PhoneMate Model 500 - Voicemail In The Early 1970s
By James Grahame
I have an incredibly complicated voice mail system on my office line. It knows my schedule better than me, and is even clever enough to forward calls when I'm out and about. It wasn't always this way, of course. In the beginning, telephone answering machines were crude tape-based systems that were almost exclusively the domain of businesses.
The PhoneMate 400 was introduced in 1971, capable of storing ten minutes of messages on reel-to-reel tape. There were no fancy features like time and date stamping, voice menus, or remote message retrieval. AT&T was concerned about the potential for an army of automated message takers, and attempted to ban them from the telephone system. Thank goodness they lost, or we'd be forced to talk to real people every time we made a call.