The Postwar Explosion

The early 40s saw little change in the situation, but following the end of World War II, the remarkable success of live answering services stimulated independent inventors once again to develop new answering machines. Under pressure from these inventors, the FCC in 1949 for the first time permitted the use of automatic answering machines on AT&T lines, with some tight restrictions on which machines could be used and who controlled their use. The Electronic Secretary, one of the first of these postwar products, was introduced commercially and achieved considerable success. The original model recorded on wire and used a 45 rpm record as the outgoing message. Later models used two tape transports, increasing reliability and allowing customers to record their own outgoing messages. Bell System companies and GTE rented this machine to customers in the early 1960s.

The next year AT&T announced that it would test the "Peatrophone" answering machine made by Gray Manufacturing Company. The first customers were recruited by the Ohio Bell system, and AT&T made Peatrophones available to most other customers by 1951. The Peatrophone used two phonograph disks, a small one for the outgoing message, and a larger one for incoming calls. Extra disks were stored in the lid. This recorder was apparently a modification of the Gray Audograph office dictation machine. To rent an answering machine from the telephone company in the middle 1950s typically cost about $12.50 per month, plus a one-time fee of about $15 for installation. In addition were charges for an FCC-required "coupling device" placed in the circuit between the machine and the telephone company wiring, which cost $10-35 for installation plus a monthly rental from $2.00- 8.00. This was quite a high price to pay for an answering machine, and had the effect of excluding all but a certain category of small business. Most customers were (as far as the telephone company could tell), professionals such as doctors and lawyers, who usually had only a minimal staff but whose customers needed prompt and confidential communication capability. Allegedly, another major category of customer was the "call girl," the high-priced prostitutes who served their customers by "house calls." For these reasons, AT&T estimated that it had only 40,000 customers using automatic answering machines by 1957.