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Inventing telephone usage: Debating ownership, entitlement and purpose in early British telephony

Kay, Michael Alfred (2014) Inventing telephone usage: Debating ownership, entitlement and purpose in early British telephony. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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In this thesis I counter the received scholarly view that restrictive government policies delayed the uptake of telephony in Britain before its nationalisation in 1912. Rather, I demonstrate how telephone usage shaped British telephone growth and development between 1877, when telephones were first successfully demonstrated in Britain, and 1893, when the decision to nationalise the trunk lines had been taken and competition between private companies ended. My use-focused approach differs from previous supply-centred narratives in four important respects: instead of considering only exchange telephony, I also focus on private, point-to-point telephony, and innovative uses of telephone instruments devised by users. Secondly, whilst most focus on London, I also examine events in the provinces. Thus I show how developments in telephony around the country had national effects. Thirdly, I question how well telephony met the needs of individuals and groups when compared with efficient alternative communication methods such as telegraphy and the letter post. Finally, I also examine the actions and opinions of non-users of telephony, who often preferred to use more traditional methods of communication. Thus, by studying material from the BT Archives, and digitised Victorian periodical sources, I demonstrate how telephone users and non-users contributed to three Victorian discussions: the first concerned who ought to supply telephony, for example, companies or the state, and whether competition or monopoly was preferable. The second was who should be able to use telephony, whether it was a luxury or a necessity, and for whom; the third concerned the uses to which the embryonic technology ought to be put. The answers to these three questions of ownership, entitlement and purpose shaped the variety of telephone systems which emerged around the country by the end of the period covered by this thesis. I argue that users and non-users influenced the development of British telephony by deciding to adopt or reject the telephone, by the uses to which they put telephone instruments, or by deciding to impede the growth of telephone systems. Overall, I show that by 1893 it was the agency of users and non-users which led to the British government's decision to nationalise the trunk lines, and to the end of private competition in exchange telephony.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
ISBN: 978-0-85731-938-8
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.631397
Depositing User: Leeds CMS
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2014 12:07
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2015 13:47
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7424

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