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Vehicle/phone mash-ups (2): horse-phones? June 8, 2007

Posted by François in creolization, vehicles.
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Accra’s bike-phone and Lake Victoria’s boat-phone are only the latest illustrations of the natural fit between mobile phones and vehicles. In fact, the creolization practice of grafting communication devices onto means of transportation far predates the time when phones became truly mobile. Marconi is said to have created the first land-based wireless mobile device in 1901 when he installed a radio on a steam-powered truck (this was used for data, not voice.) Bell Labs claims credit for the first car-mounted radio telephone, in 1924. Apparently, Lars Magnus Ericsson operated the first car phone as early as 1910. This was not wireless: “there were two long sticks, like fishing rods, handled by [Lars’ wife] Hilda. She would hook them over a pair of telephone wires.”

One of my favorite early mash-ups is the “horse phone” deployed by the US cavalry in 1907, whose key innovation was that it used the body of the horse as part of the electrical circuit. In September 1907, Popular Mechanics reported:

“Like earlier horse-phones, it had a cord. Wire stored on a 5-mile reel played out as a scout rode. The improved model let a rider make calls without having to first dismount and then drive a spike into the ground to complete the electrical connection. Instead, the grounding wire was attached to the horse’s skin. The mild electrical current would pass through its body to its hoofs, one of which was almost always touching the ground.” (I first read about the horse phone 10 years ago on Bruce Sterling’s “dead-media” list and, like him, I was amazed that there had been “earlier horse-phones.”)

(click on pictures for credits and additional information)

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