The History of Answering Machines

Answering machine button detail

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According to Adventures in Cybersound, the Danish telephone engineer and inventor Valdemar Poulsen patented what he called a telegraphone in 1898. The telegraphone was the first practical apparatus for magnetic sound recording and reproduction. It was an ingenious apparatus for recording telephone conversations. It recorded, on a wire, the varying magnetic fields produced by a sound. The magnetized wire could then be used to play back the sound.

Early Developments

Mr. Willy Müller invented the first automatic answering machine in 1935. This answering machine was a three-foot-tall machine popular with Orthodox Jews who were forbidden to answer the phone on the Sabbath.

The Ansafone, created by inventor Dr. Kazuo Hashimoto for Phonetel, was the first answering machine sold in the USA, beginning in 1960.

Classic Models

According to Casio TAD History (Telephone Answering Devices), Casio Communications created the modern telephone answering device (TAD) industry as we know it today by introducing the first commercially viable answering machine a quarter of a century ago. The product—the Model 400—is now featured in the Smithsonian.

In 1971, PhoneMate introduced one of the first commercially viable answering machines, the Model 400. The unit weighs 10 pounds, screens calls, and holds 20 messages on a reel-to-reel tape. An earphone enables private message retrieval.

Digital Innovation

The first digital TAD ​was invented by Dr. Kazuo Hashimoto of Japan in mid-1983. US patent 4,616,110 entitled Automatic Digital Telephone Answering.


U.S. Patent No. 4,371,752 is the pioneer patent for what evolved into voice mail, and that patent belongs to Gordon Matthews. Gordon Matthews held over thirty-three patents. Gordon Matthews was the founder of the VMX company in Dallas, Texas that produced the first commercial voice mail system, he has become known as the "Father of Voice Mail."

In 1979, Gordon Matthews formed his company, VMX, of Dallas (Voice Message Express). He applied for a patent in 1979 for his voicemail invention and sold the first system to 3M.

"When I call a business, I like to talk to a human" - Gordon Matthews.

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of Answering Machines." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). The History of Answering Machines. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Answering Machines." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).