1940s communication devices

Written by john briggs
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1940s communication devices
In the 1940s, the rotary telephone was the typical model. (Kick Images/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Many communication devices used in the 1940s are instantly recognisable to people today although the earlier models were bulkier and slower. The years after World War II saw a boom in communications technology as products developed for the military were released for public consumption, and the scientists who created them continued their research in the private sector. Some communications advances were quickly embraced by the public, while others remained affordable only to businesses and other enterprises.

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Telephone use exploded after Bell Laboratories invented the transistor in 1947. Faster switchboard operations and a decline in party lines put more than 30 million phones in use by the end of the decade. Bell Labs also developed the Advanced Mobile Phone Service, or AMPS, which forwarded wireless calls over a 200-mile radius using towers. In 1947, AT&& built the first long-range cellphone system along open roads connecting Boston to New York City.


Despite growing competition from the telephone, telegrams remained a popular way to send short messages throughout the 1940s. Messages could be one-way or two-way, as telegraph operators and couriers were also able to send replies, if requested. The Telex, an abbreviation for Teleprinter Exchange, printed messages by linking typewriters to telephone lines. Developed in the 1930s, the Telex was primarily used in Europe before gaining a foothold in the West in the 1950s.

Additional Voice Communication

HAM radio operators tested military equipment during World War II before reinventing the machines as walkie-talkies and other portable devices, like the Hallicrafter HT-4 Radio, capable of both short- and long-range communication. In 1940, the Connecticut State Police switched to a two-way, FM radio system that allowed them to contact patrolling officers virtually static-free. The Magnetophon, released in 1936, was an early version of a magnetic tape recorder. Its iron-oxide tape remained the industry standard until the 1970s.


Film became an important means of one-way communication following a number of advancements in the 1930s. Families could send colour photographs after Eastman Kodak developed Kodachrome in 1935. The middle and upper classes could also stay in touch through home movies. While black-and-white film remained the most affordable, Kodak offered colour film in both 8mm and 16mm strips throughout the 1940s.

Photographic Representation

By 1940, the Belinograph, an early version of the fax machine, had been in operation for 16 years. People could transmit replicated text and photographs over telephone lines. The Associated Press developed its own wire service in the 1930s for sending clearer images more quickly. The Xerox Corporation brought photocopying to the masses in 1944 through Xerography. This process allowed massive amounts of text and black-and-white images to be distributed rapidly and cheaply.

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