Origins Of The Phone Ring

It came into my mind the other day, as to why the phone ring sounds the way it does.
Is it all purely scientific, or did someone who liked annoying people invent it?
Hope someone can help :slight_smile:

From what I understand, the rings of the telephone are different depending upon what country you live in. The telephone ring in the United States is one, longer burst of sound (riiinnnngggg) as compared to the short bursts of sound (ring ring…ring ring…ring ring) I’ve heard from European telephones.

Anyone know the reasons behind that too? :wink:

Also, does anyone know why it’s a ring?

That would be English phones. Most continental phones go ‘riiiing’, when they ring.

A related anectode:
A couple of years ago I was in Zimbabwe, in a part where the number of dwellings exceeded the number of phone lines. Several households shared a single line, and depending on whom you called there would be different ring signals! One family would have ‘short-long-short’ and another ‘long-long-short’ for example.

In more rural areas of the US, the ring was also how you knew if the call was for you if you were on a party line (growing up ours was long -long-short). To this day, my former father-in-law, if he wants to know someone’s telephone number, asks “What’s his ring?”

Maybe this need to go to Cecil.


Because phones used to have an electric bell in them, right up until the '80s, and bells ring. Ever watched a movie more than 25 years old? Don’t know what it was like in Oz, but in the UK the first electronically ringing phone was called the ‘trimphone’, and the noise it made was a nasty chirping sound that emulated the sound of a ringing electric bell. This electronic noise has modulated over the years into (only very slightly) more melodic mutations, and with the advent of cellphones has given the user the choice between an annoying bleeping noise and an annoying tune. There are now phones that allow you to sample or download any kind of noise at all - donkey braying, your friend saying the word “arse”, etc. But it’s still known as a ‘ring’.

Hope that answers your question!

“arse” and Ring - is there a connection?

Any resons for the tune, ie, why not one big continuous ring? Or why not a melody?

That’s the hole truth.

Because they’re damned annoying.

A telephone’s ring should be as unobtrusive as possible.

Early on, it was electrically pretty easy to make that ring work.

Your phone had a bell with a clapper. The ring was an AC pulse of 20 Hz, 90 V (wups, that’s 20 cycles per second, 90 volts max), that would make the clapper ring the bell. The ring generator’s AC could work on top of the DC charge that was always on the line (the DC charge was what made your outgoing calls work, when you pick up the handset it would start the current which signals the central office that you are calling).

As shown above, the rings could differentiate subscribers on a party line.

So the DC (“Central Office Battery”), ring-generator, and signalling protocols all worked together. As time progressed, they always tried to make the new developments backward compatible, which saved enormous man-hours and expense.

I can atest to the backward compatibility.

A couple years ago I gave a friend an antique telephone I bought on eBay. Its original guts were there but disassembled, so I figured it’d be easier to just put the guts of a new phone into it. That turned out to be harder than it looked. So I tried hooking up the original wiring (it still had its schematic on the door) and it just worked! Rang, transmitted & received! And it was at least 100 years old.

The only thing that wasn’t quite right was that, because it didn’t have what’s amusingly called an ‘anti-tinkle’ circuit, it would ‘ding’ a tiny bit when you raised or lowered the hook.

Ah, I actually just read this last week in my computer networks book. The reason is back in the day, phones had the hand crank to make phone calls. You probably seen them in old movies or The Brady Bunch when their were in the old western town. The crank was to notify the switch operator in the switch office that a call was incoming and to switch the line to the destination. Nowadays, switching is done through computer and electronics, so there is no real need for the ringing. It guess it eventually evolved into the ringing sound today.

Today, I don’t know if there is a technical reason to have the ring, but I think it’s more for human needs. I think it helps in establishing “consensus”, that is the caller knows that the callee is being connected and the callee knows that the caller is calling. You hear the ringing to know that you are connected to the destination. The callee hears the ring and knows to pick up the phone.