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Bell Telephone Labs Picture-Phone (1956)

This story about the Bell Telephone Laboratories picturephone appeared in the August 24, 1956 Hutchinson News-Herald (Hutchinson, KS). The entire article appears below.

Who's calling will be no secret, with help of Picture-Phone demonstrated at electronics convention by Bell Telephone Laboratories. Man using phone sees caller on picture tube, and is photographed himself by TV lens just above it.

1956 Aug 24 Hutchinson News-Herald - Hutchinson KS Paleo-future

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Reader Comments (4)

Ah, the videophone. Few technologies have been so eagerly anticipated.

oh wait.

I'm amused at how often the videophone comes up, yet nobody seems to actually want to own one.

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSian

With the cameras on laptops we sort of have video phones. I use it to speak to family on the other side of the planet.

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Schluss

I totally forgot that I have a videophone until I read this article.

All the 3G talk these days are about its speed, not its (supposedly) game-changing feature.

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLee

My father was an engineer, working on "Picture Phone", in the mid-to-late 1960's at the Bell Laboratories facility, in Holmdel, New Jersey. I well remember using the prototypes, they had set-up in the building's lobby. It worked, perfectly well.
The idea was, you'd add the service to your existing Bell System account, and receive a small box, containing a 5-6in. B/W screen, (color would come later) with a video camera in the upper left corner, that you'd simply plug-in, between the wall, and your phone. It also contained a built-in "Speaker Phone", so you didn't need to hold the handset, while talking.
They even test marketed it in Texas and Ohio.
Funny thing, though. Most people found that once the Jetsons-like coolness wore off, they hated the thing. It's a lot harder to lie to people when they can see you. Women hated it due to having to look nice to answer the phone, and it put a whole new spin on obscene phone calls. (In fact, "* 69" was invented to combat that. And using those two numbers, was not an accident.)
I remember Dad telling me how in the near future, we would use our Picture Phone to watch the news, get TV shows on demand, which could be switched to display on our big TV, read text from the library, look at our friends vacation pictures, or go shopping, using credit cards to make purchases, by entering the numbers on our new, "Touch Tone" keypads. (In sort, Picture Phone was going to do almost everything the Internet wound up doing, 30 years later. And all analog, on a pair of copper wires.)
The project died around 1970, and by 1971, Dad was working on a new kind of car-phone. One that you could dial, just like a regular phone. They would have a series of small antennas on phone-poles, that would pick up your signal, as you moved from one "cell" to the next.
But that's another story.
One note: Next time you watch "2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)", when the guy gets to the moon, and phones home, notice what he's using.

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRAB_NJ

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