Instrument designed for simultaneous transmission and reception of the human voice. It works by converting the sound waves of the human voice to pulses of electrical current, transmitting the current, and then retranslating the current back to sound. The U.S. patent granted to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 for developing a device to transmit speech sounds over electric wires is often called the most valuable ever issued. Within 20 years, the telephone acquired a form that has remained fundamentally unchanged for more than a century. The advent of the transistor (1947) led to lightweight, compact circuitry (see cell phone). Advances in electronics have allowed the introduction of a number of “smart” features such as automatic redialing, caller identification, call waiting, and call forwarding. Telephone systems are also a primary access route for the Internet.

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