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The telegraph debate - 1860s
Initial development of the telegraph followed the specific needs of railway, commercial and government users.

The pressures on the operating companies came from the establishment rather than from public opinion at large. So telegraph operators were being pressured from above rather than below.
The telephone dilemma
In Britain the telephone started out much as the telegraph did, in the hands of privately owned free enterprise. But a change of government led to the law being used to hinder the telephone industry growing in an unregulated or unlicensed way.

As a result the industry remained mostly in private hands but worked under a state licensing system, and successive changes of government just added to the confusion.

Even so, the telephone network somehow advanced remarkably effectively into the 20th century.
Bucking the system - 1970s
The system that evolved during the 1920s and 1930s was outdated, bureaucratic and sluggish. At the same time it was surprisingly inventive and far sighted. In short, it was heavy going - but it worked.

By 1939 our telecommunication networks were among the most advanced and efficient in the world. But financial pressures following the Second World War meant the state-owned system found it increasingly difficult to keep up with changing technologies and society.

By the 1970s public opinion, advancing technologies and rapidly changing society combined to make it time for change...
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...