By Tom Dare
FASCINATING FOOTAGE from the 1950s showing what appears to be a very early precursor to the video phone has resurfaced this week – showing that the idea for face-to-face conversations over the phone predated those from multinational companies such as Apple, Samsung and Sony.
The clip, taken as part of a newsreel in 1955, is taken in a technology laboratory in San Francisco, and features a woman sat down at a huge computer desk with a dial-up phone and two small screens sat directly in front of her.
The woman can be seen in one of the screens and, after adjusting her make-up and dialling the required number, a man can suddenly be seen on the other screen picking up the receiver at the other and of the line. The two then proceed to have a short conversation before hanging up.
The video phone was at the cutting edge back in 1955, with a large crowd gathered round to witness the first test of the innovative technology at the western electronics’ convention.
And, with a hint of sexism that was typical of the time period, the narrator explains exactly how the system operated to the audience.
“How does it work?” he asks rhetorically.
“Just lift the receiver and you see your own image. This feature’s for the girls, at long last a reason for the primping that usually precedes a women’s phone call.
“No picture is transmitted over the line though since no call is placed.
“Then dial your number just as with an obsolete old ’55 model phone, and when your party answer…there he is, almost as big as life on the ten-inch video screen.”
The narrator goes on to explain that the phone, while certainly impressive, would cost a whopping $5,000 back in 1955 – that’s the equivalent of roughly $46,000 in today’s money.
It would be some years before the technology became both portable and affordable, though most mobile phones today have the ability to make video calls.