Answering machine

The answering machine, answerphone or message machine, also known as telephone answering machine (or TAM) in the UK and some Commonwealth countries, ansaphone or ansafone (from a trade name), or telephone answering device (TAD), is used for answering telephones and recording callers' messages.[1]

Unlike voicemail, which can be a centralized or networked system that covers, and mostly extends, similar functions, an answering machine is set up in the user's premises alongside—or incorporated within—the user's land-line telephone. Unlike operator messaging the caller does not talk to a human.

As landlines become less important, due to the shift to cell phone technology, and as unified communications matures, the installed base of TADs is shrinking.

A Panasonic answering machine with a dual compact cassette tape drive to record and replay messages


Most 20th century answering machines used magnetic recording which Valdemar Poulsen invented in 1898.[2] The creation of the first practical automatic answering device for telephones, however, is in dispute. Starting in 1930, Clarence Hickman worked for Bell Laboratories, where he developed methods for magnetic recording and worked on the recognition of speech patterns and electromechanical switching systems.[3] In 1934, he developed a tape-based answering machine which phone company AT&T, as the owner of Bell Laboratories, kept under wraps for years for fear that an answering machine would result in fewer telephone calls.[4] Many claim the answering machine was invented by William Muller in 1935, but it may already have been created in 1931 by William Schergens whose device used phonographic cylinders.[5] Ludwig Blattner promoted a telephone answering machine in 1929 based on his Blattnerphone magnetic recording technology.[6] In 1935 inventor Benjamin Thornton developed a machine to record voice messages from the caller. The device reportedly also was able to keep track of the time the recordings were made.[7] Although many sources maintain that he invented it in 1935, Thornton had actually filed a patent in 1930 (Number 1831331) for this machine, which utilized a phonographic record as the recording medium.[8]

A commercial answering machine, the Tel-Magnet, offered in the United States in 1949, played outgoing messages and recorded incoming messages on a magnetic wire. It was priced at $200 but was not a commercial success.[9]

In 1949 the first commercially successful answering machine was the Electronic Secretary created by inventor Joseph Zimmerman and businessman George W. Danner, who founded Electronic Secretary Industries in Wisconsin. The Electronic Secretary used the then state-of-the-art technology of a 45 rpm record player for announcements and a wire recorder for message capture and playback. Electronic Secretary Industries was purchased in 1957 by General Telephone and Electronics.[10][11][12] Another commercially successful answering machine was the Ansafone created by inventor Dr. Kazuo Hashimoto, who was employed by a company called Phonetel. This company began selling the first answering machines in the US in 1960.[13]

Answering machines became more widely used after the restructuring of AT&T in 1984, which was when the machines became affordable and sales reached one million units per year in the US.[14][15] While early answering machines used magnetic tape technology, most modern equipment uses solid state memory storage; some devices use a combination of both, with a solid-state circuit for the outgoing message and a cassette for the incoming messages. James P. Mitchell displayed a working prototype of a digital outgoing message with a taped incoming system at an Iowa State University VEISHEA engineering openhouse in April 1982. This system won a gold award from the Engineering department.[16] In 1983, Kazuo Hashimoto received a patent for a digital answering machine architecture with US Patent 4,616,110.[17] The first digital answering machine brought to the market was AT&T's Model 1337; an activity led by Trey Weaver. Mr. Hashimoto sued AT&T but quickly dropped the suit because the AT&T architecture was significantly different from his patent.

Answering and ending calls

There are two possibilities for answering an incoming call: (1) waiting arbitrarily long for operator intervention, or (2) automatically answering after a specified number of rings in a certain state of the TAD (e.g. "toll saving" below). This is useful if the owner is screening calls and does not wish to speak with all callers.

In any case after going off-hook, the calling party should be informed about the call having been answered (in most cases this starts the charging), either by some remark of the operator, or by some greeting message of the TAD, or addressed to non-human callers (e.g. fax machines) by implementing an appropriate protocol over the landline. In some cases the terminal equipment answering a call just sends a slightly modified ringback tone to the caller, while processing the protocol.

Similarly, the called equipment can end a call by going on-hook deliberately, because of some specific signalling, or because of some time out.

Pure voice operation

In case of voice-only environments any accepted call can be directly handed over to a TAD, which may be preemptively superseded by a human-operated handset, taking control by simply going off-hook itself, forcing the TAD (back) on-hook. Voice signals may simply be captured to and replayed from analogue media (mostly tapes), but later TADs shifted to digital storage, with all of its convenience for compression and handling, for both the greeting and for the recorded messages.

Greeting message

An endless-loop outgoing message tape used in dual-cassette-based answering machines

Most modern answering machines have a system for greeting. The owner may record a message that will be played back to the caller, or an automatic message will be played if the owner does not record one. This holds especially for the TADs with digitally stored greeting messages or for earlier machines (before the rise of microcassettes) with a special endless loop tape, separate from a second cassette, dedicated to recording.

There have been answer-only devices with no recording capabilities, where the greeting message had to inform callers of a state of current unattainability, or e.g. about availability hours. In recording TADs the greeting usually contains an invitation to leave a message "after the beep".

Greeting messages are partly considered as an art form, expressing the creativity and attractiveness of the operator of the TAD via remarkable wording and sound staging.

Recording messages

An answering machine that uses a microcassette to record messages

On a dual-cassette answerphone, there is an outgoing cassette, which after the specified number of rings plays a pre-recorded message to the caller. Once the message is complete, the outgoing cassette stops and the incoming cassette starts recording the caller's message, and then stops when the caller hangs up.

Single-cassette answering machines contain the outgoing message at the beginning of the tape and incoming messages on the remaining space. They first play the announcement, then fast-forward to the next available space for recording, then record the caller's message. If there are many previous messages, fast-forwarding through them can cause a significant delay. This delay is taken care of by playing back a beep to the caller, when the TAD is ready to record. This beep is often referred to in the greeting message, requesting that the caller leave a message "after the beep".

TADs with digital storage for the recorded messages do not show this delay, of course.

Remote control

A TAD may offer a remote control facility, whereby the answerphone owner can ring the home number and, by entering a code on the remote telephone's keypad, can listen to recorded messages, or delete them, even when away from home.

Many devices offer a "toll-saver" function for this purpose. Thereby the machine increases the number of rings after which it answers the call (typically by two, resulting in four rings), if no unread messages are currently stored, but answers after the set number of rings (usually two) if there are unread messages. This allows the owner to find out whether there are messages waiting; if there are none, the owner can hang up the phone on the, e.g., third ring without incurring a call charge.

Some machines also allow themselves to be remotely activated, if they have been switched off, by calling and letting the phone ring a certain large number of times (usually 10-15). Some service providers abandon calls already after a smaller number of rings, making remote activation impossible.

In the early days of TADs a special transmitter for DTMF tones (dual-tone multi-frequency signalling) was regionally required for remote control, since the formerly employed pulse dialling is not apt to convey appropriate signalling along an active connection, and the dual-tone multi-frequency signalling was implemented stepwise.

Combined operation

This refers to analogue sites, which support voice, fax and data transmission via landlines by adhering to specific protocols established by the ITU-T. Any incoming call is not identifiable with respect to these properties in advance of going "off hook" by the terminal equipment. So after going off hook the calls must be switched to appropriate devices and only the voice-type is immediately accessible to a human, but perhaps, nevertheless should be routed to a TAD (e.g. after the caller has identified itself, or has been identified by a recognized caller ID).

Starting with the integration of faxing devices into computers via Fax modems the automated answering of voice calls by a computer went live via specific software, like e.g. TalkWorks. These systems allowed for quite elaborate voice box systems, navigated via dual-tone multi-frequency signaling, allowing a computer on a (single) telephony line to sound like a professional telephony system with hierarchical fax and message boxes with an automatic call distributor, where a caller might deposit his messages, leave his faxes behind, might listen to specific messages, or start a fax-back service.

MicroLink Office, a voice-fax-data modem with standalone voice/fax box functionality

Besides these solutions, mostly requiring a constantly running computer, since a wake-on-ring function then (~1995) started to take too much time to boot up an operating system, a few so-called selfmodems were available from e.g. USRobotics or ELSA Technology: the Sportster MessagePlus, the 56K Message Modem External, and the MicroLink Office. These devices answered incoming calls by playing a welcome message while discriminating fax calls (CNG-tone at 1100 Hz) from voice calls, storing an incoming fax, or a voice massage, respectively. A computer was only necessary afterwards to retrieve the faxes, or for storing the voice messages. In case of a full storage the devices changed their welcome message to another, prerecorded message, played upon answering an incoming call, possibly explaining that a message cannot be taken at the present time.

See also


  1. ^ TheFreeDictionary > answering machine Citing: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009.
  2. ^ Dr Naughton, Russell. "A d v e n t u r e s in C y b e r s o u n d". Archived from the original on 3 March 2004. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  3. ^ Clemons, Elizabeth G. "Clarence Hickman And Charles Stoddard Papers, 1886–1999" (PDF). Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  4. ^ Wu, Tim. "The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires". Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  5. ^ Popular Mechanics. Hearst Magazines. July 1931. ISSN 0032-4558. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  6. ^ 1929:Answering Machine : IN OUR PAGES:100, 75 AND 50 YEARS AGO New York Times, 10 October 1929, reprinted 11 October 2004, retrieved 7 November 2014.
  7. ^ Chamberlain, Gaius (2012). Benjamin Thornton.
  8. ^ see Apparatus for automatically recording telephonic messages:US 1831331 A. and Apparatus for automatically recording telephonic messages: Figure 1, etc.
  9. ^ "Robot Takes Messages". Popular Science. May 1949.
  10. ^ David L. Danner, IDEAMATICS, In., McLean, VA
  11. ^ The History Of Sound Recording,
  12. ^ Electronic Tele-Communications, Inc. "Corporate History". Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  13. ^ "The History of... Answering Machines". Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  14. ^ "The History of the Telephone Answering Machine". Recording History. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  15. ^ "The Answering Machine Industry Since Edison". Recording History. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  16. ^ Mitchell's Iowa State University Digital Outgoing Answering System:
  17. ^ "Patent US4616110 – Automatic digital telephone answering apparatus".

External links

Media related to Answering machines at Wikimedia Commons

Answering Machine Music

Answering Machine Music is an album by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, released in 1999 on Owen Ashworth's label Cassingle USA. This album was reissued on Tomlab in 2002 and included four bonus tracks (13-16 below). In 2005, a remastered version of the album, along with a remastered version of Pocket Symphonies for Lonesome Subway Cars, was released on Tomlab as The First Two Albums by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.

Answering machine (disambiguation)

An answering machine is a device for automatically answering telephone calls and recording messages left by callers.

Answering Machine may also refer to:

question answering machine.

The Answering Machine, a British indie band from Manchester

The Answer Machine?, eighth full-length album by British folk metal band Skyclad

Answering Machine Music, a 1999 album by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

"Answering Machine", a song by The Replacements from the 1984 album Let It Be

"The Answering Machine", a song by Marillion from the 1998 album Radiation

"Answering Machine", a song by Cherry Poppin' Daddies from the 1990 album Ferociously Stoned

"Answering Machine", a song by Rupert Holmes

"Answerphone" (Nicholas McDonald song)

"Answerphone" (Banx & Ranx and Ella Eyre song)

"Answerphone", a song by David Long, performed by the Mutton Birds

"Ansaphone", a song performed by Pulp from the single "Disco 2000"

Auto dialer

An automatic dialer (auto dialer, auto-dialer, autodialer) is an electronic device or software that automatically dials telephone numbers. Once the call has been answered, the autodialer either plays a recorded message or connects the call to a live person.

When an autodialer plays a pre-recorded message, it is often called voice broadcasting, or robocalling. Some voice broadcasting messages ask the person who answers to press a button on their phone keypad, such as in opinion polls in which recipients are asked to press one digit if they support one side of an issue, or another digit if they support the other side. This type of call is often called outbound interactive voice response.

When an autodialer connects an answered call to a live agent, it is often called a predictive dialer or power dialer. A predictive dialer uses realtime analysis to determine the optimal time to dial more numbers, whereas a power dialer simply dials a pre-set number of lines when an agent finishes the previous call.

Calendar (1993 film)

Calendar (Armenian: Օրացույց) is a 1993 drama film directed by Atom Egoyan.

Duck Edwing

Don "Duck" Edwing (1934 – December 26, 2016) was an American gag cartoonist whose work has appeared for years in Mad. His signature "Duck Edwing" is usually accompanied by a small picture of a duck, and duck calls are heard on his answering machine. Mad editor John Ficarra said, "He's exactly how people picture a Mad magazine writer." In 2007, Edwing told an interviewer, "I always believed that when you choose your field, you should specialize. You never deviate. I chose 'sick puppy'". "

Freak Out (311 song)

"Freak Out" is a single released by 311. It was on the album Music. This studio single was released in 1992, prior to the release of Music. All three songs appearing on this single have co-written lyrics by Douglas Vincent "SA" Martinez and Nick Hexum. The music for "Freak Out" was co-written by Chad Sexton and Nick Hexum.

The songs are the same as on the album Music, however, at the end of "Freak Out", there is a short answering machine message that is about 10 seconds long. Also, since "Hydroponic" is not following "Unity" as on the full-length album, the intro to the song is not mixed in with the end of the song prior to it.

Homestar Runner

Homestar Runner is an American Flash-animated surreal comedy web series created by Mike and Matt Chapman, also known as The Brothers Chaps. Its mixes surreal humor, self-parody, and references to 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s pop culture, in particular video games, classic television, and popular music.

While the site originally centered on the title character, Homestar Runner, the Strong Bad Email cartoon skits quickly became the site's most popular and prominent feature, with Strong Bad becoming a breakout character. Since 2000, the site has grown to encompass a variety of cartoons and web games featuring Homestar, Strong Bad, and numerous other characters.

At the peak of its popularity, the site was one of the most-visited sites with collections of Flash cartoons on the Internet, spreading via word of mouth. The site sustains itself through merchandise sales and has never featured advertisements. The Brothers Chaps have turned down offers to make a television series.After a four-year hiatus beginning in 2010, Homestar Runner returned with a new Holiday Toon on April 1, 2014, for April Fools' Day. Afterwards, co-creator Matt Chapman announced plans to give the site semi-regular updates starting in the fall, due to the positive reception given to the April Fools' Day cartoon. More cartoons have since been released on the website on an occasional basis, usually to celebrate holidays.

If Madonna Calls

"If Madonna Calls" is a song by American DJ and record producer Junior Vasquez, released as a single on June 7, 1996, by Groovilicious Records. The track includes a snippet of American singer Madonna's voice recorded from Vasquez's answering machine. It was composed after Madonna allegedly failed to appear at one of Vasquez's performances at the last minute. The singer never approved of the track and ended her professional relationship with Vasquez. The track received positive critical feedback and reached number two on the US Dance Club Songs chart and number 24 on the UK Singles Chart.


Kassetten (English: Cassettes) is the fifth release of Einstürzende Neubauten's Musterhaus project, a series of highly experimental CD releases that were only available via an annual subscription through their website or from shows during their 25th Anniversary Tour. This project was separate from their Supporter Project, which it ran concurrent to.

The concept of this Musterhaus release is providing a series of samples of cassette recordings that Einstürzende Neubauten has amassed over the years. As noted on the back of the album, in their earlier years every member of the band owned a cassette recorder and found it invaluable. Recorded were various audio experiments with friends, general field recordings of found sounds (such as the dismantling of a wardrobe, people entering a shop, expeditions to certain areas, etc.), tape noise experiments, answering machine recordings and nearly every interview they conducted during that time period.

Robin (answering machine)

The Robin is the sales name for the BT Answering Machine number 202A or 202B. It was released by British Telecommunications plc (now called BT Group) in 1985 and manufactured by Team Concepts International Ltd (Hong Kong).

The answering machine had a rather serious problem in that, if it was in "answer mode" and was inactivated (perhaps by a mains power failure), when the power was restored, it would not return to "answer mode" until the user manually restored it to such using a switch on the front of the machine. Despite this, it was a vast improvement on the BT Osprey answering machine.

Roundball Rock

"Roundball Rock" is a theme song composed by John Tesh and used for The NBA on NBC from 1990 until 2002. NBC played the song 12,000 times during their run. Tesh came up with the melody while at a hotel and called his answering machine at home to sing a preliminary version of the melody so he would not forget it. A more rock-oriented variant was introduced in 1997 to coincide with the debut of the WNBA. That theme was also used until 2002, and on NBC's WNBA telecasts only.

When ABC took over broadcasting rights for the National Basketball Association (NBA) from NBC, Tesh offered them the rights to also use his song, but they declined and chose to compose their own theme music instead. The theme is still memorable nearly two decades later, especially because of its association with the NBA's ascendance in the 1990s.

The song was revived in three ways in 2008 and 2016, with NBC using the music for commercial bumpers and starting lineup announcements during their coverage of basketball at the 2008 Summer Olympics and 2016 Summer Olympics that featured NBA players and Tesh releasing a free MP3 version on his website to commemorate the 2008 NBA Finals. This song was sampled by Nelly for his song "Heart of a Champion" from his studio album, Sweat, and compilation album Sweatsuit. "Roundball Rock" was also used in The Boondocks episode "Ballin'".

On April 13, 2013, Saturday Night Live parodied John Tesh pitching the theme song to NBC Sports executives. In this sketch, the song featured comical lyrics sung by John's fictional brother Dave.

A re-recording of the tune is used by Tesh as theme music for his syndicated radio show, as well as for the television series Intelligence for Your Life that Tesh co-hosts with his wife Connie Sellecca.

On September 17, 2017, NBC briefly played the song heading into a commercial break during a Sunday Night Football game, over a replay of a jump shot-themed touchdown celebration by Atlanta Falcons players Devonta Freeman and Andy Levitre.Fox Sports announced in December 2018 that it had acquired the rights to "Roundball Rock", which it will play for select college basketball broadcasts.

Status message (instant messaging)

A status message is a function of some instant messaging applications whereby a user may post a message that appears automatically to other users if they attempt to make contact. A status message can tell other contacts the user's current status, such as being busy or what the user is currently doing. It is analogous to the voice message in an answering machine or voice mail system. However, status messages may be displayed even if the person is present. They are often updated much more frequently than messages in answering machines, and thus may serve as a means of instant, limited "publication" or indirect communication.

Generally Available status is denoted by a green dot while the busy status is denoted by a red dot on most of the Instant Messengers

Whereas answering machine or voice mail messages often have a generic greeting to leave a message, status messages more often contain a description of where the person is at the moment or what they are doing. Because most instant messaging clients indicate to users when their online contacts are away before they send a message, more often than not away messages are meant to be read in lieu of sending a message, rather than a response. Away messages are not to be confused with idle messages, which is an automatic reply to a message when the messaging client has determined that the replier is not at his or her computer.

In the XMPP protocol for instant messaging, the status of a user is signalled by an element called presence. This provides a variety of functions, including the option to subscribe to the status so that the recipient is continuously updated with changes in status.

Thaw (Foetus album)

Thaw is a Foetus Interruptus album released by Self Immolation/Some Bizzare in September 1988 and also released on Some Bizzare 1995, by Thirsty Ear. The track "English Faggot/Nothin Man" was inspired by a harassing message Thirlwell received on his answering machine.

The Answering Machine

The Answering Machine were an indie rock band based in Manchester, England.

The Phone Message

"The Phone Message" is the ninth episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld, and the fourth of the show's second season. The episode concerns protagonist Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld) dating a woman who likes a commercial for cotton Dockers he dislikes. Meanwhile, his friend George Costanza (Jason Alexander) leaves an obnoxious message on the answering machine of his girlfriend, and goes to great lengths to prevent her from hearing it.

Written by series co-creators Seinfeld and Larry David and directed by Tom Cherones, the episode was produced to replace a script by staff writer Larry Charles. Charles had written an episode called "The Bet", revolving around Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) buying a handgun. The script's gun content was deemed too provocative and, in little time, Seinfeld and David wrote "The Phone Message" to fill the production void. Though the episode met with positive critical responses, its initial broadcast on February 13, 1991, was watched by an underwhelming audience of 13 million viewers, causing NBC to put the show on a two-month hiatus.

The Rockford Files

The Rockford Files is an American television drama series starring James Garner that aired on the NBC network between September 13, 1974, and January 10, 1980, and has remained in syndication to the present day. Garner portrays Los Angeles–based private investigator Jim Rockford, with Noah Beery Jr. in the supporting role of his father, a retired truck driver nicknamed "Rocky".

The show was created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell. Huggins created the television show Maverick (1957–1962), which starred Garner, and he wanted to recapture that magic in a "modern day" detective setting. He teamed with Cannell, who had written for Jack Webb productions such as Adam-12 and Chase (1973–1974, NBC), to create The Rockford Files. The show was credited as "A Public Arts/Roy Huggins Production" along with Cherokee Productions in association with Universal Television. Cherokee was owned by Garner, with partners Meta Rosenberg and Juanita Bartlett, who doubled as story editor during most of The Rockford Files run.

In 2002, The Rockford Files was ranked No. 39 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

The Susie

"The Susie" is the 149th episode of the sitcom Seinfeld. This was the 15th episode for the eighth season. It aired on February 13, 1997. This episode is best known for the scene with George's answering machine.

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