Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Transatlantic telephone calls are ony 50 years old

Posted in History, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on January 15, 2007

As revolutions go, 1956 was an important year. Gamal Abdul Nasser, president of Egypt, nationalised the Suez canal. Israel, the UK and France responded with an invasion force. For Hungarians, that was the year they tried to overthrow their Soviet-backed Communist government. They failed, for it was a gloomy year.

However, across the Atlantic, the telecommunications revolution was doing rather better: the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid. It could transmit no more than 36 converstions at one time. By 1966, capacity had only expanded to allow 138 simultaneous conversations between Europe and all or Northern America. Here is a quote from page 7 of Walter Wriston’s “The Twilight of Sovereignty: How the Information Revolution Is Transforming Our World“. Wriston, former Citibank chairman, describes the difficulty his New York headquarters had when trying to make telephone contact with overseas branches in the 1950s and 1960s:

There were so few international lines available that it could take a day or more to get a circuit. Once a connection was made, people in the branch would stay on the phone reading books and newspapers aloud all day just to keep the line open until it was needed.

Branch officers hired sqauds of youths, called “dialers”, who “did nothing but dial phones all day in hope of getting through.”

What a difference 50 years make.

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