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Using phone services
There are always at least two layers of telephone conversation. The first is the one you have with the people you're calling - the second is the one you have with the people operating the network.

In the early days all calls went through an operator. Nowadays it is more machine driven, with humans available to help when needed

And it wasn't long before dealing with the network became a more varied affair, as telephone companies worked out that the quickest way to make money was to develop new types of telephone service.
The network expands
The telephone came to people more than they came to the telephone. The initial priority of the GPO in the 19th century was to extend the telegraph to every village. This was the ABC system and took more than 30 years to put in place.

So it wasn't until the 1920s and 1930s that the telephone network began to expand from the metropolitan areas into the suburbs, then the villages and eventually the countryside.
Payphones
For decades the telephone kiosk - or telephone box as it soon became known - was not so much the telephone you used when you were out and about. For people who didn't have their own telephones at home - in other words, most people - the kiosk was their only path to the telephone.

The telephone box, with its distinctive design, soon became as much a symbol of Britain as Big Ben or the red double-decker London bus.

During its long life the telephone box has been loved and hated in more or less equal measure.
Telephones in emergencies
The telephone has been a lifesaver from the outset. For the first time people at risk in homes or offices were able to call for help without having to run out to the street.

Before too long, special networks and services were put in place to ensure that emergency calls could always get through.
Telephones and privacy
Another constant theme of life with the telephone is stopping the thing from ruling your life.

From the outset, people have gone to various lengths to find ways of not answering the telephone.

The only difference between then and now is that modern ways are more sophisticated than just letting it ring or leaving it off the hook.
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...