The telephone makes its debut in Sweden

Telephone, 1893 wall model

In August 1877, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reported on the Norwegian engineer Hapstock who had come to Sweden to demonstrate this “remarkable invention,” for which the world could “thank North America.”

Invited guests gathered at the Grand Hotel for a demonstration of the telephone. Lines were drawn from a hotel room to the central telephone station at Slottsbacken operated by Televerket, the Swedish PTT. The apparatus allowed conversations to take place between persons in the hotel room and others at the central telephone station. As Dagens Nyheter reported, “Messages and responses were understandable and heard completely clearly.”

The experiment was thereafter repeated for the King of Sweden and at a meeting of the National Association of Railwaymen. In the beginning, the telephone was generally called “the apparatus,” while the word telephone more or less corresponded to telephony, including both the invention and the technology. Telephoning was described as follows: “You bring the apparatus to your mouth and ask a question, whereupon you put the apparatus to your ear. You then receive an answer that is so clear and distinct that you can even recognize the voice of the person who is speaking.”

The daily newspaper Nya Dagligt Allehanda also tried to describe for its readers how it was used: “The apparatus must be held close to the ear, in the same manner as when you want to hear if a pocket watch is ticking.”

When the telephone was demonstrated at the station in Uppsala a few days later, reports confirmed that speech could be heard both when the caller spoke in a loud voice and in a whisper. That was fascinating in itself, but the experiments continued to see if other sounds could be heard. Participants thus blew whistles and sang on the telephone. Yes, it worked!

In December of the same year, Dagens Nyheter announced that the telephone had been put to practical use in Stockholm. A telephone line had been installed between the gas works on Kungsholmen and the gas holder at Norra Bantorget. The results were described as surprising.

“Despite this considerable distance, it was possible not only to hear every word that was spoken at each end of the line, but also to detect the slightest modulation of the voice. It is also possible to sing, and if the apparatus is placed in contact with a musical instrument, the results are surprising.”

Other tests included counting to 20 to see if all the numbers could be heard. Conveying speech was fantastic in itself, but it seems that people of the time were even more fascinated by the fact that music and singing could be conveyed. This was not so strange. Sending written messages over long distances was naturally an established phenomenon. It was of course possible to send letter to America, and the telegraph could quickly convey short, written messages. But there were no radios or gramophones that could play music in the home.

The fact that speech, songs and tones could be carried over long distances must have fundamentally changed and broadened people’s view of the world. Perhaps that was why many initially believed that the telephone would become a mass medium. People would be able to sit at home, place the apparatus on their ear and thus be able to hear concerts at a distance.

Author: Marika Ehrenkrona

Telephone, 1878 wall model
South Africa, 1897, telephone station

25 lines switchboard.

Norway, 1898, interurb. telephone station

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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