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Telephone Etiquette

In the 1870s, Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both invented devices capable of transmitting speech. Bell rushed his invention to the patent office first, and today his name is synonymous with the telephone. By 1880 a phone line connected Boston to Somerville, Massachusetts. By the end of 1880 there were 47,900 phones in the United States. The first pay phone was installed in 1889. Service between New York and Chicago began in 1892, and in 1894 New York was connected to Boston.

The first telephones were used primarily for business, but all did not go smoothly. Phone users often had difficulty making the adjustment from communicating by telegraph. On this date in 1901, an article in the Devils Lake Inter-Ocean reminded readers that following simple rules of telephone etiquette would make communication much easier and more effective. The article was written by Angus Hibbard, the general manager of the Chicago Telephone Company.

He shared the experience he gained by advising businessmen. Hibbard noted that for a busy man, the phone offered a means of conserving money, time, and energy. But it had to be used correctly. Hibbard’s first bit of advice was to speak clearly into the mouthpiece with the mouth close to the instrument. He said that no one would do business with someone who insisted on carrying on a conversation with his back turned, but many of those he advised kept a foot away from the mouthpiece or even turned away from it, then wondered why the other party couldn’t hear them.

Another problem in communication was a loss of concentration on the task at hand. Because the other person in the conversation was not in the same room, it was too easy to forget that the conversation was with a real person, not an inanimate object. Hibbard noted that telephone calls – especially long-distance calls – were an expense. They should be used efficiently and attentively.

There is no way Mr. Hibbard could have imagined that people would one day carry phones with them wherever they go. But his 1901 advice is not bad. He said if users handled the phone properly and used it efficiently, “it will do its duty.”

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.


Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Telephone Usage.” 11 January 1901. Devils Lake ND. Page 1.

ThoughtCo. “How the Telephone Was Invented.” https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-telephone-alexander-graham-bell-1991380  Accessed 12/9/2018.

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