were consequently no longer needed.

Marconi formed the International Marine Communications Company Ltd and built the wireless station at Poldhu, Cornwall, designed by John Ambrose Fleming (1849-1945).

1901

The first municipal telephone exchange was inaugurated in Glasgow on 28 March. A municipal telephone system was also opened in Tunbridge Wells in June.

The Postmaster-General and the National Telephone Company signed an agreement on 18 November to prevent unnecessary duplication of plant and wasteful competition in London. There was now free intercommunication between the two systems in London for the first time.

The agreement also provided for the purchase of the NTC's system on the expiry of its licence on 31 December 1911.

On 12 December the first wireless signals were transmitted across the Atlantic from Poldhu Wireless Station to Signal Hill, Newfoundland, where Marconi heard the agreed signal which was a succession of three dots, the letter 'S' in Morse Code.

Induction coils were added experimentally every few miles to the London-Birmingham cable laid in 1897-1898 to increase the distance that telephone signals could travel without fading, thereby applying the theory of Oliver Heaviside of 1887.

The firm of Creed & Company of Croydon, founded by F G Creed (1871-1957), developed a receiving reperforator which enabled telegraph signals to be received and recorded in the form of perforations in a paper tape at speeds of up to 200 words a minute. It saved manual work at the receiving station and made re-transmission of messages easier.

1902

The first Post Office exchange in London was opened on 1 March 'Central Exchange' with a capacity for 14,000 subscribers. 'City' Exchange was the second (capacity 18,000) followed by 'Mayfair' to serve the West End, 'Western' for Kensington and 'Victoria' for Westminster in the same year. Several other Post Office exchanges were also opened in the London suburbs.

The British Pacific Cable between Canada and Australia and New Zealand was completed on 31 October. It opened for traffic on 8 December.

A licence to operate a local telephone service was granted to Hull Corporation for the first time on 8 August.

The Tunbridge Wells municipal telephone service was sold to the National Telephone Company on 22 November.

1903

cheap rate telephone service was introduced by the Post Office; six minutes were allowed for the normal price of a three-minute call between 8 pm and 6 am.

A telephone service was opened with Belgium.

1904

John Ambrose Fleming (1849-1945) invented the 'Thermionic Valve', a device with two electrodes which enabled an electric current to pass through in one direction, but prevented the currents from flowing the other way. In addition to its use as a radio wave detector, it was also used as a power supply rectifier, converting alternating current into steady direct current. Fleming's valve can be regarded as one of the first true electronic components.

The first municipal telephone exchange in Hull was opened on 28 November.

The trunk telephone service was transferred from the cable room in the General Post Office, London, to the Central Telephone Exchange, GPO South, Carter Lane. 144 trunk circuits and 274 junction circuits were transferred.

The Wireless Telegraphy Act was passed which conferred licensing powers on the Postmaster-General.

1905

An agreement between the Postmaster-General and the National Telephone Company fixing the conditions for the transfer of the company's undertaking in 1912, was signed on 2 February and came into force on 1 September, having been ratified by the House of Commons on 9 August. From this time the Post Office and the National Telephone Company began to work towards the ultimate unification of their two systems. Intercommunication was possible between subscribers to both systems in the same local area throughout most of the country. The NTC installed call offices on Post Office premises and duplication of plant was avoided. Post Office underground cables henceforth largely met the development needs of the NTC's system on rental terms. These and other measures were to ease the changeover in 1912.

Marconi patented the horizontal direction aerial.

1906

A device known as the 'Keith Line Switch' was designed and seen as an important advance in machine-switching design. The use of this switch (described in British Patent Specification No. 26301, 20 November 1906) enabled a trunk line to be selected in advance of a call by means of a stepping master switch. This maintained all the disengaged line switches in readiness to connect with a disengaged trunk line.

The Post Office's first coin-operated call box was installed by the Western Electric Company at Ludgate Circus, London.

The Brighton and Glasgow Corporations' telephone services were sold to the Post Office: Brighton on 10 September for £49,000 and Glasgow on 22 October for £305,000.

The International Radiotelegraph Convention (later known as the International Radiotelegraph Union) was formed by 29 countries.

Trunk telephone charges were reduced to half-price for conversations between 7 pm and 7 am.

1907

Lee de Forest (1873-1961) added a third element to Fleming's thermionic valve (the diode) to create a triode. This had the ability to amplify faint signals, making possible long distance radio and even television communications. The triode was a remarkable invention and was only matched in importance by the invention of the transistor which replaced it some 40 years later.

The Swansea Corporation Telephone Service was sold to the National Telephone Company on 31 March 1907.

Charles L Krumm and his son, H Krumm, introduced the first stop- start type of telegraph. This instrument, known as the 'Teletype', used a typewriter keyboard for direct sending and a five unit code with stop-start signals, as used by later teleprinters.

1908

The Post Office opened its first ship-to-shore wireless radio coast station at Bolt Head, Devon and licensed stations at Cullercoats, Heysham Harbour, Parkeston Quay and Clifden (the latter for transAtlantic wireless telegraphy by the Marconi Company).

1909

The Post Office acquired the Marconi coastal wireless stations at Caister (Norfolk), North Foreland (Kent), Niton (Isle of Wight), Lizard (Cornwall), Seaforth (Liverpool), Rosslare (Wexford), Crookhaven (Kerry) and Malin Head (Donegal). The Marconi Company retained its licence for its long distance stations at Poldhu and Clifden.

1910

The murderer Dr Crippen and his mistress Ethel le Neve were arrested in July while sailing across the Atlantic as a result of a wireless message from SS Montrose to New Scotland Yard, the first time wireless was applied in this manner.

trunk telephone cable was opened between Manchester and Liverpool.

The National Telephone Company was licensed on 10 August to provide fire, police and ambulance telephone circuits.

1911

The Automatic Telephone Manufacturing Company Ltd of Milton Road, Edge Lane, Liverpool, was formed in November to exploit the UK Strowger patent rights of the Automatic Electric Company of Chicago, the proprietors of the patents. ATM was the first manufacturer of automatic telephone equipment in the UK.