The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
German Military Field Telephone - April 5, 1917
The First World War saw widespread use of telephones in combat. These telephones, like the German model pictured below, were of tremendous value to armies on the front, since they allowed for covert communication without putting the messenger at risk. In order to operate this particular telephone, a soldier would squeeze the switch on the handle while speaking into a leather-covered “horn” piece. His voice would then travel through the telephone’s transmission aperture, which converts his voice into an electric signal to be received by another telephone. This particular phone has a total of four transmission lines, so it would be up to the user to consult the telephone’s switchboard map and select the correct line for their purposes. If the connection was imperfect and messages difficult to comprehend, soldiers would use a series of standard words associated with each letter of the alphabet. This method of communication is akin to the NATO phonetic alphabet, which would translate the message, “Squadrons A, B, and C have arrived” to “Squadrons Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie have arrived.” This system allows for much clearer enunciation, especially of single letters.