The History of Teleconferencing

by Adam Benjamin ; Updated September 26, 2017

An ability to communicate to two family members or business associates in far places has been known in our society since the late 19th century. Since early discussions on telephone party lines, telecommunications on devices have replaced walking a long distance to talk and riding ponies to carry a letter. Today, fully aided communications enable a Californian to meet and talk enterprise with associates in New York City, or in Italy.

Telegraph

Wires first connected people in distant locations to engage them in lasting relations without a need for physical travel. In 1830, American scientist Joseph Henry transmitted an electrical signal. A painter and a mechanic, Samuel F.B. Morse and Alfred Vail, invented the telegraph and Morse code communications in the 1840s.

Telephone

When spoken sound waves were decently authentic in an electrical wave, voice first traveled the distance to speak to a listener's ear. Alexander Graham Bell, with the assistance of Thomas Watson, invented the telephone on March 10, 1876, in Boston. By the turn of the century, three farm families were talking on rural phone party lines set up by local telephone companies. Businesspersons considered the expense and privacy concerns too serious to decide to make their experimental multipoint discussions a regular practice.

Teleconferencing

Group voice discussions on telecommunications systems eventually gained favor among the American families and businesspersons who found the opportunity to speak in a group without meeting in person worth the investment. Callers in 1966 experienced third party conferences connected through an electronic central office. Consumers could begin to accept these conferences. Unfortunately, party lines still cost too much time and money, and exposed conversation to a monitor. After fiber optics replaced copper wire and system connections replaced live moderators, telephone conferences grew in popularity for both private discussion and business meetings during the 1990s. AT&T and Polycom supplied enough teleconferencing systems to stay in business.

Video Conferencing

The eye joined the ear in distant range multipoint communications. Long before public introduction, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover made the first video conference call to the president of AT&T in New York in 1927. In 1964, AT&T demonstrated the black-and-white Picturephone at the New York World Fair. Not until 1992 did AT&T market a commercially viable color motion Video Phone that would lead the way for Virtual Room Video Conferencing that simulated a full room discussion in 1997.

Computer Conferencing

Once communications software connected machine terminals, friends and associates could enhance voice communication with both video and organized data exchange. At the University of Michigan in 1973, David Brown created the first chat software for David Woolley's PLATO Notes system, a computer conferencing system that involved both database exchange and software application sharing. After technology sharing turned to social discussion with the dawn of the PC based Picture Tel in 1991, Voice over Internet Protocol and WebEx systems created high-quality digital sound and video that is carried over the high volume and speedy broadband.

About the Author

Adam Benjamin Pollack is a San Diego native dedicated to the great sentences on civil society. He authored the Subchapter S Report to tell legal news for the American Bankers Association. He holds a Juris Doctor from Indiana University and a Master of Public Policy from University of California, Berkeley.