Official Bell Homestead NHS Website, City of Brantford

Telephone History 

Photos courtesy of Bell Canada, Historical Records and Artifacts &, *Trademark of AT&T, **Trademark of Nortel, (TM) Trademark of Bell Canada

1875 - Gallows Frame Transmitter

1875 Gallows Frame Transmitter

Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone, the “Gallows Frame”, through which speech sounds were first transmitted electrically on June 3rd, 1875.

1876 - Liquid Transmitter and Harmonic Receiver

1876 Liquid Transmitter and Harmonic Receiver

“Mr. Watson, come here.  I want to see you.”  These historic words, the first recognizable sentence ever transmitted electrically, were spoken by inventor Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant, Thomas Watson, over the Liquid Transmitter, March 10th, 1876, in Boston, Mass.

1876 - Double Pole Membrane Transmitter

1876 Double Pole Membrane Transmitter

Bell’s Double Pole Membrane Transmitter and Iron Box Receiver were used in 1876 to transmit and receive the world’s first one-way long distance telephone call from Brantford to Paris, Ontario.  Canada’s first two-way long distance telephone conversation was between Montreal and Quebec in 1877.

1877 - Wooden Box and Wooden Hand Telephones

1877 Wooden Box and Wooden Hand Telephones

Canada’s first telephones for commercial use were leased in 1877 to Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie.  The instruments were used in Ottawa, Ontario, on a line from Mr. Mackenzie’s office at the Department of Public Works to the Governor General’s residence.  Both the Wooden Box and Wooden Hand Telephones were capable of transmitting and receiving conversations.

1879 - Wall Telephone

1879 Wall Telephone

Customers claimed that fragments of their conversation were lost while the Wooden Box or Wooden Hand Telephone was being transferred from mouth to ear.  An additional receiver-transmitter overcame this problem.  The crank in the centre of the panel generated power to call the operator.

1880s - “Blake” Magneto Wall Telephone

1880s 'Blake' Magneto Wall Telephone

The Blake magneto wall and desk telephones of the 1880s contained the transmitter invented in 1878 by Francis Blake, which relayed the voice with increased clarity. These telephones were in general use in Canada until about 1900. The double red band on the receiver indicated that the instrument was licensed for use in Canada.

1890s - “White” Solid Back Long Distance Wall Telephone

1890s 'White' Solid Back Long Distance Wall Telephone

The “White Solid Back” Long Distance magneto telephone of the 1890s was so called because it gave better transmission over greater distances than the Blake telephone. The transmitter used in these sets, with only minor modifications, was used exclusively until 1919.

1900 - Common Battery Desk Telephone

1900 Common Battery Desk Telephone

The first common battery telephone system in Canada was installed by Bell Canada at Ottawa in 1900. Battery power was centralized at the telephone exchange; battery boxes and cranks for operating the magneto generator were eliminated from subscribers’ telephones. By 1904 the common battery wall telephones were less than half the size of earlier wall sets and the “daffodil” telephone of 1910 became a popular set.

1907 - 1317 Wall Telephone

1907 1317 Wall Telephone

By 1907, the introduction of dry cell batteries led to a design change for local battery magneto telephones. Gone were the two and three box sets of the 1890s and in their place was a rugged and efficient one box “1317” telephone. Although common battery systems were being installed in most urban centres, the local battery magneto wall sets continued to provide dependable service in rural areas up to the 1960s.

1924 - 50-Type Dial Desk Telephone

1924 50-Type Dial Desk Telephone

In 1924 dials appeared for the first time on telephone sets used by Bell Canada subscribers. The “50-Type” desk set was one of the pioneer models. Bell Canada’s first dial office, Toronto’s “GRover” exchange, was opened in July, 1924.

1924 - 293 Dial Wall Telephone

1924 293 Dial Wall Telephone

The “293” type wall set was also a pioneer model in direct dial telephones.

1927 - Combination Handset Dial Desk Telephone

1927 Combination Handset Dial Desk Telephone

Telephones took on a new look in 1927 when the combined receiver-transmitter, long used by telephone linesmen, was sufficiently improved to be adapted for general use. These sets ushered in the era of combination handset telephones.

1937 - 300-Type Dial Desk Telephone

1937 300-Type Dial Desk Telephone

Innovations in telephone styles were extensive in the 1930s. The square box design of the wall set disappeared and by 1937 the bell was hidden in the base of the desk telephone.

1952 - 500-Type Dial Desk Telephone

1952 500-Type Dial Desk Telephone

Rugged and functional, the “500-type” desk telephone of 1952 and its wall counterpart of 1956, were, and still are for some, extremely popular and widely used. Telephones became decorative household items in 1955 when they became available in four different colours (green, ivory, grey, and red).

1960 - Princess Desk Telephone

Trademark of AT&T

* 1960 Princess Desk Telephone

The desk set acquired a new glamour in 1960. Compact shape, colourful, attractive styling and illuminated dial, made the “Princess” telephone a favourite bedroom telephone.

1964 - 2500-Type Touch-Tone Desk Telephone

1964 2500-Type Touch-Tone Desk Telephone

Heralding a new era in communications, the dial was replaced by push buttons in the Touch-Tone telephone of 1964. Conversion was then underway to bring Touch-Tone service to all customers requesting it.

1968 - Contempra Telephone

Trademark of Nortel

** 1968 Contempra Telephone

Designed and produced in Canada, the handset in the Contempra phone of 1968 had everything you need to make a call – including a “recall” button which made it possible to dial another call without hanging up. The Contempra phone was available with either dial or Touch-Tone service.

1970s - Alexander Graham Plane Telephone

Trademark of Nortel

** 1970s Alexander Graham Plane Telephone

Produced by Northern Telecom in Canada, the Alexander Graham Plane Telephone celebrated Alexander Graham Bell’s experiments and work in early aviation. This fun dial set ushered in the era of novelty telephones.

1984 - Harmony Telephone

Trademark of Nortel

1984 Harmony Telephone

With the development of modular telephone jacks that could be installed in any room, eliminating the need to hard-wire telephones in one place, the Harmony Telephone replaced its popular predecessor, the 500-Type telephone that had been in use since the early 1950s. Available in Touch-Tone only, the Harmony Telephone was extremely lightweight and came in a variety of “designer” colours.

1995 - Vista 350 Telephone

Trademark of Nortel

** 1995 Vista 350 Telephone

By 1995 telephone customers were presented with a variety of subscriber services including Call-Waiting, Call-Display, and Voice Mail. The Vista 350 Telephone provided an array of user-functions and the ability to access services with the use of a large screen such as home banking, catalogue shopping, libraries and restaurant guides. This high-tech set also allowed users to store up to 50 names and numbers alphabetically and provided hands-free talking with a built-in speaker.