Once upon a time, the videophone was a futuristic technology on par with flying cars. It symbolized futuristic communication. Sadly, the reality of FaceTime and Skype didn't quite measure up to these retro futuristic concepts.
Toshiba’s Model 500 View Phone, from the late 1960s
(via Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
This drawing of a fictional device named "Edison's Telephonoscope" was made by the famous French-born British cartoonist George du Maurier for Punch Magazine in December 1878. The text says:
Every evening, before going to bed, Pater- and Materfamilias set up an electric camera-obscura over their bedroom mantel-piece, and gladden their eyes with the sight of their children at the Antipodes, and converse gaily with them through the wire.
By the way, the aspect ratio of the screen (2.7:1) is almost the same as used in the Cinerama (1952-1972), M-G-M Camera-65 (1957-1966) and exactly the same as Ultra Panavision (1963-1968).
Videotelephone In The Year 2000, early 1900s
From the series In The Year 2000, by Jean-Marc Côté and other artists, made in 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1910. The other postcards and paper cards from cigarette and cigar boxes are available on this Wikimedia Commons page. There are at least 87 of them.
(via Wikimedia Commons)
A video call in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927)
In 1927 an electromechanical television-videophone named ikonophone was created by AT&T. It could send video signals with a speed of 18 frames per second but it was only one-way. In the 1930s, more than 200 scientists, engineers and technicians led by Dr. Herbert Ives were working on a two-way solution, and this led to the PicturePhone three decades later.
Detail of the system with the motor and the switch assembly.
(via Early Television)
A video call from the movie High Treason (1929)
The first public videophone service, 1936
This public videophone was opened by the German Reichspost in 1936. It closed in 1940, because of WWII.
Developed by Dr. Georg Schubert, the videophone connected Berlin with Leipzig and Hamburg, using broadband coaxial cable. It used 8 inches (20 cm) square displays and the video achieved a speed of 25 frames per second. In 1938 the service was broadened to connect Leipzig with Nüremburg and Munich.
Short video calls from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936)
The Bell System PicturePhone, 1956
The company estimated that three million units would be used in homes and offices by the mid-1980s, but the device was test marketed in the early 1960s and never became popular. AT&T finally abandoned the whole project in 1973.
Buy a Hughes Tronotron, and you will be able to see over the phone, 1957
AT&T Picturephone, 1960s
Bell Labs developed the Picturephone that debuted at the 1964 World's Fair.
In the next few years the company rolled out three Picturephone booths in New York, Chicago and Washington DC, but these could communicate only with each other. The service was really expensive, and costs ranged from $16 to $27 for only three minutes, which is equal to $120-200 in 2013 dollars. In 1970, Bell launched Picturephone service in Pittsburgh, but the prices remained really high. The Picturephone was ahead of its time, but it never became popular.
Ericcson videophone, 1960s
In the mid-1960s the engineers at Swedish firm Ericsson began to develop a videophone for organizations, industry, government offices and businesses. The phone had a mirror that could be flipped up in front of the camera lens. This enabled the user to talk while pointing out something on a paper. The phone had an Ericovox loudspeaker phone as the audio component and a monitor with an attached camera for the video signals, because they couldn't transmit both audio and video data in one single cable. Ericsson engineers tested this system for years, but in 1977 they abandoned the project: the prices were too high and the users weren't impressed enough.
The Swedish Prime Minister, Tage Erlander, uses the videophone to talk to Lennart Hyland, a popular TV show host, 1969.
A video call from 2001: Space Odyssey (1968)
Western Electric crosses a telephone with a TV set, 1968
Matsushita's concept from 1968, Japan
Visiophone by Matra, 1970
The French electronics company Matra developed this device with CIT-Alcatel and Thomson-Brandt. The sale price was around $6000 in 2013 dollars. They wanted to use it for internal calls at a French telecommunications company and later for commercial use, but the product languished in a concept stage.
(via Wikimedia Commons)
Progress, by Blue Earth Valley Telephone Company, 1976
Vid-Phon from Blade Runner (1982)