About 20 years ago, cell phones were huge, brick-like, and rare. Even a homeless person can afford a smartphone now but having a cell phone about 30 years ago was a status symbol. However, the telephones have been around for a time far longer than we imagine. The telephone was invented towards the end of the 19th century, but it reached very few parts of the world initially. All major cities that had the facility of the telephone had strands of wires hanging over their heads that were latched to huge towers. No one ever thought of putting this mess of cables underground.
After the invention of the telephone by Graham Bell back in 1876, the Bell Telephone Company began to establish public telephone exchange systems in major cities. The first in Sweden opened in the capital city of Stockholm in 1880 that had only 121 subscribers in the beginning. The telephone service cost them something between 160 and 280 Swedish Krona depending on their location. This cost equates to about 9,000 to 16,000 Krona, around USD 1,100 to USD in today’s world. Very few and the wealthy ones could afford to have that luxury.
Very soon a competitor came in by the name of Stockholm General Telephone Company (SAT) in 1883 that offered the services at much lower rates. Henrik Tore Cedergren, the founder, wanted the telephone to become a part of every household. In a few years, Stockholm became the city with the most telephone subscribers in the world with a total of 4,832 by 1886. Soon enough, SAT was the largest telephone company in the world, strong enough to buy Bell Telephone Company in Stockholm.
At this time, there was no concept of a substation, and all the subscribers had a physical connection directly to the main tower. Hence, it resulted in a more mumbled jumbled mess of thousands of wires all over the place. Then the iconic Phone Tower “Telefontornet” opened up in 1887 with over 5,500 telephone lines that had a total length of 5,000 kilometers. The tower began to grow uglier, and the network became vulnerable to a lot of elements. Thus, locals began to complain that the tower is darkening the sun.
When the complaints began to grow, the company finally decided to clean out the mess and announced a decoration competition. The tower got its four corner turrets in 1890 that became a landmark in the city where all the major events were held. The technology began to evolve, and the company considered the idea of undergrounding all the cables. The network went completely underground by 1913, and the Telefontornet lost its function, serving only as a landmark for decades to come. Years later, the telephone company began to hang advertisement banners on it. A massive fire in 1952 weakened Telefontornet to such an extent that it had to be demolished due to safety concerns.
This sure is one hell of an old story!
Images: Tekniska Museet