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About the collections at the Museum of London

Inside the Museum of London

The Museum of London is one of the world’s largest urban history museums and tells the story of London and its people from prehistoric times to the present day.

The Museum’s Galleries of Modern London show how the energy of Londoners shaped this global city over the past 350 years. 7,000 objects and show-stopping interactives tell the story of the city’s tumultuous history, from the Great Fire of 1666 to today’s 21st century capital.

Material from the Museum’s Connected Earth collection can be seen in the People’s City and World City galleries. The collection items on display include an iconic illuminated Model K2 telephone kiosk, which houses an array of objects, ephemera and interactive elements. The kiosk also features screens showing the films Fairy of the Phone and Go Ahead Please from BT Archives.

The rest of the Museum’s Connected Earth collection (including the artefacts below) are held in storage and is accessible to visitors by appointment. Objects and ephemera from the collection can also be viewed on Exploring 20th Century London.

News the the from Museum of London.

The Rothschild telephone

Rothschild telephone (1890s) : a cut above the rest

This telephone was created especially for the Rothschild's family home in London by the Ericsson factory.

The Rothschilds were, and remain, a family of very successful bankers. As the early telephone industry developed they followed an interest in the technology by investing in telephone companies. This telephone was both elegant and practical. It connected their Piccadilly mansion to their banking house in the City of London. It was a standard model but made using ivory and gold gilt. Its legs also acted as a magnet for the ringing generator. The telephone had the convenience of a combined mouthpiece (transmitter) and earpiece (receiver), an innovation first developed in 1884 by L.M. Ericsson of Sweden.

The standard models were much cheaper, but were still beyond the reach of most people. A telephone installation cost around £20 per year - the same as the average wage of a servant. The telephone remained a luxury item for only the wealthiest people for many years, until the prices began to drop.

Electrophone table

Electrophone table (1905) : a shared experience

The electrophone was a clever way for people to listen to live opera, theatre and church services down a telephone line, long before broadcast radio had been introduced. Transmitters in the venues were routed through the Electrophone Exchange and on to subscribers, listening to the requested performance by means of headphones.

The Electrophone company also provided these listening posts for rental in public areas, which meant that customers didn't have to own a telephone at home to be able to enjoy the entertainment.

So this sort of table might also have been found in a gentlemen's club or salon. The multi-headset tables made it more enjoyable because you could listen and laugh at the same jokes, at the same time, with your friends, which was almost like being there yourself.

Four-needle telegraph

Four-Needle Telegraph (c1837) : a further step on the road to success

Although the five needle telegraph is generally regarded as the first functional electric telegraph, this device was used by Cooke and Wheatstone to prove the principle on which the five needle telegraph was to function. It was also used to show Robert Stephenson's London to Birmingham railway company the principles they would demonstrate with the first commercial telegraph presentation on 8th July 1837.

As soon as Cooke and Wheatstone launched their five needle telegraph system, the race was on to create better, quicker and more efficient systems. This period of frenetic activity was similar to the early days of personal computers before the IBM PC and Mac became the standard models.

The goal was to use fewer needles, and wires to reduce cost and increase efficiency. To achieve this, the five-needles were reduced first to two and eventually one. By 1848, 1000 miles (1600km) of railway were equipped with telegraph wires carrying messages and Greenwich Mean Time from London to over 200 towns and cities across the country.

3D objects from Museum of London

Place the mouse over the Flash image. Left-click and drag either left or right to rotate the animation.
   
Telephone, c.1931

This is a replica of the 2,000,000th telephone to be connected with the Post Office system. The original was installed for his Majesty King George V in Buckingham Palace, June 1931.

   
Mobira Cityman mobile phone, Nokia-Mobira, Finland, c.1988

Launched in 1987, this phone was one of the first handheld mobiles.

   
Mickey Mouse telephone, 1980s

In the 1980s, novelty phones became popular in the UK. The Mickey Mouse phone is still in production today.

   
House of Lords division bell transmitter, c.1870

The electric telegraph was used to alert House of Lords members when a division or vote was being called. Bells were situated throughout the Houses of Parliament and in nearby restaurants and pubs.

   
Bible transmitter, c.1890

This transmitter disguised as a Bible was used to transmit church services into the homes of Electrophone Company subscribers.

   
Bells patent telephone receiver, c.1878

This telephone was one of the first to be made in London. A factory in Silvertown had been given the exclusive UK rights to manufacture Bell's patent telephones.

   
Astrofon, 1981

This commemorative push button telephone in black & silver was made to mark the inauguration of British Telecom on 1 October 1981.

Visitor information

Museum of London location map

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7001 9844
Email: info@museumoflondon.org.uk
Website:http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/

Postal Address:
Museum of London
London Wall
London
EC2Y 5HN

Directions

The main entrance to the Museum is located on a pedestrian highwalk accessed from Aldersgate Street, London Wall or St Martins-Le-Grand, five minutes walk from St Paul's Cathedral. The nearest underground stations are Barbican, St Paul's and Moorgate; the nearest railway stations are Liverpool Street and City Thameslink.

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...