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Benjamin Thornton | African American Inventors and their Inventions

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Benjamin Thornton

The answering machine is arguably the greatest asset to modern communication of the last century. While the telephone was important, one would have to be near it in order to receive and send vital messages. The answering machine changed all of that. With this incredible invention, you could receive communications regardless of whether you took the call first hand or not, and information could be distributed far more effectively. It is almost inconceivable to imagine a world without answering machines. We have all experienced the elation of good news, or the heartbreak of a breakup message. And all of this positivity comes down to the invention, an African American inventor who literally changed the way in which we communicate.

It was 1935, and the telephone had changed the way in which people communicated, did business, and thought about the world. There was one major shortcoming though – telephone owners would have to wait around for calls, and missed calls were permanently lost. Benjamin Thornton recognized this problem, and patented a recording system that allowed people to leave the kind of messages that we all do to this very day. Thanks to the inclusion of a recording device, the caller could leave a message for the phone owner, who could then play the message back, return a call, or jot down the information. It was really a revolution. But Thornton wasn’t done yet.

The etiquette around leaving voice messages had not been developed, and novice phone owners often forgot to give complete messages in their haste and excitement. For example, an urgent message could be left, but if the speaker did not include a time or date, the urgency would be lost, and the message would be rendered ineffective. To stop this from happening, Thornton included a clock mechanism that would alert people to the time that the missed call was made, and the message left.

 

 

The test of invention is in the ability to endure, and the contribution of Thornton is the epitome of this quality. This is a phenomenal concept that we would never survive without. Thank you Benjamin Thornton!

 
 
 
 

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