The Answering Machine

Launched in 1971, the PhoneMate Model 400 was the first of its kind. What was it?

And the answer: an answering machine.

The PhoneMate 400S. Photo courtesy: Toptriode, YouTube.

Remember life before mobile phones, when telephones were fixed to the kitchen wall? The PhoneMate 400 was the first widely used telephone answering machine. It was big and heavy, but it screened calls and held up to 20 messages on a reel-to-reel tape.

While the PhoneMate 400 seems clunky to our 2021 eyes, the ancestor to the answering machine might seem even more like an alien apparatus. The telegraphone, as it was known, was the first to conduct magnetic sound recording. On a wire, the invention recorded conversation by the magnetic fields produced by sound. The magnetized wire could then be played back to hear the recording. This invention by Valdemar Poulsen was a novel introduction into the world of audio recording.

The telegraphone (1907). Photo courtesy: Library of Congress

After the telegraphone, there were a slew of other early 20th century inventions of the same vein. Willy Müller, for one, created a three-foot tall machine that functioned in the same fashion as an answering machine. Meanwhile, the Ansafone was the first answering machine sold in the United States in 1960.

Yet it was Casio Communications who is largely considered responsible for the invention of answering machines as we know them today. Their PhoneMate 400 was a 10-pound wonder of technological innovation, and the first commercially viable answering machine. Learn more about the history of the answering machine here.  

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