12 Most Spectacular Inventions That Changed Communication Forever

12 Most Spectacular Inventions That Changed Communication Forever

We communicate a ton, share this blog as a form of communication and, for so many of us, take for granted the massive amount of information that is at our disposal. It was Shift Happens that first shared with us the hard to believe fact that we access more information today in one week of reading the New York Times than people had access to in an entire lifetime about 100 years ago.

Now we can instantly connect with the click of a button with friends, family, and other interesting folks around the world. This shift in communication has made our planet smaller, our lives more interesting,  and our knowledge base infinite. With so many great relationships built and so much incredible information obtained through new communication technologies it is the right thing to do to show our gratitude to the ways we can all communicate today and the people that have allowed this to happen. With this in mind, I now present you with the 12 Most Spectacular Inventions that Changed Communications Forever.

1. Mailing Address/Postal Service

Every day we check the mail, and most of us still receive some pretty important documents via that service. While the creation of addresses goes back FOREVER, dating back to 1775 (at least) the postal service in the US has been using mailing addresses (much like today) to deliver letters and allow for long distance communication to
take place.

2. Telegraph

In 1794 Claude Shappe developed a slightly different type of telegraph using semaphore rather than electrical wire, however the widely known electronic telegraph was invented in 1830 by Samuel Morse.  The use of Morse code allowed for signal pulses to travel down electrical wire and for messages to be decoded forever changing the speed of long distance interaction to “Instant.”

3. Telephone

The infamous Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876.  Talk about a new way to communicate.  Through the soon to be developed switch board you could now speak to someone in another place in real time.  Not just instant code, but instant interaction.

4. Facsimile

Today we scan paper documents and send them to people in email.  Before, you had to send them via mail.  Believe it or not there has been forms of the facsimile since the 19th century, but they were incredibly costly and it wasn’t until the 1970’s with the invention of the Exxon Qwip  which allowed the real time sending of digital documents.  This product allowed contracts and other highly time sensitive documents to get from one point to another in an instant.  Changed the “Business Deal” forever!

5. Car Phone

Not much happened after the fax.  Business travelers had to depend on finding a payphone to call in, and life was highly disconnected until 1960, when Sture Lauren developed the first fully enabled car phone.  When eventually brought to the market, the uber-elite that could afford to have one of these installed in their car could increase their productivity and accessibility by making drive time, talk time.  That of course relying on being in a major metro, with the sun shining, and the wind
blowing perfectly west to east.  (Kind of like Satellite TV today)

6. Cellular Phone

So you could talk in the car, and you could call from the office, but what about at lunch, while sitting by the pool, or when you were out on the links?  It couldn’t be done. The place was the United States, the company Motorola,  and the year was 1973 when Dr. Martin Copper brought to the market the first heavy duty cellular telephone.  Often carried in a bag and the phone itself the size of a JK Rowling Novel, this phone would work from anywhere as long as you had battery and signal.  Two
things in which most of us STILL struggle with today.  Nevertheless we were free from our tether and talking on the go.  This is something every one of us is still very grateful (or hateful) for today.

7. Video Conferencing

At this point we could instantly send a document and talk about it on the phone while drinking a Pina Colada.  What if I want to see your face and you aren’t here?  Enter Video Conferencing. Today, telepresence and 3D telepresence are changing the landscape of long distance in person communication, but the actual technology dates all the way back to 1970 where you could see a very low quality image of the person you were speaking on the phone with (Video Phone).  It was incredibly expensive and it wasn’t really until the 1980’s that the commercial sector began to invest in the technology and start to use it.  Today it is rampant. Anyone do a Skype call today?

8. Email

Why send a letter to say hello, send an email.  It is fast, semi formal, and it serves the purpose.  In 1971 Ray Tomlinson created the ARAPnet and used his SendMsg feature to inform his colleagues on how to use it.  While today the use of email may be declining due to newer ways to instantly stay in touch, it is still one of the most common forms of professional business communication and I would almost guarantee that everyone reading this post received at least 1 email today.

9. Instant Message

Anyone instant message today? Via Skype, Google, Twitter?  Pretty nice huh?  Well it was actually all the way back in the mid 70’s on a Unix platform that instant messages were able to be sent.  Modern instant messaging as we know it started in 1996 (AKA ICQ) via AOL.

10. Text Message

It was right around 1985 and it was thanks to the development of the still used GSM network that the first text message was sent.  Do you know what it said?  I can’t prove it for sure, but it wasn’t Tweet ya later – it was actually “Merry Christmas”

11. 6degrees

Anyone heard of it?  Neither had I, but dating all the way back to 1997 this company allowed users to create profiles, connect with friends, and search their friends online.  Parts of this were prevalent in early dating sites, but 6degress defined the social network category. Today, the beloved social media so many of us partake in can be rooted back to this long ago forgotten company.  It makes you wonder when the hot new technology will soon be forgotten?  Can you say GROUPON?????

12. Twitter

This platform is Social Media on steroids, founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey.  This application, sometimes referred to the SMS of the internet, allows the instant transfer of information with billions upon billions of messages and queries going out each and every day.  I’m pretty certain if it wasn’t for Twitter you wouldn’t be reading this right now, and yes, I would love it if you would retweet this post and tweet out that you left a comment.  After all, I’m not doing this for my health..or am I?

So there you have it, the inventions, the dates, the people, and the meaning.  Life as we know it is better (or at the very least different) because of our ability to communicate.  Many of the above tools are still very much a part of our life today.  If that for product lifecycle isn’t impressive then I must be speaking to the inventor of Grass, Mud, or Fire…

And as a disclaimer. I want to apologize to Facebook.  I know some people who read this are going to think Facebook should be where Twitter is. Perhaps if there were a #13 and I liked Facebook and the behavior that it created amongst our share-all friends, it would have made its way into the list.  But, since I don’t particularly like those things and I find communicating on Facebook to be nearly impossible, it will not make the list. (Benefit of being the Author I suppose)

I’m Dan Newman, I’m just another guy with a blog and these are my 12 most.
Featured image courtesy of MatteoBertini licensed via creative commons.

Daniel Newman

Daniel Newman is the CEO of United Visual Inc. Parent company to United Visual Systems, United Visual Productions, and United GlobalComm. The family of companies is focused in Visual Communications and Audio Visual Technologies. Newman is also an Adjunct Professor of Management at North Central College. A Chicago native all of his life, Newman is an avid golfer, a fitness fan, and a classically trained pianist.

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@DivaDesign Re: 12 Most Spectacular Inventions...Would you add the Gutenberg press or was Newman mainly focused on more recent technologies?


Great post Daniel!
#1 brings to mind one of our "Founding Fathers", BennFranklin - Zip Code.
#2 rotary phones and a party line
#3 the smell
#4 the slang term "Brick"
Thank You for jogging ole memories!


I gotta say my two favs are the cell phone and twitter. It's like ying-yang, PB&J, chocolate syrup and a hot guy...but I digress. Excellent post Dan :)


About a decade ago, when my daughter was 9 years old, she stood looking at a rotary dial phone I had in the studio as a prop. This girl is one very smart kid ... she turned to me and said "I think it might be a phone ... but how do you use it?"

(excuse me for a sec...my walker fell over. Ok, I'm good now)

I remember taking my car into the 'dealership', leaving it for a day while they installed the mobile phone, and when I picked it up my car looked like I worked for SETI. Ah yes. I still harken back to those good old days on Signal Hill ...

Great post, as always, Daniel :)


Interesting post Dan.

I know I'm much older than you but there is one invention that pre-dates both this list and our own lives, which was more "spectacular" in that it started the mass communication revolution that allowed all the rest on this list to happen: the printing press. It was probably the most influential invention of the second millennium.

PegFitzpatrick moderator

Love this!

I must saying growing up the telephone was the best! No call waiting, one line and always busy at my house between my sister and I. I also still like to send homemade cards via snail mail, I feel they are even more special in the digital age.


How can this be? I'm 20 and I'm feeling a little bit old reading this post...


What a fun post! Thanks for sharing the communication history factoids with us. I'm snail mailing you my blog comments - you should receive in about another week.

What ever happened to #4 the world famous "facsimile"? Very old school - what's not to love? And I'm a huge fan of Skype. I cannot imagine life without it now. Thanks for the techno flashback. These are truly the best and most connected of times.


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