Post Museum Diósd | Post Museum Photo Gallery

Hello, I can hear what you say

For thousands of years the speed of communications was determined by the speed of the swiftest runner or the fastest horse. The development of the telephone as a method of communication was a major step towards speeding up communication worldwide.

The first telephone in Hungary rang on May 1, 1881 in Budapest’s Fürdõ Street (today József Attila Street). To celebrate the 130th anniversary of the start of the telephone service in Hungary, Zsolt Nyitrai, Minister of State for Infocommunication unveiled a plaque at Hild ter, near the place where Hungary’s first telephone operator center was established. Commemorations continued at Budapest’s Post Museum with the minister making a phone-call via a more than a hundred year old device. “He was calling Nóra Puskás, the oldest relative of Tivadar Puskás, the mind behind the telephone exchange technology,” reveals László Egervári, Managing Director of the Communications Museum Foundation. “Also, to mark the World Information Society Day (May 17), we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the year Hungarian scientist György Békésy won his Nobel Prize. These two Hungarians played great roles in the development of what is today called international telecommunications industry.”

Prior to the telephone, electrical switches were used to switch telegraph lines. The switchboard was built from "carriage bolts, handles from teapot lids and bustle wire" and could handle two simultaneous conversations. Later exchanges consisted of one to several hundred plug boards staffed by telephone operators. Each operator sat in front of a vertical panel containing banks of jacks, each of which was the local termination of a subscriber's telephone line. When a calling party lifted the receiver, a signal lamp near the jack would light. The operator would plug one of the cords into the subscriber's jack and switch her headset into the circuit to ask, "Number, please?" Depending upon the answer, the operator might plug the other cord of the pair (the "ringing cord") into the called party's local jack and start the ringing cycle, or plug into a trunk circuit to start what might be a long distance call. “In 1918, the average time to complete the connection for a long-distance call was 15 minutes,” Egervári notes, adding that Budapest’s first exchange center had started off with a capacity for 25 lines. “The vast majority of the first subscribers were business people. It took the bureaucracy a while until they accepted it,” he continues. “Another interesting fact is that up to 98% of the telephone center operators were women. Even countesses were seeking to get into this top job position.”

Georg von Békésy (Békésy György) (June 3, 1899 – June 13, 1972) was a Hungarian biophysicist born in Budapest. Before and during World War II, Bekesy worked for the Hungarian Post Office, doing research on telecommunications signal quality. This research led him to become interested in the workings of the ear. In 1946, he left Hungary to follow this line of research at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. In 1961, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the function of the cochlea in the mammalian hearing organ. He developed a method for dissecting the inner ear of human cadavers while leaving the cochlea partly intact. He was able to observe that the basilar membrane moves like a surface wave when stimulated by sound. Because of the structure of the cochlea and the basilar membrane, different frequencies of sound cause the maximum amplitudes of the waves to occur at different places on the basilar membrane along the coil of the cochlea.  He concluded that his observations showed how different sound wave frequencies are locally dispersed before exciting different nerve fibers that lead from the cochlea to the brain. He theorized that the placement of each sensory cell (hair cell) along the coil of the cochlea corresponds to a specific frequency of sound. Békésy worked at Harvard University until he was offered to lead a research laboratory of sense organs in Honolulu, Hawaii. He died in Honolulu.

Tivadar Puskás (Sep 17, 1844– March 16, 1893) is an outstanding person in the Hungarian history of engineering with the most fertile imagination and ideas. He studied law and later engineering sciences. In 1873, on the occasion of the World Exhibition in Vienna, he founded the Puskás Travel Agency, the fourth-oldest in the world and the first travel agency in Central Europe. Then he moved to Colorado and became a gold miner. From the autumn of 1876 to the summer of 1877 Puskás worked on the idea of the telephone exchange (which he completed, but did not patent) at the Edison’s laboratory in Menlo Park. In 1879 Puskás set up a telephone exchange in Paris, where he looked after Edison's European affairs for the next four years. In addition, he was working on the electric lighting of London. He also directed the installation of the first telephone networks in London and Brussels. Meanwhile, he trained his brother, Ferenc, who with Edison’s consent, obtained exclusive rights to build telephone exchanges on the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The two brothers returned home and began to install a telephone exchange in Budapest, which started to operate as the forth telephone center in Europe. Nikola Tesla became the chief electrician to the company, and was later engineer for the country's first telephone system. Allegedly, Tivadar Puskás said “hallo” into the telephone receiver for the first time in the world, or rather he said “hallom” (that is to say “I hear” in Hungarian), so the phrase originates from this Hungarian word.

Telefon Hírmondó was the name of Puskás’ patented telephone broadcaster service which has also been described as an early radio. The service started in 1893 with around 60 subscribers. This is how a W. B. Forster Bovill writes about it in ’Hungary and the Hungarians: “You may be seated as I was in the reading-room of one of the hotels, or in a large coffee-house, when suddenly a rush is made for a telephone-looking instrument which hangs from the wall. In time perhaps you will become one of these “rushers.” It is the Telephon Hírmondó, a kind of newspaper which telephones its news instead of printing it. Budapest is the only city in the world which possesses such an instrument. All day long a clear-toned elocutionist announces news just as it arrives, it commences in the morning at nine by sending the correct time, which is repeated every hour. At twelve o’clock the news of the day, home and abroad, is sent out to thousands of homes, etc. Sometimes a raconteur will make the luncheon hour pass easily by telling a few good stories. From 4.30 one may listen to a famous Honved military band, and after seven in the evening, for five nights of the week, the subscriber sitting at home may listen to grand opera. On the two remaining evenings the strains of a gipsy band coming from a distant cafe adds to the enjoyment. The Magyar loves pleasure.” Telefon Hírmondó divided the entire city of Budapest into twenty-seven districts, and had the rights to place wires in a way similar to the telephone and telegraph companies. Puskás' died a month after the launch of the service, on March 16, 1893. His brother Albert sold the enterprise, along with the patent rights.

The Postal and Telecommunications Museum Foundation aka Communications Museum Foundation was established in 1990 by the Hungarian Post Company, the Hungarian Telecommunications Company and Hungarian Program Broadcasting Company to provide for the operation of the Stamp Museum and Postal Museum.  The Post Museum, established between1885-1890, opened its first permanent exhibition in 1955 in the tower rooms of the Post Palace at Buda. In 1972 the museum moved to its present location into the Saxlehner Palace at Andrassy ut 3. Its collection contains relics of post, communications and program broadcasting, including 20, 000 objects, 67,000 documents and a library with some 15,000 books. In addition to the beautiful Andrássy út palace, there are 14 other affiliate units of the Communications Museum Fundation, including exhibition sites in Nagyvázsony, Balatonszemes, Hollókõ, Ópusztaszer, Kõszeg and Pécs. The latest member, a little post museum has just opened in Balatonarács. The so-called ‘Teletár’ in Miskolc, with its rotary center, old telephone exchanges and transmission equipments serves as an education center for future engineers. In Budapest, the Castle Exchange in District 1 houses the Telephony museum and in Diósd, there’s a Radio and Television Museum which was opened in1995 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of starting the program broadcasting of the Hungarian Radio.

Réka Alíz Francisck

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