"Operator!" - The Telephone in 1896
Students will compare and contrast the telephone as a means of
communication in 1896 with the telephone communication systems
of the present.
- What did the telephones look like in 1896? Similarities? Differences?
- What was the availability of telephones in 1896, who was using
them and how were they used?
- Ask students how many of them have phones in their homes?
How many have more then one phone in their homes? How many have
phones in their cars or cellular phones?
- Discuss with students the importance of phones to our communication
today. What do we use them for? How accessible are they? Where
can we call? How important are they in emergencies?
- Bring to students' attention that telephones were not always
available. The telephone was a new instrument of communication
that first went into service in Cleveland on September 23, 1879.
At that time there were seventy-six subscribers to the Cleveland
Telephone Company service in the central business area. By 1890
there were 2,979 subscribers to the telephone system. Who do they
think had telephones then? Who would you be calling if you had
a telephone in 1896? Ask students why they think the number of
telephone subscribers had grown? What do they think it is today?
- Distribute copies of Handout #1 and have students review the
various styles of telephones. Discuss differences in styles, equipment,
features and costs. Compare them to phones of today.
- Read through "Instructions for Using Telephones."
How does it compare with how we use phones today? Be certain to
highlight the use of an "operator" vs. computers today.
This could also lead to a discussion on how we have moved away
from more personal contact and service today and how this has
affected the job market. (elimination of some jobs and creation
of new jobs as technology changes)
- Through class discussion have students identify the differences
in telephones and the telephone system of 1896 with telephones
and the system of today. (Be certain to discuss the change in
phone numbers from just a few digits to 7 digits and the need
for area codes, and the Cleveland area growth to two area codes.
What does this say about the increase in number of homes, phones,
and phone usage, including cellular phones.) Have students brainstorm
how they think phones will be different in the future. What will
they look like; how will they be powered; where will they be calling?
- Assignment: Ask students to design their phone of the future.
They will need to illustrate the instrument and include instructions
for using their phone of the future.
NOTE: This can be done as a cooperative group activity
where students not only design their phones of the future, but
can also include marketing and advertising plans. An alternate
activity for younger students could be to have them write or discuss
instructions for using a telephone today, including important
numbers to know, etc.
- Discuss with students the availability of telephones outside
of your home, excluding cellular phones. How easy is it to find
a public phone. Where are they usually located? How much does
it cost to make a call? What happens if you do not have money
with you? Distribute Handout #2 - Public Telephone Stations. Review
the handout with students or have students work in cooperative
groups. Questions to discuss should include:
- Why were public telephones established? (for the convenience
of people who do not want or need permanent connections in their
homes, and to stop people who do not have a phone in their business
or homes from asking to use others' phones)
- What is the significance of the "stars"? (indicates
that these phones can be used for long distance)
- What are the numbers before the addresses? (the exchange or
"phone number" of the public telephone)
- What was the rate for using these phones? (10 cents for 5 minutes)
- Do subscribers of the phone systems have to pay for the use
of public phones? (yes)
- Review the locations of the public telephones and have students
locate them on a street map of Cleveland. The map can be reproduced
as a transparency or taped to the board. (Not all locations will
be able to be identified due to changes in buildings and street
names, however, students will be able to locate enough in order
to identify a pattern of Public Telephone locations and availability.)
How easy was it to use a Public Telephone in 1896?
Alternate Activities for Younger Students:
- Have students make their own "telephones" using
paper cups, and waxed string. Have students connect two paper
cups with approximately 5 feet of string that has been waxed by
running a candle over it. Punch a small hole in the bottom of
each cup. Run the string through the bottom of each cup, being
certain to knot the string so that it does not slip through. Students
can have "telephone" conversations with partners throughout
- Introduce children to the game of "telephone." Students
sit in a circle. One student turns to the student on their right
and delivers a message. Each student repeats the message to the
student on their right in order. Once the message has gone around
the circle, have the last student repeat the message and compare
with the original message.