Telephone Answering Machine

Description (Brief)
In 1971, PhoneMate introduced the Model 400 answering machine that held twenty messages on a reel-to-reel tape. An earphone allowed the user to listen privately to incoming messages. Bell Telephone resisted the introduction of answering machines for many years, fearful that people would make fewer calls if they thought they might be recorded.
Currently not on view
Object Name
answering machine
recording device
date made
ca 1974
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 9 cm x 24 cm x 30 cm; 3 9/16 in x 9 7/16 in x 11 13/16 in
microphone: 4 1/2 in x 1 1/4 in; 11.43 cm x 3.175 cm
place made
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
model number
Magnetic Recording
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
Magnetic Recording
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
from PhoneMate, thru Shun Yamaura
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

11/5/2014 5:46:11 PM
Wendy Brooks
My dad, Mark Brooks, was the original CEO of PhoneMate back in the late 60s and early 70s. He and his company were the ones who invented the first phone answering machine.
10/9/2015 10:05:02 AM
Hal Wallace
Thanks for your comment, Wendy! When asked about firsts our former radio curator Elliot Sivowitch used to say that, "Whoever was first, there's always someone more first." That became known as Sivowitch's Law of Firsts and highlights the idea that inventors always start with existing concepts and technology. In this case telephone answering machines go back much further than one might think. The first answering machine on the market was developed by the Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen in the late 1890s. His device (see U.S. patent 661,619) built on research done around 1878 by Oberlin Smith who was trying to improve on Thomas Edison's newly invented phonograph. Poulsen's device used steel wire as a magnetic recording medium and was not widely adopted but research and development continued throughout the twentieth century. The Bell Telephone monopoly came under increasing legal pressure in the 1960s due in part to the introduction of practical tape-based machines like the PhoneMate. So your father's company was actually part of a rich history filled with wonderful stories, many of which are preserved in the Smithsonian's collections.
1/17/2016 11:40:30 AM
Lee Ratajczak
I am glad to see this PhoneMate model 400 displayed on here on the Web. I am the Tech that did the last Repair and prep of the unit before giving it to the Museum back in the early 1990's. it may still have my voice on the tapes testing it before it left, and it most likely has my finger prints on the inside.
10/14/2016 9:25:30 AM
So how did that machine work? Did you hear the outgoing message after a couple of rings and before the caller left a message? Could you control the number of rings before the machine picked up or was it a set number?
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