The Wireless Phone – Where did it come from?

In today’s world, the wireless phone (aka mobile phone, aka cell phone) is as common as clothing. Wireless phones impact a lot in our lives and in every walk of life. From seniors to my 6 year-old granddaughter, a wireless phone is a must. Wireless phones allow us to communicate with our friends and loved ones, multitasking is an outgrowth of wireless phones, and wireless phones allow us to listen to our music, watch movies, and create selfies.

But, where did wireless phones come from? Who helped develop them?

Many people believe that wireless phones were created in the early 1970s and moved to “cellular” in the 1980s. Actually. the invention and development of the wireless phone goes back to the turn of the 20th century. These early phones were unwieldly, cumbersome, and were not really portable.

This article from Frank Leslie’s Weekly, speaks to the early development and excitement of wireless phones…

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

Telephoning without Wires: Is It Practicable?

The recent experiments of Professor Frederick Collins with the wireless telephone at Narberth, Penn., a suburb of Philadelphia, have attracted much attention. Signor A. Marconi, inventor of the wireless telegraphy, commenting on Professor Collins’s experiments to a representative of Leslie’s Weekly, said:

The system used by Professor Collins is good only for short distances. Under ordinary circumstances the limit would be about a mile. I have tried the same experiments myself, and for long distances the system is not successful.

Appended is a brief description of the apparatus and methods used by Professor Collins, which is contributed to Leslie’s Weekly:

Out in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Penn., several men have been working for the last year with an apparatus which at a distance looks like a camera mounted on an ordinary tripod. As a matter of fact, it is a telephone which can be inclosed in a case like a camera, carried from place to place and used without wires. So much has been heard about wireless telegraphy recently that the experiments which have been conducted by Professor Frederick Collins are almost unknown, yet he has succeeded in receiving and sending messages at the distance of a mile by his invention. When Professor Collins began his work in the little suburban town of Narberth, Penn., the residents thought that a party of photographers and surveyors were at work as they saw the men with tripods on their shoulders going from place to place. Later, when they found that the parties were talking to each other across fields and valleys and through woodland they looked for the familiar telephone pole and wire, or some visible connection between the stations, but found nothing.

Like Marconi, Professor Collins uses only natural means of communication—the earth—although he claims the system would work as well at sea as on land, and possibly better, for his theory is that the electric current for the transmission of telephone messages can be conducted as easily as where the wireless telegraph is used, although he has made but a beginning in his experiments. While Marconi has used lofty elevations and recently has sent and received messages by means of kites connected by wires with the earth, the Narberth experiments have been conducted close to the ground, as indicated by the apparatus. If Professor Collins established stations in tree tops or at the top of towers 100 or 200 feet in height, he believes he could easily telephone without wires a much longer distance than at present, but he is working on the principle that the system, to be practical, should be as simple as possible; and the stations consist merely of the telephone batteries, wiring and tripod, which, as already stated, could be carried from point to point as easily as a camera or a grip.

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