The word telephone comes from two Greek words: tele means far, and phone means sound. Telephone means sound from afar.

How a landline telephone works

A landline telephone uses electricity to carry sound from one telephone to another. The earpiece and the mouthpiece are on the handset.

When you speak into a telephone the sound waves hit against and electric 'ear', which is called a diaphragm (say: die-uh-fram) which is inside the speaking end (mouthpiece) of the telephone. The sound of the voice is changed when it travels along the cord to wires which take the signal to the telephone at the other end. When the electricity reaches the telephone at the other end it is changed back into sound by another diaphragm. This one is like an electric 'mouth' in the earpiece. Magnets inside the telephone make the changes. The sound waves travel to the earpiece of the person listening.

© Getty Images

© Getty Images

Satellites are used to take telephone messages around the world. The sound waves travel from one part of the Earth to the satellite which sends them back down to another place on the Earth.

How a mobile (cell) phone works

Modern phones can be used to send and receive text messages © Getty images

Modern phones can be used to send and receive text messages © Getty images

A mobile phone is really a kind of two-way radio. It has a radio transmitter and a radio receiver.

When you talk with a friend on your mobile, your phone converts your voice into an electrical signal, which is then transmitted via radio waves to the nearest cell tower.

The network of cell towers then relays the radio wave to your friend’s mobile.  That mobile changes the radio waves into an electrical signal and then back to sound again.

As well as voice calls, most modern mobile phones also allow the owner to surf the Internet, take pictures, play games, send text messages and play music.

Networks of towers and satellites transmit signals from mobile phones to places around the world. © iStock

Networks of towers and satellites transmit signals from mobile phones to places around the world. © iStock

 

The inventors of the telephone: Antonio Meucci or Alexander Graham Bell?

Antonio Meucci

Antonio Meucci was born in 1808, and studied mechanical engineering and design in Florence, Italy at the Academy of Fine Arts. He moved to Cuba in the 1830s. He was experimenting with methods of treating illness with electric shocks when he made the discovery that sounds could travel through copper wire. In 1850 he moved to the U.S.A to continue research into this discovery.

Some years later, Meucci's wife Ester became paralysed, and he made a communication system between her bedroom and his workshop nearby. In 1860, he conducted a public demonstration of this system, which he called 'teletrofono'. He continued to refine his system.

Meucci could not afford the expensive $250 fee to take out a patent on his invention, and instead filed a one year notice of impending (meaning coming soon) patent in 1871. However, a year later he could not afford to renew it. He sent a model and technical specifications to the Western Union telegraph company, but could not manage to get an appointment to meet the senior executives of the company.

Alexander Graham Bell

Two years later, Alexander Graham Bell, who shared a laboratory with Meucci, paid for a patent for a telephone, and made a deal with Western Union telegraph company that made him a lot of money.

A patent is the granting of an exclusive right to an inventor and prevents others from making, using, selling or importing the invention for a period of twenty years.

Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first electric telephone patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1876.

Antonio Meucci sued Bell. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and fraud charges were started against Bell. In 1889, just when it looked like Meucci may win his case, he died, and the court case stopped.

Alexander Graham Bell has been known as the inventor of the telephone ever since.

However in 2002, 113 years after Meucci's death, the American Congress recognised officially that it was Meucci and not Bell who invented the telephone.

The telephone patented by Alexander Graham Bell © Getty Images

The telephone patented by Alexander Graham Bell © Getty Images

Read more about Antonio Meucci :

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