What Was The First Ever Video Call?


One of the most common business IT support inquiries over the past two years has been preparing companies, teams and organisations to work remotely.

This includes helping to set up cloud storage infrastructure, providing equipment that supports Microsoft Teams and being on hand to help provide support and advice to people struggling to be heard or seen.

Whilst for many people the technology that allows for easy video calls is relatively new, the concept of the video call is, in fact, only two years older than Alexander Graham Bell’s groundbreaking first telephone call in 1876.

In 1878, Punch Magazine published one of the earliest ideas for the video phone, then known as the telephonoscope, and it became both a symbol of futuristic technology as well as a common topic for fraudulent reports around the end of the 19th century.

Before the invention of television, and even slightly before the first live-action film reels, the technology that would later be invented by John Logie Baird was seen in predictions of the future as an accessory to the telephone, but it would take over half a century for all the pieces to be invented.

Electromechanical television would be invented in 1926, but would only become popular after the Second World War. The next year, however, the first-ever video call was made using a device created by AT&T known as the ikonophone by then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover to a New York audience.

The call itself was two-way, but the video part only displayed Hoover and not the audience. However, it did prove the concept could work and four years later, test calls were being made using a two-way ‘television-telephone’.

The first-ever videophone service that was publicly available was the Gegensehn-Fernsprechanlagan (‘visual telephone system’) in 1936, invented by Dr Georg Schubert.

People using the post office in either Leipzig or Berlin could communicate with each other over a closed-circuit system, and eventually, the system would connect to Hamburg, Nuremberg and Munich, although further plans for expansion were halted with the start of the Second World War.

It would take until 1970 for video conferencing systems to become available outside of dedicated booths with AT&T’s Picturephone Mod II service, with Mayor of Pittsburg Peter Flaherty and Alcoa CEO John Harper making the first-ever video call on 30th June 1970.