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Inventor of the modern answering machine dies at age 87

16 May 2007 News

Sava Jacobson, known as the inventor of the modern answering machine, passed away on 25 April, 2007 at age 87.

Born in 1920 in Poland, Jacobson emigrated to the United States in April of 1929. He attended City College, New York, and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1942. He served in World War II before beginning his engineering career.

Jacobson is known for his early work on colour television, the design of early Fender electric guitars, and the Vox Beatle amplifier. In 1966 he opened an independent electronics consulting business. In the late 1960s he considered modernising the answering machine. At the time, AT&T held a monopoly on all interior wiring and telephone devices. These early answering devices were audio activated and manually removed the phone from the cradle and placed them onto a tape recorder. After the call was over, the phone was mechanically lifted back to its cradle. These early answering machines cost hundreds of dollars.

Jacobson had the idea to place the answering machine before the phone signal got to the phone, so that it could be activated without the cumbersome mechanics. He also created the idea of using two cassette tapes, one for the outgoing message and the other to record incoming calls. Unfortunately, at the time of its development, the device he created was illegal due to AT&T's monopoly. Jacobson attempted to sell his device to many different companies, and persisted for over two years until Tandy Corporation (Radio Shack) agreed to produce his answering machine.

As Jacobson described it: "I designed the machine to sell for $49 and Tandy said we could sell it for $69 and every teenager in the country will want one." Tandy agreed to join the battle against AT&T's monopoly if needed. However, luck intervened.

While the device was in production, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling breaking up AT&T and allowing Jacobson's answering machine to be the first one on the market. The first modern answering machine was marketed under the name 'DuoPhone' and this device and its successors held over 80% of the market share for the first decade that answering machines were commercially available. Jacobson's final patent expired in 1996.





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