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First steps
The telephone was discovered almost by accident. What people thought they were looking for was a way to make the telegraph work faster and more profitably - by sending distinct musical notes or tones simultaneously along the wires with a separate message sent on each frequency.

But they soon realised it could also include the human voice - a speaking telegraph. And if you could talk down a wire, wouldn't that be an entirely new and better way of communicating?

The individual parts of the telephone were discovered and developed by different people at different times.

Someone needed to take all those connections and draw them together into one working instrument. In the end that someone was Alexander Graham Bell - but he only just won the race.
Developing the telephone
Owning a telephone was all very well - but not much use without someone to call . It was one of many 'chicken and egg' situations in the history of telecommunications - which comes first, the network or service? The application or the need?

Without selling telephones, you have no users. But without a group of users, other people have no reason to buy a telephone. Breaking through this barrier involved some hard selling - and some tough business battles.
From local to national networks
The first telephone networks were tiny, connecting a handful of users in closely located buildings, with a small switchboard in between.

But it didn't take long for those networks to grow from tens of people to hundreds, then thousands.

At the same time, the local networks began to be connected together as trunk lines were set up - long distance wires connecting the towns and cities all over Britain.
International networks
As we stand at the beginning of the 21st century, there are four main trends that are shaping the world of telecommunications, media and entertainment.
Those trends are digitalisation, convergence, fragmenting audiences and the growth of the internet.
fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...