Why AT&T Tried to Destroy the Answering Machine

If you follow the history of the answering-machine it spans more than 100 years with many different formats and recording media. The procedure commenced in the late 1800’s with Valdemar Pouisen who invented the first device to record sound through magnetic and wire. This device was recognized as the telegraphone and it paved the way not only for answering machines but for all forms of audio recording in the future.

Modern record devices and the rapid advancement of technology show us that people are ravenous and grim as it pertains to updating and constructing on existing technology. Here is precisely the same mind-set that individuals held in the early 1-900’s but despite the recognition of this kind of device there seemed to be a lack of research and production in the marketplace of answering devices through the 1st half of the 1900’s.

While others worked to further the application of the recording device, it wasn’t until approximately 1949 that the first real commercial answering machine was advertised successfully. The cumbersome machine cost $200 and relied on magnetic wire. It wasn’t until the sixties and later that the substitution to magnetic tape was made.

That tape would alter history as properly – maybe not merely for answering devices but for recording audio and video. When this engineering was paired with the telephone, anyone making or getting a telephone call could readily record that dialog or message to magnetic tape using an easy apparatus.

However, this is the point where we discover a tiny disparity in research in development. With changeable kinds of technology, the United States was booming with progress left and right in numerous fields yet there were so few breakthroughs in the technology connecting to answering machines… why?

Answering Devices – A New, Sweeping Technology… Swept under the Rug

It’s well recognized the first automatic answering machine was stated to be produced by Willy Muller in 1935 but the truth is that Bell Labs, possessed by AT&T throughout this era, were working on prototypes for automated answering devices even before this. Don’t believe it? Just call AT&T Customer Service Number There’s even evidence that some dabbled in answering machines as early as 19-24 utilizing recording cylinders. It is not clear if these were ever mass-produced on any marketable scale however.

So with the regular advancements of technology – Why did it take so long for there to be an answering machine apparatus which could be commercially marketed to companies and people? It had nothing to do with how functional the technology actually was. Even in 1951 AT&T was providing a working answering device called the Peatrophone, that used two phonograph disks to play and report messages.

The problem with the engineering was because it did work – it functioned very well. That’s why AT&T decided to put a halt to the technology.

As stated, AT&T possessed Bell Labs during the era where research was happening to create an answering-machine that would function for homeowners along with businesses. The concept came about due to the liberty to experiment among employees at Bell Labs – much the same way Google inspires their technologists to utilize 20% of their work time pursuing their own interests and endeavors. That environment led to the theory behind the automated answering machine.

Shortly after the theory came to fruition nevertheless, AT&T shutdown the study on magnetic storage and the automatic answering machine. The research information was hidden by AT&T and archived until just lately where the reports were uncovered in records and laboratory notes from Bell archives. But why pull the plug and hide a product with such possibility? Why conceal something that would necessarily come to light down the road through the research development of others?

The answer is that AT&T strongly believed recording devices attached to phone lines – notably people that have magnetic tapes and the possibility of high-fidelity recording – would induce individuals to abandon using the phone number.

The greatest concern rested in the belief that residential and business consumers would completely prevent the phone because they feared that recording conversations might create fears of privacy intrusion. Some might not use the telephone because they wish to discuss obscene and even dubious matters and they would not need those dialogues recorded. They also presumed that company owners would worry a recorded dialogue could cause contractual problems between parties. Overall, AT&T worried that magnetic recording would alter the entire nature of telephone conversations and leave the service of phones considerably less appealing to their customers.

Because of this halt in research, the possibility of magnetic tape recording for phone answering devices was not completely investigated until later years – and did not truly hit home with the people until after World War II.

The reaction that came those many years ago from AT&T had not been the first time that a business bucked at the thought of ground-breaking technology – and it probably won’t be the last. This is nevertheless one of those situations where – despite the best endeavours of the institution to shut the engineering down – there was no-stopping strong minds from continuing to find practical uses for magnetic tape technology with ongoing advancement into the digital answering devices we use today.

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