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  Chapter Fifteen:

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Telephone calls became ubiquitous in American life.
The telephone was invented in the United States in 1876. By 1900, 1.35 million telephone lines had been installed—about 18 lines for every thousand people. By 1997, 197 million telephones were in use in America—about 735 lines for every thousand people. 

In 1900, almost 8 million calls were made every day—mostly for business purposes. This represented an average of 38 calls per year for every person in America. By 1940, the telephone had become ordinary household equipment. The number of calls per person rose rapidly—doubling from 1940 to 1960, doubling again from 1960 to 1980, and nearly doubling again from 1980 to 1997. In 1997, the number of phone calls per person totaled 2,325 per year or 6.4 calls per day. This figure did not include the vast number of business phone calls carried within organizations by private branch exchanges (PBXs). 

A growing number of phone calls are no longer made from one person to another. Beginning with recorded messages decades ago, people have been dialing up to talk to machines. In the last decade of the century, machines were calling machines on the phone. Estimates indicate that less than half the phone calls in America involved a human voice: the bulk of calls were machine-to-machine transmissions, such as those initiated by credit card authorization machines at retail stores. 

Like the automobile, the basic telephone evolved into a wide array of devices over the century. For sixty years, the telephone was a standard device made by Western Electric for the Bell System. It was tough and cheap, and underwent periodic improvements. Beginning in the 1960s, and especially after federal deregulation in the 1980s, various other types of phones appeared. By the end of the century, telephones were built to look like shoes, shotguns, and starships. 

The fax machine, which uses phone lines to telecopy documents, is actually older than the telephone: the first fax machines were connected to telegraph lines in the middle of the nineteenth century. 

But all these devices still plugged into the wall. Mobile phones were an expensive rarity until a new radio technology, cellular, made them inexpensive. The cellular phone was introduced in the mid-1980s. By 1999, more than 76 million Americans were cellular phone subscribers. Nearly every one of these subscribers already had a regular telephone. By the end of the century, cellular phones had radically tightened the social network in both time and space: automobile accidents were reported instantly, and business meetings involved people in subway cars and on beaches.

Chapter 15 chart 5

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

SA 1991, table 922; and SA 1999, table 926. For cellular phones in 1999, see Federal Communications Commission, Statistical Trends in Telephony, at (accessed September 12, 2000).


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