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Squier’s Stories: The Multiplex Telephone

A March 5, 1911, New York Times article starts out “You may sit in your office in New York, pick up your desk telephone, and, calling up your friend in Rio Janeiro, inquire whether he slept well, the next moment connect with your mining partner in Camp Nome Alaska, 6,000 miles away, . . . and but a moment later talking to a fellow in New Orleans . . . all this in the space of a few minutes and at a cost of but a few cents.” 

 This is a way of life now, and has been for a number of years.  For this we owe a debt of gratitude to then MAJ George Squier, Assistant Chief Signal Officer.  Squier would later become the Chief Signal Officer, and in that position would contribute to the development of radar.

 Why do we owe a debt of gratitude to Squier?

 In 1910, Squier applied for three patents all bearing the same title, “Multiplex Telephony and Telegraphy” (Patent Numbers 980,356, 980,357, and 980,358; the patents were granted in January 1911.

The first page of one of the multiplex telephone patents.

Squier’s patents demonstrated that a circuit could be made capable of carrying several signals, be they telephones or telegraphs over a single wire, or over one line.  In reality, as explained, his invention would send the signal through a thin layer of ether that surrounded the wire, with the wire acting as a guide.  The theory was that the vibrations of ether surrounding the wire would be the vehicle by which the conversation was held, not the wire.

As reported by the NYT, Squier “dedicated his invention to the people of the United States so that anyone can make use of it, free of all cost of royalty, license or rent.”

Squier anticipated that use of this invention would result in a general reduction in the cost of telephone service and possibly in more widespread use of the telephone.  The invention was also thought to be capable of enhancing long distance conversations.

"Where the experiments with the multiplex telephone were conducted."

The demonstration by Squier also indicated that music could be transmitted over his lines and distinctively heard on the other side.

Use of this invention did not go uncontested though.  In 1922, the NYT indicates, Squier filed a suit to block use of the by AT&T Co. because his gift of the invention was to the Government and the public, and that no one could build a monopoly on this gift.

The New York Times reported about the lawsuit.

Note: Squier’s Stories is a blog miniseries about the life and inventions of George Squier that feature on Thursdays.  All are authored by staff historian Floyd Hertweck.

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  1. K.Reils says

    Excellent article! Quite a cliffhanger in a way… as we know, AT&T won that lawsuit, and telephony in the present is a true monster. It’s truly amazing that injustice on such a massive level continues to thrive in our world.