The telephone handset – a successful introduction

In the first telephones that Ericsson designed, the "signal trumpet" was used for both speaking and listening. In the next development, the speaking tube was attached firmly to the telephone and the listening device was connected to the instrument by a cord.

A major step forward was taken in the mid-1880s when Ericsson introduced its own telephone handset, what we call today a telephone receiver. The receiver and microphone in a single unit had been developed earlier – in the United States in 1878 and in France in 1879. But, due to the wide distribution of Ericsson's instruments, many people certainly thought that the company had also invented the handset.

Development of the handset was actually the result of collaboration between Ericsson employees and their colleagues at the telephone operating company, Stockholms Allmänna Telefonaktiebolag (SAT). In 1883, the same year that SAT was founded, the two companies began to cooperate on product development, which accelerated the spread of telephony in Stockholm. In addition to the handset, the first multiple-line switchboard in Europe was a result of the two companies cooperation.

Like so many other inventions, the advent of the handset was attributable to the need to improve the efficiency of a process. The engineers in charge, Anton Avén and Leonard Lundqvist, thought it was impractical to have the receiver and microphone separated, and perhaps they were inspired by earlier - if less successful - models. After the first test model was produced in 1884, Ericsson began to manufacture telephone handsets in 1885.

But the new product was ungainly and was not considered suitable for use in homes. Initially, it was used only by telephone operators. This is apparent in a letter dated April 10, 1885 from Axel Boström at Ericsson to Victor Jacobsson in Norrköping: "and we propose for this purpose a microtelephone that we have designed for multiple-line switchboards; it consists of a telephone and microphone fastened together with a common handle, that the telephone operator always carries in the area in which he/she is required to move when handling calls. Such an item will cost around 55 kronor. The connection to the board is very simple and can be done in a short time. We will provide instructions when such become necessary".

The telephone handset was gradually made suitable for use by subscribers as well. It became smaller and lighter and the properties of the listening device and microphone were improved. The handset was fully integrated with the instruments, such as the "Dachshund" and "Coffee-grinder", that Ericsson began to produce in 1892. It was placed in a cradle on top of the instrument and was easy to use. This certainly contributed to the success that the telephones enjoyed throughout the world.

Author: Pontus Staunstrup & Mats Wickman

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