Ode to the landline
In 2015, one of Jamaica's telecommunications companies announced that the number of subscribers to its service who use smartphones surpassed one million.
Three years later this number has grown exponentially and is still growing. Cell phones are as important as oxygen in our daily lives and, in most cases, have replaced landlines.
Becoming more technologically advanced, these devices can take and send pictures and videos instantly, as well as connect to the Web for surfing.
While mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular the question remains to be asked, do users of these devices stop to think about how sophisticated these handheld devices are and how much of a far cry they are from the original telephones that were used in the past?
The traditional telephone, or landline as it is more commonly referred to, is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to have a conversation. A telephone converts sound, typically the human voice, into electronic signals that are transmitted via cables and other communication channels to another telephone, which reproduces the sound to the receiving user.
Though the inventor of the first telephone is hotly contested, the fact remains that in 1876, Scottish-American emigrant Alexander Graham Bell was the first to be granted a United States patent for a device that produced clearly intelligible replication of the human voice.
This instrument was further developed by many others who have also laid claim to the earliest versions of the telephone, such as Thomas Edison, Elisha Grey, Antonio Meucci, Johann Philipp Reis and Tivadar Puskas. Because of the usefulness of the invention, telephones rapidly became indispensable to businesses, government and households.
In a presentation made to the Jamaica Library Association on Telecommunications in November 1984 by P. D. Cross, Jamaica was listed as being among the most developed in the Caribbean as far as telecommunications is concerned.
Jamaica has always excelled in the telecommunications industry in the areas of regulations, infrastructure and skills. This sentiment was also shared by former managing director of the Jamaica Telephone Company (JTC) Ltd, C.R. Dickenson, who added that telephone service in the island of Jamaica was first provided in the city of Kingston in the year 1881 by the West Indies Telegraph and Telephone Company Ltd.
The Jamaica Telephone Company was then incorporated on October 19, 1892 to acquire the undertaking of West Indies Telegraph and Telephone Company. The Jamaica Telephone Company was a subsidiary of the Continental Telephone Holding Company of Montreal. This Canadian company was wholly owned by the Continental Telephone Corporation. In 1967, Continental brought 50.2 per cent of the Jamaica Telephone Company from Telephone and General Trust Limited, which was a British holding company.
The company was started in 1892 to take over the West Indies Telegraph and Telephone Company. In May 1967, the Jamaica government agreed to Continental's takeover of control and was responsible for telephone communications in the city of Kingston since 1892.
In August 1945, the company also took over the all-island system from the Jamaican Government, and operated an integrated telephone network for the entire island.
According to a Fact Sheet published by Telecommunications of Jamaica Ltd in 1993, the Jamaica Telephone Company experienced several changes in ownership over a period of four decades, and in September 1975 the Continental Telephone Corporation, who owned majority shares in the Jamaica Telephone Company, sold its shares to the Jamaican Government.
The Jamaican Government then remained the majority shareholder until 1987 when the Government negotiated with Cable and Wireless to create a holding company, Telecommunications of Jamaica (TOJ), to own both JTC and Jamaica International Telecommunications Limited (JAMINTEL).
Cable and Wireless (West Indies) Limited took over operations of two of the dominant companies in International Telegraph Communications, namely the West India Panama telegraph company and the Direct West India Cable Company in 1930.
Cable and Wireless would go on to stake its claim in the telecommunications industry of Jamaica when the company joined with the Jamaican government to own JAMINTEL . Cable and Wireless would eventually become Jamaica's telecommunications giant when the company replaced Telecommunications of Jamaica (TOJ) as Jamaica's main telecommunications provider. Cable and Wireless would then go on to be rebranded as (LIME) Landline, Internet, Mobile, and Entertainment and eventually as FLOW.
Over the years, many of these various models of telephones have been donated to and collected by the Institute of Jamaica.
All of the phones in the collection are obsolete due to the rapid advancement in technology. One of the most interesting versions of phones in the collection is one that is very peculiar looking and it was also used at the Institute of Jamaica for a number of years. Pictured is the Ericsson Magneto Phone model N2124A C. This phone was manufactured by Ericsson Telephone Limited in the 1950s and features an Art Deco Design. Ericson Magneto Phones worked by using an electrical generator crank that used permanent magnets to produce alternating current from the rotating armature.
In early telegraphy, magnetos were used to power instruments, while in telephony they were used to generate electrical current to drive electromechanical ringers in telephone sets and on operator consoles. When the crank was turned it would signal the operator or signalling another party that you wanted to make a call. This phone also features a handset which was advertised as being ideally shaped for comfort in use and maximum transmission efficiency.
The internal apparatus of the phone is comprised of a rotating-magnet generator, anti-side-tone induction coil with closed-iron circuit, 1000 ohm ringer, a capacitor for the induction coil circuit, and the cradle switch springs.
These are all fixed to the metal base plate, which has rubber feet and is secured to the case by captive screws. The telephone has perforations under the ringer gongs and ventilation cups on each side of the case near the handset giving free circulation of air.
This phone was very different from other phones which eventually replaced it such as the rotary phone which digits were arranged in a circular layout so that a finger wheel may be rotated with one finger from the position of each digit to a fixed stop position, implemented by the finger stop, which is a mechanical barrier to prevent further rotation.
From the 1980s onward, the rotary dial was gradually supplanted by dual-tone multi-frequency push-button dialling, more commonly known as the 'Touch-Tone'. The crank telephone was eventually replaced with modern dial telephones.
Information compiled by Sharifa Balfour, assistant curator, National Museum Jamaica.