The Evolution of Missed Calls

By letting the answering machine pick up the call, you could listen in as the caller began leaving a message.

Global CommunicationsYou’re likely well familiar with leaving and receiving voicemail messages. After all, voicemail is ubiquitous on smartphones, VoIP phones, and even landlines with a voicemail service from their telephone service provider.

Voicemail is also amazingly easy to use both for the caller and the recipient. Plus, it’s super handy when you’re simply not available to speak or if you missed a call. However, capturing your missed phone calls wasn’t always this easy.

Let’s take a look at how people dealt with missed calls through the years.

Answering Service

In the early 20th century, most telephone operators were women, often called “Call Girls” or “The Voice with a Smile.” Phone companies required these operators to “switch” calls on the switchboard. Rather than dialing the other party directly as we do today, you’d first speak with an operator and she would make the connection.

As friendly as they may have been, operators were there to connect calls on the switchboard, not take your messages. That was the job of an answering service, a business model that is still in use today. Using an answering service, professionals such as doctors and lawyers no longer needed to worry about missed calls — even during lunch or after hours. Instead, their calls would be answered by live operators who would cheerfully take messages and then relay them to the client at a later time. According to an old training manual, Getting Down to Business: Answering Service, Module 17, from the early 1980s, most clients were charged a monthly service fee plus individual fees for each call received.

Answering Machines

Answering machines date back to the late 1800s, early 1900s when the “telegraphone” was invented. This device was invented by Valdemar Poulsen, a Danish engineer in 1898 and patented in 1900. The telegraphone used magnetic sound recording and reproduction technology, with the audio recording stored on a wire. The telegraphone never really caught on with the public, but found some usage during WW1.

According to, in 1935, the first automatic answering machine was invented by Willy Muller, finding popularity amongst the Orthodox Jewish population who were prohibited from answering telephone calls on the Sabbath. These early answering machines were large and impractical.

Remember watching The Rockford Files? Jim Rockford was on the cutting edge of answering machine technology back then with a tape-based machine that was prominently featured during the intro with new messages for each episode. Here’s one for you from Episode 109: “This is the message phone company. I see you’re using our unit, now how about paying for it?”

Vintage answering machine

Not only did answering machines allow business professionals to avoid missed calls, they allowed for screening calls. By letting the answering machine pick up the call, you could listen in as the caller began leaving a message.

If you wanted to speak to that person, you could then pick up the handset and have a conversation. On the other hand, if you didn’t want to talk, you could just let the machine do its job and deal with it later.

Answering machines still exist today with most of them using digital recording technologies rather than analog magnetic tapes.

“Who Invented the Answering Machine? History of Answering Machine Invention.”


Voicemail was invented by Gordon Matthews in the late 1970s. Matthews filed for a patent for “Voice Message Express” in 1979 and was awarded it in 1983. His company, VMX, sold its first voicemail system to 3M. VMX was later sold to Octel Communications, which was acquired by Lucent Technologies, which was spun off to Avaya.

Voicemail screening

As you likely know, voicemail is extremely popular and readily available today. All modern cell phones include it, and just about any phone service offers voicemail either bundled into your plan or as an option.

Voicemail Patent “United States Patent: 4652700.”

Voicemail has evolved since Matthews’ day. For example, in addition to accessing your messages by pressing certain keys on your keypad, some services offer voicemail-to-text transcriptions whereby your messages arrive via email or text message in a readable format. Some providers forward audio recordings of your messages the same way. You can also access your messages through a web portal, which is handy if you’re out of town and want to check your missed calls.

Voicemail doesn’t typically allow for call screening the way answering machines do. Rather, you must rely on Caller ID in order to determine whether to accept a call or let it go to voicemail. Apple has, however, applied for a patent for live voicemail screening for its iPhones. Some phone systems, including Avaya’s, have a form of voicemail screening that can be enabled.

“Apple Patents Live Voicemail Screening, Would Let Users Pick Up And Answer Mid-Message | TechCrunch.”

MP3 Recordings (Conference Calls)

Whether you use a landline, PBX system, VoIP phone, or a mobile phone, voicemail helps to ensure that you never miss a call. But what about conference calls? Technology solves this problem, too. Most conference calling services include an option where the call’s moderator can initiate an audio recording. If you miss a conference call, ask the moderator if an MP3 recording of the call is available for your review.

Since the invention of the telephone, innovations have evolved to ensure that even if we miss a phone call, we won’t necessarily miss the message.

“How to Send and Receive Audio Text Messages |”

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