The Telephone Cases

The Telephone Cases, 126 U.S. 1 (1888), were a series of U.S. court cases in the 1870s and 1880s related to the invention of the telephone, which culminated in the 1888 decision of the United States Supreme Court upholding the priority of the patents belonging to Alexander Graham Bell. Those telephone patents were relied on by the American Bell Telephone Company and the Bell System—although they had also acquired critical microphone patents from Emile Berliner.

The objector (or plaintiff) in the notable Supreme Court case was initially the Western Union telegraph company, which was at the time a far larger and better financed competitor than American Bell Telephone. Western Union advocated several more recent patent claims of Daniel Drawbaugh, Elisha Gray, Antonio Meucci and Philip Reis in a bid to invalidate Alexander Graham Bell's master and subsidiary telephone patents dating back to March 1876. Had Western Union succeeded it would have immediately destroyed the Bell Telephone Company and then Western Union stood to become the world's largest telecommunications monopoly in Bell's place.

The U.S. Supreme Court came within one vote of overturning the Bell patent, thanks to the eloquence of lawyer Lysander Hill for the Peoples Telephone Company.[1] In a lower court, the Peoples Telephone Company stock rose briefly during the early proceedings, but dropped after their claimant Daniel Drawbaugh took the stand and drawled: "I don’t remember how I came to it. I had been experimenting in that direction. I don’t remember of getting at it by accident either. I don’t remember of anyone talking to me of it".[1]

In this case the court affirmed several other lower court cases: Dolbear et al. v American Bell Tel. Co., 15 Fed. Rep 448, 17 Fed. Rep. 604, Molecular Te. Co. et al. v American Bell Tel. Co. 32 Fed. Rep 214, People's Tel. Co. et al. v American Bell Tel. Co., 22 Fed. Rep. 309 and 25 Fed. Rep. 725. Well reversing American Bell Tel Co. et al. v Molecular Tel. Co et al. 32 Fed Rep. 214.

Bell’s second fundamental patent expired on January 30, 1894, at which time the gates were then opened to independent telephone companies to compete with the Bell System. In all, the American Bell Telephone Company and its successor, AT&T, litigated 587 court challenges to its patents including five that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and aside from two minor contract lawsuits, never lost a single one that was concluded with a final stage judgment.[1][2]

The Telephone Cases
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 24–28, 31, February 1–4, 7–8, 1887
Decided March 19, 1888
Full case nameDolbear v. American Bell Telephone Company; Molecular Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; American Bell Telephone Company v. Molecular Telephone Company; Clay Commercial Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; People's Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; Overland Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company
Citations126 U.S. 1 (more)
8 S. Ct. 778; 31 L. Ed. 863
The Bell Company patent was valid and that the Molecular case was reversed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Morrison Waite
Associate Justices
Samuel F. Miller · Stephen J. Field
Joseph P. Bradley · John M. Harlan
Stanley Matthews · Horace Gray
Samuel Blatchford · Lucius Q. C. Lamar II
Case opinions
MajorityWaite, joined by Miller, Matthews, Blatchford
DissentBradley, joined by Field, Harlan
Gray and Lamar took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.


The Court's decision in the Telephone Cases is notable for the size of the opinions delivered; together, they occupy the entire 126th volume of the United States Reports.

Notable cases

Among the notable court cases involving the Bell Telephone Company, later renamed to the American Bell Telephone Company, were those related to challenges by Elisha Gray, a principal in Western Electric, as depicted in the Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell telephone controversy.

Additionally the Bell Company became embroiled in a number of challenges from those companies associated with Antonio Meucci, as shown in the Canadian Parliamentary Motion on Alexander Graham Bell, itself a response to the United States HRes. 269 on Antonio Meucci.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Billings, A. Bell and the Early Independents, Telephone Engineer and Management, March 15, 1985, pp87-89,
  2. ^ Australasian Telephone Collecting Society. Who Really Invented The Telephone?, ATCS, Moorebank, NSW, Australia. Retrieved from website on April 22, 2011.
  • Brooks, John. Telephone: The First Hundred Years, Harper & Row, 1976, ISBN 0-06-010540-2, ISBN 978-0-06-010540-2.
  • Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8014-9691-8.

Further reading

External links

The Edison National Historical Park (ENHP) archives has seven bound volumes and one pamphlet of Patent Office proceedings relating to conflicting claims over who invented the telephone. Four of these volumes contain the record of a group of interferences entitled Cases A through L and Case No. 1. The disputant parties were Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Elisha Gray, A. E. Dolbear, J. W. McDonough, George B. Richmond, William L. Voelker, J. H. Irwin, and Francis Blake, Jr. Although Edison's preliminary statements were filed in September 1878, testimony was not taken until 1880. This record was printed in 1881. The second volume contains Edison's exhibits, including photo-lithographs of laboratory drawings, patents and patent applications, and newspaper and journal articles. The drawings have exhibit numbers corresponding to a page/volume numbering scheme used by Edison and his patent attorney Lemuel W. Serrell in 1880 when Edison's technical notes and drawings were numbered and examined for possible inclusion as exhibits in these interferences. Many of the documents in this numbered series were not selected as exhibits; they remain in the archives at the Edison National Historical Park....

Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell ('Graham' pronounced ) (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) was a Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer, and innovator who is credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone. He also founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in 1885.Bell's father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech and both his mother and wife were deaf, profoundly influencing Bell's life's work. His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876. Bell considered his invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.Many other inventions marked Bell's later life, including groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils, and aeronautics. Although Bell was not one of the 33 founders of the National Geographic Society, he had a strong influence on the magazine while serving as the second president from January 7, 1898, until 1903.

Bell System

The Bell System was the system of companies, led by the Bell Telephone Company and later by AT&T, which provided telephone services to much of the United States and Canada from 1877 to 1984, at various times as a monopoly. On December 31, 1983, the system was divided into independent companies by a U.S. Justice Department mandate.

The general public in the United States often used the colloquial term Ma Bell (as in "Mother Bell") to refer to any aspect of this conglomerate, as it held a near-complete monopoly over telephone service in most areas of the country, and is still used by many to refer to any telephone company. Ma Bell is also used to refer to the various female voices in recordings for the Bell System: Mary Moore, Jane Barbe, and Pat Fleet, the current voice of AT&T.

Communications receiver

A communications receiver is a type of radio receiver used as a component of a radio communication link. This is in contrast to a broadcast receiver which is used to receive radio broadcasts. A communication receiver receives parts of the radio spectrum not used for broadcasting, that includes amateur, military, aircraft, marine, and other bands. They are often used with a radio transmitter as part of a two way radio link for shortwave radio or amateur radio communication, although they are also used for shortwave listening.

Daniel Drawbaugh

Daniel Drawbaugh (July 14, 1827 – November 2, 1911) was a purported inventor of the telephone for which he sought a patent in 1880. His claims were contested by the Bell Telephone Company, which won a court decision in 1888.Described as a bearded rustic tinkerer from Yellow Breeches Creek, Pennsylvania, he claimed to have invented a telephone using a teacup as a transmitter as early as 1867, but had been too poor to patent it then. In a lower court his case was well-financed by the People’s Telephone Co. and brilliantly argued in court by Lysander Hill. But he “blew it” by drawling in court "I don’t remember how I came to it. I had been experimenting in that direction. I don’t remember of getting at it by accident either. I don’t remember of anyone talking to me of it." The lower court findings were confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1888, as noted in The Telephone Cases.

Drawbaugh was born on July 14, 1827, in Cumberland County's Eberley's Mills which is just outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. According to his obituary printed in the New York Times on November 4, 1911, he invented many appliances, for example: pneumatic tools, hydraulic rams, folding lunch boxes, coin separators and even is said to have invented a wireless phone that could be used 4 miles away. He died November 2, 1911 in his laboratory while working on a wireless burglar alarm. Many of his surviving York County relatives attended a ceremony to dedicate a historical marker located at the site of the inventor's workshop and home in 1965.

Elisha Gray

Elisha Gray (August 2, 1835 – January 21, 1901) was an American electrical engineer who co-founded the Western Electric Manufacturing Company. Gray is best known for his development of a telephone prototype in 1876 in Highland Park, Illinois. Some recent authors have argued that Gray should be considered the true inventor of the telephone because Alexander Graham Bell allegedly stole the idea of the liquid transmitter from him, although Gray had been using liquid transmitters in his telephone experiments for more than two years previously. Bell's telephone patent was upheld in numerous court decisions.

Gray is also considered to be the father of the modern music synthesizer, and was granted over 70 patents for his inventions. He was one of the founders of Graybar, purchasing a controlling interest in the company shortly after its inception.

Emile Berliner

Emile Berliner (May 20, 1851 – August 3, 1929), originally Emil Berliner, was a German-born American inventor. He is best known for inventing the flat disc record (called a "gramophone record" in British and American English) and the Gramophone. He founded the United States Gramophone Company in 1894, The Gramophone Company in London, England, in 1897, Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover, Germany, in 1898, Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899 (chartered in 1904), and Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 with Eldridge Johnson.

Henry Sutton (inventor)

Henry Sutton (4 September 1855, Ballarat, Victoria – 28 July 1912) was an Australian designer, engineer, and inventor credited with contributions to early developments in electricity, aviation, wireless communication, photography and telephony.

History of the telephone

This history of the telephone chronicles the development of the electrical telephone, and includes a brief review of its predecessors.

List of United States Supreme Court cases by the Waite Court

This is a partial chronological list of cases decided by the United States Supreme Court decided during the Waite Court, the tenure of Chief Justice Morrison Waite from March 4, 1874 through March 23, 1888.

MCI Communications

MCI Communications Corp. was an American telecommunications company that was instrumental in legal and regulatory changes that led to the breakup of the AT&T monopoly of American telephony and ushered in the competitive long-distance telephone industry. It was headquartered in Washington, D.C.Founded in 1963, it grew to be the second-largest long-distance provider in the U.S. It was purchased by WorldCom in 1998 and became MCI WorldCom, with the name afterwards being shortened to WorldCom in 2000. WorldCom's financial scandals and bankruptcy led that company to change its name in 2003 to MCI Inc.


In telecommunications and computer networks, multiplexing (sometimes contracted to muxing) is a method by which multiple analog or digital signals are combined into one signal over a shared medium. The aim is to share a scarce resource. For example, in telecommunications, several telephone calls may be carried using one wire. Multiplexing originated in telegraphy in the 1870s, and is now widely applied in communications. In telephony, George Owen Squier is credited with the development of telephone carrier multiplexing in 1910.

The multiplexed signal is transmitted over a communication channel such as a cable. The multiplexing divides the capacity of the communication channel into several logical channels, one for each message signal or data stream to be transferred. A reverse process, known as demultiplexing, extracts the original channels on the receiver end.

A device that performs the multiplexing is called a multiplexer (MUX), and a device that performs the reverse process is called a demultiplexer (DEMUX or DMX).

Inverse multiplexing (IMUX) has the opposite aim as multiplexing, namely to break one data stream into several streams, transfer them simultaneously over several communication channels, and recreate the original data stream.

NPL network

The NPL Network or NPL Data Communications Network was a local area computer network operated by a team from the National Physical Laboratory in England that pioneered the concept of packet switching. Following a pilot experiment during 1967, elements of the first version of the network, Mark I, became operational during 1969 then fully operational in 1970, and the Mark II version operated from 1973 until 1986. The NPL network, followed by the wide area ARPANET in the United States, were the first two computer networks that implemented packet switching, and were interconnected in the early 1970s. The NPL network was designed and directed by Donald Davies.

Rotary dial

A rotary dial is a component of a telephone or a telephone switchboard that implements a signaling technology in telecommunications known as pulse dialing. It is used when initiating a telephone call to transmit the destination telephone number to a telephone exchange.

On the rotary phone dial, the digits are arranged in a circular layout so that a finger wheel may be rotated with one finger from the position of each digit to a fixed stop position, implemented by the finger stop, which is a mechanical barrier to prevent further rotation.

When released at the finger stop, the wheel returns to its home position by spring action at a speed regulated by a governor device. During this return rotation, the dial interrupts the direct electrical current of the telephone line (local loop) a specific number of times for each digit and thereby generates electrical pulses which the telephone exchange decodes into each dialed digit. Each of the ten digits is encoded in sequences of up to ten pulses so the method is sometimes called decadic dialling.

The first patent for a rotary dial was granted to Almon Brown Strowger (November 29, 1892) as U.S. Patent 486,909, but the commonly known form with holes in the finger wheel was not introduced until ca. 1904. While used in telephone systems of the independent telephone companies, rotary dial service in the Bell System in the United States was not common until the introduction of the Western Electric model 50AL in 1919.From the 1980s onward, the rotary dial was gradually supplanted by dual-tone multi-frequency push-button dialing, first introduced to the public at the 1962 World's Fair under the trade name "Touch-Tone". Touch-tone technology primarily used a keypad in form of a rectangular array of push-buttons for dialing.

Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate (and largely discretionary) appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of federal constitutional or statutory law. The Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions. Each year it agrees to hear about one hundred to one hundred fifty of the more than seven thousand cases that it is asked to review.According to federal statute, the court normally consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices, all of whom are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Once appointed, justices have lifetime tenure unless they resign, retire, or are removed from office.Each justice has a single vote in deciding the cases argued before it; the chief justice's vote carries no more weight than any other. When the chief justice is in the majority, he decides who writes the opinion of the court; otherwise, the senior justice in the majority assigns the task of writing the opinion.In modern discourse, justices are often categorized as having conservative, moderate, or liberal philosophies of law and of judicial interpretation. While a far greater number of cases in recent history have been decided unanimously, decisions in cases of the highest profile have often come down to just one single vote, exemplifying the justices' alignment according to these categories.The Court meets in the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. Its law enforcement arm is the Supreme Court of the United States Police.


The telex network was a public switched network of teleprinters similar to a telephone network, for the purposes of sending text-based messages. Telex was a major method of sending written messages electronically between businesses in the post-World War II period. Its usage went into decline as the fax machine grew in popularity in the 1980s.

The "telex" term refers to the network, not the teleprinters; point-to-point teleprinter systems had been in use long before telex exchanges were built in the 1930s. Teleprinters evolved from telegraph systems, and, like the telegraph, they used binary signals, which means that symbols were represented by the presence or absence of a pre-defined level of electric current. This is significantly different from the analog telephone system, which used varying voltages to represent sound. For this reason, telex exchanges were entirely separate from the telephone system, with their own signalling standards, exchanges and system of "telex numbers" (the counterpart of telephone numbers).

Telex provided the first common medium for international record communications using standard signalling techniques and operating criteria as specified by the International Telecommunication Union. Customers on any telex exchange could deliver messages to any other, around the world. To lower line usage, telex messages were normally first encoded onto paper tape and then read into the line as quickly as possible. The system normally delivered information at 50 baud or approximately 66 words per minute, encoded using the International Telegraph Alphabet No. 2. In the last days of the telex networks, end-user equipment was often replaced by modems and phone lines, reducing the telex network to what was effectively a directory service running on the phone network.

Trust (business)

A trust or corporate trust is a large grouping of business interests with significant market power, which may be embodied as a corporation or as a group of corporations that cooperate with one another in various ways. These ways can include constituting a trade association, owning stock in one another, constituting a corporate group (sometimes specifically a conglomerate), or combinations thereof. The term trust is often used in a historical sense to refer to monopolies or near-monopolies in the United States during the Second Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and early 20th century.In the broader sense of the term, relating to trust law, a trust is a centuries-old legal arrangement whereby one party conveys legal possession and title of certain property to a second party, called a trustee. While that trustee has ownership, s/he cannot use the property for herself, but holds it 'in trust' for the well-being of a beneficiary. Trusts are commonly used to hold inheritances for the benefit of children and other family members, for example. In business, such trusts, with corporate entities as the trustees, have sometimes been used to combine several large businesses in order to exert complete control over a market, which is how the narrower sense of the term grew out of the broader sense.

Voice of Russia

The Voice of Russia (Russian: Голос России, tr. Golos Rossii), commonly abbreviated VOR, was the Russian government's international radio broadcasting service from 1993 until 2014, when it was reorganised as Radio Sputnik. Its interval signal was a chime version of 'Majestic' chorus from the Great Gate of Kiev portion of Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky.

Waite Court

The Waite Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1874 to 1888, when Morrison Waite served as the seventh Chief Justice of the United States. Waite succeeded Salmon P. Chase as Chief Justice after the latter's death. Waite served as Chief Justice until his death, at which point Melville Fuller was nominated and confirmed as Waite's successor.

The Waite Court presided over the end of the Reconstruction Era, and the start of the Gilded Age. It also played an important role during the constitutional crisis that arose following the 1876 presidential election, as five of its members served on the Electoral Commission that Congress created to settle the dispute over who won the Electoral College vote.

During the Waite's tenure, the jurisdiction of federal circuit courts (as against that of the State courts) was expanded by the Jurisdiction and Removal Act of 1875, which gave the federal judiciary full jurisdiction over federal questions. As a result of the change, caseloads in the federal courts grew considerably.

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