An abbreviated history of the conference call


It wasn’t long ago that remote work was something that most workers had never personally experienced. Now that hybrid and remote work has become commonplace, some companies are embracing the change, while others are having trouble with this new reality. The companies that are thriving in this new era have leaders who recognized the need for change early and integrated new tech to help their employees adapt. It is undeniable that modern technology is what makes a hybrid work model sustainable in the long term, but to truly appreciate how integral cutting-edge conference room technology is, it’s important to understand the history of the tech that brought us here. 


Let’s take a closer look at the history of the conference call: from the telegraph to the front-and-center solutions that connect employees around the world today. A lot has changed, but the throughline continues to be the need for people to connect with each other, even when they can’t be in the same room together. 

Cooperation has been an intrinsic part of the human experience since our days spent huddling around campfires. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that people could collaborate in real-time without physically being in the same space. That collaboration started with the telegraph. 

The idea of sending electronic signals through wires to communicate can be traced back to the 18th century in France. It wasn’t until 1843 that Samuel Morse built the first telegraph system in the United States between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. On May 24, 1844, the first telegraph message was sent reading: “What hath God wrought?”


In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call between himself and an assistant in another room. He continued to improve his invention, and on January 25th, 1915 he made the first intercontinental telephone call from New York to San Francisco. The telephone would go on to replace the telegraph as the primary form of long-distance communication.

On September 25th, 1956 the first transatlantic telephone call was made between New York and the United Kingdom via massive undersea cables. Heralded as the pinnacle of modern technology, more cables were then installed over the next decade connecting the two continents. 

In 1964 the first videoconferencing phone was introduced at the Worlds Fair by AT&T’s R&D division, Bell Labs. Known as the Picturephone, it had a five-by-five-inch screen in a cylindrical housing. While the video quality wasn’t great, it was the first display of what would become the future of modern communications. AT&T continued to promote the device throughout the ’60s, though it never found mainstream success due to its high cost. 


Companies continued to invest in teleconferencing technology research through the 60’s and 70’s but nothing was able to achieve widespread adoption until 1984 when Concept Communications achieved a technological breakthrough that drastically reduced the size and cost of teleconferencing circuitry. 

Brian Hinman and Jeffrey Rodman founded PictureTel that same year, which went on to be the first company to bring videoconferencing tech to enterprise applications. The two MIT graduates went on to found another company, Polycom in 1990. 

In 1992 Polycom’s first product was brought to market, the Soundstation. The triangularly shaped conference phone quickly became a staple for conference rooms around the world. It provided real-time audio communications with high-quality sound. Video capabilities were introduced via the Showstation which launched in 1994. 

The next major shift in communications occurred with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Suddenly, everyone had a high-quality phone with an internet connection in their pockets. This transformed how individuals communicated, but offices continued to rely on conference phones for team collaboration. 

In 2010 Skype introduced video calls for iPhone users, Facetime launched that same year, and Zoom launched in 2011. These tools were utilized by small teams, but it would be a few years before they saw widespread use in the corporate world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was the catalyst that catapulted remote and hybrid work to the forefront of corporate culture and marked the beginning of the widespread transformation of how we work. When employees were forced into months of remote work due to lockdowns around the world, companies were forced to invest in new technology that facilitated effective hybrid work. 

At first, most people used regular web cameras to stay connected with their co-workers, but many quickly found that web cameras often provided awkward camera angles, low-quality images, and poor audio. More modern solutions like the Meeting Owl provided employees with the ability to clearly see and hear each other, without having to change where they were sitting in a meeting room. 

Continued innovation has introduced front-and-center solutions, like the Meeting Owl 3 + Owl Bar, which work together to cover every angle of a room and use AI to automatically select the optimal angle to clearly frame speakers and make hybrid meetings natural and inclusive experiences. 

Quality managers, organizational support, and resilient employees are all driving factors behind the continued success of hybrid work today. Company leaders need to continue to invest in the best technology to give their employees the tools they need to collaborate, even if they can’t be in the same location. The way we work will continue to evolve, but the need to collaborate with each other will not. 


  1. “Back 1830-1860.” Elon University, 2014, 
  2. Rathi, Akshat. “The first videophone, invented in 1964, was a flop with consumers.” Business Insider, 2016,
  3. “The History of Conferencing.” Data Projections,


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