• Germany's news in English

Germany marks first phone call anniversary - 15 years before Bell

The Local · 26 Oct 2011, 12:07

Published: 26 Oct 2011 12:07 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The age of telephony was not hailed with Bell’s summons to his assistant, “Mr Watson come here – I want to see you” in 1876 – but by the surreal sentence “The horse does not eat cucumber salad” spoken on October 26 back in 1861 by Reis.

It was a nonsense phrase which Reis made up during a presentation of his early telephone model – to prove to the audience that listeners on the receiving end of his device were not parroting a memorized dialogue.

His physics project, bearing the title, “On the transmission of sounds over optional distances through the switching of galvanic electricity,” which involved a wooden earpiece complemented by a piece of sausage skin to recreate the eardrum, started the string of long-distance communication devices that have revolutionized the transmission of voice and data messages.

Aged just 27 when he transmitted the cucumber salad sentence, Reis was unable to develop his invention further and it remained a one-way device. He died of tuberculosis aged 40.

It was not until the 1870s when Scottish-born American Bell introduced his invention, which could be held alternatively to the mouth and the ear, that the telephone took off and conquered the world market.

One of the first public telephone networks was established in Berlin in 1881, comprising 48 members who used a crank handle for dialling.

The conversations had to be manually forwarded by a switchboard technician, a position soon dominated by women because their higher voices were easier to understand than male tones.

Initially, the telephone was met with scepticism. A very early telephone directory published in Berlin was dubbed the “book of fools.”

Though the first phones were luxury items, more than one million people were registered in Germany by 1910. Today the country has 39 million fixed-network lines and three times as many mobiles.

The phone became a cultural and historical asset in film, theatre and music. Deutsche Telekom reports that Marlene Dietrich, completely enamoured by the invention, rang up monthly telephone bills exceeding 15,000 DM.

Rock musician Bob Dylan was also inspired by the phone in his piece “Long Distance Operator“ and wrote the line “Well, my telephone rang, it would not stop“ into his ballad “I Shall Be Free.“

The telephone also snared major roles in film, for example, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller “Dial M for Murder,“ in which Grace Kelly as Margot Wendice is murdered during a phone call. And of course, in Steven Spielberg’s famous science fiction film “E.T.“, the alien, stranded and heartbroken, says, “Phone home!“

Even though operator girls quickly disappeared, telephones remained expensive into the 1990s. Bundespost – Telekom’s predecessor – posted an appropriate instruction onto its telephone booths: “Keep it short.”

Finally, though, the telephone, through digitalisation and market liberalisation, spurred by the wide-spread prominence of mobiles, took over everyday communication.

The clunky box models disappeared, and with the final market opening in 1998, phone prices tumbled, expanding access.

Story continues below…

Mobiles began to outpace landlines as the consumer pool increased. Last year, 1.6 billion mobile phones were sold, with every fifth phone being a smartphone, according to market research firm Gartner. Industry association Bitkom estimates the global market for telecommunications, including device manufacturers and network providers, to have a volume of €1.5 billion.

Today’s do-everything mobile phones have little in common with Reis’s original voice transmitter. In fact, voice communication seems to be becoming merely a nice by-product of the modern data communication world which includes text messages, Facebook and Twitter.

Nonetheless, frustrated listeners may often cite the one element of calling that has remained true to Reis’s invention when they admonish their phone partner to “speak into the mouthpiece – I can’t understand you!“

DPA/The Local/emh

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

12:29 October 26, 2011 by storymann
Last time the Germans invented the computer, now the telephone.Sure ok with me.Maybe in the next post they will have invented the IPod and IPad
13:06 October 26, 2011 by ND1000
Germans were the first on the moon as well. My neighbor has also assured me that the Christmas tree, St. Nick, and practically anything thats good is German. Im not sure he had passing marks in history class though LOL.
13:20 October 26, 2011 by z5um
In this comment section: butthurt anglo-american expats. Just accept the german superiority.
13:36 October 26, 2011 by Joseph Thomas
That's just nationalism, in whichever country claims a first. Everyone everywhere is guilty to it to a degree. It's not always agreed upon when an actual item should be considered invented. Much is added to a previous idea each time it's improved upon. Reis certainly derived his ideas from previous knowledge, very likely from other places as well. We can celebrate healthy growth however and wherever it occurs. Germans (and Americans) overclaim actual inventions. Doesn't bother me. I think the Christmas tree actually did come from that part of Europe though (at least in many ways). Also, no need to arm wrestle over this. It's funny, because as an American, I have read about the many helpful and harmful inventions that have occurred here on this continent...........BY PEOPLE OF DIRECT GERMAN AND EUROPEAN DESCENT! :-) (And check your facts before anyone wants to claim "who" made the harmful ones and who made the helpful ones ..............someone who wants to type a fast reply is usually the one who hasn't checked the facts----there is an even distribution on that one---that research has already been done.) Thank you Mr. Reis and Mr. Bell.....I'm sure you are both enjoying a good laugh together!
13:58 October 26, 2011 by DOZ
Too bad nothing was invented to fix the Human Equation.
14:49 October 26, 2011 by jbaker
This is all for the glory of pride and arrogance not to mention corporate greed and profits.. Why should we care? Don't forget that most Germans have direct descent from Mongolia and Italy. Thank you Genghis Kahn and the Roman Hierarchy. As it goes on and on generations of people from around the world have descended from other areas and peoples. We all hold the same DNA - Modern science can only identify less than 5% - the rest they call junk, because of their lack of Knowledge and Arrogance. Wake Up People!
16:21 October 26, 2011 by karldehm
The articles states the first phone call. I don't know what the problem is. The so- called phone we all know was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. He was born in Scotland, did most of his research and lived in Canada for most of his life, but registered the patent in the USA. So where was it invented?

Get over it, you whiners.
16:48 October 26, 2011 by The-ex-pat
12:29 October 26, 2011 by storymannLast time the Germans invented the computer, now the telephone.Sure ok with me.Maybe in the next post they will have invented the IPod and IPad

You forgot the jet engine and first to fly too..............lol
18:30 October 26, 2011 by catjones
germans invented inventions.
19:49 October 26, 2011 by karldehm
The IPod is actually a glorified mp3 player which was invented in Germany.

I'm not to sure about the IPad, but give me some time and I'll find out.
06:00 October 27, 2011 by Sastry.M
Earlier on, it was a German genius and humanist who submitted humbly to God by saying:

Were not the eye to the Sun akin

The Sun we never could behold

Filled not with God's power, us within

How can He hold us enthralled?

J.W. von Goethe-"Egmont"

Humanity beset with its own desires of self created values may comprehend an Euro coin, print currency exchange value,mark head and tail on faces, and yet fails to realize that the same element of metal makes up the whole coin as well as human concern of its utility.

12:55 October 28, 2011 by raandy
karldehm, there is a big difference between the original mp3 player and the technology of the ipod, but it wouldn't surprise me or in your case hasn't surprised me that the Germans will try to grab the credit for it.
16:24 October 28, 2011 by Gauleiter Brad
How soon after the first phone was invented and used did the German govt hire spies to monitor the "Das Leben Des Anderes"??? Probably a few decades prior to J. Edgar Hoover.

We all know the German rep for technical innovation. Luckily decades of socialistic levelling mean Germany will not produce any time soon an Einstein or a Steve Jobs. A favorite cold war cartoon showed a US satellite flying close to a Soviet satellite. "Now that we're alone we can speak German!"
18:31 October 28, 2011 by expatriarch
What the heck is wrong with people. There are too many idiots, above, to mention, but it is laughable that you pout and insult upon feeling cognitive dissonance after hearing something that does not fit with the propaganda you have been fed. If it is verifiable determined that Johann Philipp Reis invented the telephone, then that should be the case, and that is what should be taught. Even in American schools, where it would surely be stricken from the curriculum, as it does not fit with our image of being perpetually #1.

So much of American history, culture, advancement, and power is undeniably due to German immigrants or inventions. What American should and can be proud of is that while Germans, and many other Europeans, invent many things; it is Americans that adopt them and implement the new technology and adapt to using it. Whereas Germans have always been slow to lead and take the spotlight. It may be generalizing, but Germans are generally too modest in their overwhelming practicality. They lack the emotional interest and flamboyance of art and creativity. Not to say that Germans aren't creative, but Germany is the birth place of Bauhaus... I'm just saying, people!
18:57 October 28, 2011 by Celeon
@ jbaker


Ehhhmmm, but you do know that his "hun" thing solely originated in a pun article by the british tabloid press comparing a speech of the german Kaiser to a quote from Dschingis Khan? :-D

Germans would really look ... slightly different if they had mongolian ancestors. :-D

Also, .... you got the Migration Period the wrong way around. Its rather the italians who have many german ancestors as the germans went over to the roman party not the other way around. ;-D
23:45 October 28, 2011 by PierceArrow
That is interesting. As an American, I had read that a British man named Swan invented an incandescent light bulb shortly before Edison did, but I had never heard of Johann Reis.

On a less serious note, remember when government schools in the Soviet Union taught their students that everything was invented by Russians? Good riddance to the USSR and the DDR (Der Doof Rest)!
Today's headlines
Eurowings cabin crew union to strike all day Thursday
Photo: DPA.

UPDATE: A union representing cabin crews on Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings has announced that strikes will last all day Thursday as ongoing contract negotiations continue to falter.

Hesse hopes to set example by building Iraqi orphanages
Refugee children in northern Iraq. Photo: DPA

The wealthy central German state of Hesse has set aside €1 million to build a school, family homes and an orphanage in northern Iraq, in an effort to help refugees there.

The Local List
10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
David Hasselhoff. Photo: DPA

Whether it be efficiency, humourlessness or a love of a certain Baywatch star, there are many cliches stuck in the heads of foreigners about Germany. But how true are they?

Fake Germanwings victim relative convicted in Cologne
A torn piece of metal at the crash site in 2015. Photo: DPA

A German court on Wednesday gave a woman a year's suspended jail sentence for posing as the cousin of a victim in last year's Germanwings plane crash and obtaining compensation offered by the airline.

Couple accused of torturing, murdering women go on trial
The so-called 'house of horrors' in Höxter where the couple allegedly tortured and killed women. Photo: DPA.

A couple accused of luring women to their village home with personal ads started trial on Wednesday over charges that they tortured and killed at least two of their victims.

After July attacks, govt drafts new video surveillance law
Photo: DPA

The Interior Ministry is drafting a law which will enable public spaces to be filmed for surveillance purposes as a reaction to deadly attacks in July, according to a newspaper report.

Merkel: murky internet giants distort perception of reality
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Tuesday for internet giants to make public their closely-guarded algorithms, claiming that they are not giving people diverse enough information.

Pegida leader 'paid court costs with group's money'
Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann. Photo: DPA.

The leader of the anti-Islam movement reportedly used money from Pegida's coffers to pay for two personal court cases, German media reported this week.

Anger as Berlin scraps Turkey concert on Armenia genocide
The Dresden Symphony Orchestra. Photo: DPA

Germany's foreign ministry Tuesday scrapped a planned symphony performance on the Armenian "genocide" in its Istanbul consulate, sparking accusations that it was caving in to Turkish pressure.

Obama to visit Berlin in last presidential trip to Germany
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel during a Berlin trip in 2013. Photo: DPA.

The White House announced on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama will be paying one last unexpected visit to the German capital - his last before he leaves office.

10 ways German completely messes up your English
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd