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Promoting the telephone

Alexander Bell lecturing about the telephone, Salem, USA

Bell's marketing (1877) : presenting the inventor

During the first half of 1877 Alexander Graham Bell took out a second patent on the telephone and set up a company - the Bell Telephone Company - in partnership with his collaborator Thomas Watson and his backers, Gardiner Green Hubbard and Thomas Sanders.

Later that year he married Hubbard's daughter, Mabel, and sailed to Europe on honeymoon - taking some telephones in his luggage to 'start the trouble over there.' He succeeded. Bell's lecture tour was a sensational success, including a demonstration to Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

It led to the formation of a British company, the Telephone Company (Bell's Patents) Ltd., to work Bell's patents in the UK. The company had Bell's blessing and licence - but he personall had no direct involvement. In fact, by the time it was formed in June 1878, Bell had become distressed by the continual attacks on his claim to be the phone's inventor. He told his friends he was 'sick of the telephone' and keen to be 'done with it altogether'. The following year he stepped down from the board of the Bell Telephone Company, left the business and put his new-found fortune to finding other pursuits.

National Telephone Company leaflet, c1900

Branding the telephone : pushing service - not the name

A hundred years ago, promoting the company name wasn't seen as the priority it is today. The National Telephone Company was more interested in promoting its services rather than the organisation itself and the notion of the 'brand' was still a long way off.

Customers might become aware of the company through a logo on their quarterly bill or through a letter-headed contract, but generally the NTC kept a fairly low profile, along with virtually every other commercial organisation.

The NTC realised the value of customers telling their friends and generating word-of-mouth sales, but the only time the company really made its presence felt was when local councils started to open their own exchanges. Then they started to promote the word 'National' in their title as being of true value to the customer's choice of a service that would - potentially - reach anyone in Britain.

Solent Telegraph Cable - a Connected Earth artefact, now in the Museum of London collection

Solent telegraph cable (c1878) : a royal ...pardon - you'll have to speak up!

By the 1870s laying cables underwater was a fairly established procedure that could be carried out without any great difficulty. This section of cable came from the connection made between the Isle of Wight and the English mainland, as a part of the Post Office's national telegraph network and in itself it wouldn't arouse much interest.

However, the network hit the papers in January 1878 when Alexander Bell demonstrated his new telephone invention to a curious Queen Victoria on 14th January.

The Queen had a residence on the island, Osborne House, and Bell, with the support of the Post Office, had connected telephones between the house and a cottage in the grounds. After a brief lecture on the science, Bell called the cottage and the Queen had the first royal conversation on the telephone. Calls were then made to Cowes, and using this telegraph cable, to Southampton and London on the mainland.

TELEPHONE EXCHANGE' letters - a Connected Earth artefact, now in the Museum of London

'THE TELEPHONE EXCHANGE' (c1900) : spelling it out loud and clear

These 12 inch high brass letters were mounted above the door of the telephone exchange building at London Wall.

Not only were the letters a handy display to help new visitors to find the building, but they were a larger than life symbol for the NTC to show the pride it had in its system, as the letters would have stretched over 12 feet across.

Probably the most useful function for the letters was as a permanent advertisement for the telephone system, reminding everyone who went past the building of its function and service.

The different corporate logos : creating a sense of identity

The different corporate logos : creating a sense of identity
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