Top 25 things vanishing from America: #14 -- The answering machine


This series explores aspects of America that may soon be just a memory -- some to be missed, some gladly left behind. From the least impactful to the most, here are 25 bits of vanishing America.

The idea of having a machine answer you calls and take a message is not going to go away, but the kind of answering machine we're used to? The stand alone model where you press the button and listen to a message on a tape? Oh, yeah, so long, and don't forget to write -- er, call.

The answering machine has evolved over the years ever since the first rudimentary gadget was invented in 1898, though it wasn't ever anything that went on the market. Ever since then, people have been trying to improve upon it. Answering services, where human operators were paid to answer the phone and take messages, were the rage, for years, and then answering machines started to dominate the landscape. When? It's hard to say, in a way. It's a machine that evolved over the years with many mothers for this invention, as this site demonstrates, but according to my newspaper archive research, the Mohawk Business Machines made a lot of news in 1951 with the one that they released to the public.

By 1974, the answering machine was ubiquitous enough that it was featured at the beginning of every episode of the detective series, The Rockford Files.