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Portrait of Thomas Edison as a young man Edison, Thomas Alva (1847-1931)

Although better known for inventing the electric lamp and the phonograph, Thomas Alva Edison made a number of significant improvements to the telephone.

Edison was always inquisitive and started experimenting with electrical currents after his mother bought him a science book. He patented his first invention - an electrical vote recorder - when he was 22 and pledged his life to inventing. During his lifetime, Edison patented 1,093 inventions. Inventing was like a formula - two large inventions per year and a minor one every ten days! He even made inventions to order. In fact, he applied for 400 patents in one year alone! Early in his career Edison was called to New York's Wall Street, to make improvements to Edward Calahan's 'stock ticker', where he fortunately met many of the financiers who funded his later projects.

In 1878 he was employed by the Western Union company to make improvements on Elisha Gray's prototype telephone, which they now owned. Edison was in direct competition to Alexander Graham Bell but he managed to develop a superior transmitter that gave Western Union an effective advantage.

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...