Telefon Hírmondó

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Telefon Hírmondó
Telefon Hirmondo - Stentor reading the day's news.jpg
A Telefon Hírmondó stentor reading the day's news (1901)
Type Daily newspaper
Format Telephone newspaper
Owner(s) Telefonhírmondó Joint stock company
Staff writers ~200 (Winter, 1907)
Founded 15 February 1893
Ceased publication ran as newspaper till the 1920s, then as a radio broadcaster till 1944
Headquarters Budapest
Circulation 15,000 (1907)

Telefon Hírmondó or Telefonhírmondó (also translated into English as "Telephone Herald"[1][2]) was a telephone newspaper in Budapest. It was the longest-running telephone newspaper, and has been described by Peter Lunenfeld as "the most sustained point-to-point telephonic distribution system".[3] It has also been described as an early radio, and indeed it was radio that led to its demise.[4] From 1893, 20 years before the invention of the radio, people could listen to news and music in Budapest daily. They could enjoy direct broadcastings from the Opera house.


Tivadar Puskás, the founder of Telefon Hírmondó

The Telefon Hírmondó was founded by Tivadar Puskás (also translated as Theodore Buschgasch), an engineer and inventor, who had earlier worked with Thomas Edison.[5][6] Puskás had registered the patent of technology behind the newspaper in 1892, in the Patent Office of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the title "A new method of organizing and fitting a telephone newspaper".[7] The Telefon Hírmondó service started on 15 February 1893, with around 60 subscribers. The editorial office was located near Astoria, at 6 Magyar Street.[7] The first message was from Puskás:

Emile von Szveties

Telefon Hírmondó had been started without any formal permission from the government authorities. However, after two weeks of operation, Puskás applied for the permission to run his "newspaper", because he wanted exclusive rights for running a telephone newspaper for five years. The contemporary press laws did not apply to a telephone newspaper, and the government authorities were wary of the Telefon Hírmondó developing into an "important tool of power", as it could quickly spread the strategic, political, and social information.[8] The authorities granted permission to Puskás on the condition that the Telefon Hírmondó would write down the news reports in advance, get them signed by the manager and the announcer, and send the pages to the ministries concerned every day, and to the Budapest police three times a day.[8]

Puskás' died a month after the launch of the service, on 16 March 1893. Albert Puskás, the brother and heir to Tivadar Puskás wanted exclusive rights for the telephone newspaper for fifty years, which were not granted. Therefore, he sold the enterprise, along with the patent rights to István Popper, who accepted the authorization conditions put forward by the government authorities, on 26 September 1894. Popper created The Telefonhírmondó Joint stock company, built up the company's own network, modernized the equipment, and broadened the range of the programmes.[8] The service was continued by Emile von Szveties, the technical director of the newspaper.[9]


When it started, Telefon Hírmondó had no wires of its own. Under the guidance its technical director Nándor Szmazsenka, the company built up a network independent of the telephones lines used for conversation.[8]

Telefon Hírmondó divided the entire city of Budapest into twenty-seven districts, and had the rights to place wires in a way similar to the telephone and telegraph companies. When it started, the company had 43 miles (69 km) of wire, which increased to 372 miles (599 km) in 1901, and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) in 1907.[10] The main wire ran to each district, with branch wires to the houses. Twenty-seven copper wires ran from microphone receivers in the Opera House to the central office, where the current would pass through a patent device that would increase the sound. The distribution to subscribers would be regulated by another patented device.[11]

Telefon Hírmondó collected the news using the methods commonly employed by the print newspapers. The reporter would write the matter and submit it to the chief, who would sign it to fix responsibility. A clerk would then carefully copy the matter with lithographic ink on long galley slips. These would be transferred to the lithography stone, so as to appear in parallel columns 6 inches in width and two feet in length. Then, two pressmen would take a number of impressions on a roller-movement hand press, using common printing paper. Each sheet would be proofread by an assistant editor, with help of a copyholder. The verified sheet would comprise a certain part of the programmer, and would constitute the day's file along with the other sheets. A duplicate would be cut up into convenient strips for the use of the stentor (the person who would read the news into the transmitter). The stentor would talk into a double receiver to transmit the news.

Andrew Orlowski has called the Telefon Hírmondó service "a historical antecedent" of the WAP and mobile data services.[12] Carolyn Marvin states that Telefon Hírmondó can be seen as a "proto-broadcasting system",[13] and An Nguyen notes that it might also fit into the definition of online news as the content was delivered over a point-to-point communication network only to selected users.[5]


The concert room of Telefon Hírmondó (1901)

The complete programme of the newspaper would be attached to the wall above each subscribers's receiver, telling the subscriber what to expect at an hour.

The "newspaper issue" would begin with a news bulletin and with summaries of newspapers. The afternoon schedule comprised "short entertaining stories", "sporting intelligence", and "filler items" of various kinds.[14] There were hourly news summaries for those who had missed the bulletins. The evening schedule consisted of theatrical offerings, visits to the opera, poetry readings, concerts, lectures (including repeats of Academy lectures by notable literary figures), and linguistic lessons (in English, Italian and French).[14]

Thomas S. Denison (1901) wrote that the issue would begin at 10:30 AM, and would end at about 10:30 PM, or later in case of a concert or some other night event.[11] Stock exchange quotations would be transmitted from 10:00 AM to 10:30 AM, 11:00 AM to 11:15 AM, 11:30 AM to 11:45 AM, and again in the afternoon hours. Reports of the Reichsrath and political news would be given at 11:45 AM to 12:00 PM; the period would be filled by fuller reports of general and foreign news, when the Reichsrath was not in session. At 1:30 PM and 6:00 PM, a brief summary of news would be provided. The slot from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM would be filled by concerts, varied by literary criticism, sporting events etc. On Sunday, there would be special items: news from 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM, and a concert from 4:30 PM to 6:00 PM. On Thursday, there would be a concert for children at 6:00 PM.

W. G. Fitz-Gerald (1907) stated the following schedule for a day's typical programme:[10]

From To Programme
9:00 AM Exact astronomical time
9:30 AM 10:00 AM Reading of programme of Vienna and foreign news and of chief contents of the official press.
10:00 AM 10:30 AM Local exchange quotations.
10:30 AM 11:00 AM Chief contents of local daily press.
11:00 AM 11:15 AM General news and finance.
11:15 AM 11:30 AM Local, theatrical, and sporting news.
11:30 AM 11:45 AM Vienna exchange news.
11:45 AM 12:00 AM Parliamentary, provincial, and foreign news.
12:00 PM Exact astronomical time.
12:00 PM 12:30 PM Latest general news, news, parliamentary, court, political, and military.
12:30 PM 1:00 PM Midday exchange quotations.
1:00 PM 2:00 PM Repetition of the half-day's most interesting news.
2:00 PM 2:30 PM Foreign telegrams and latest general news.
2:30 PM 3:00 PM Parliamentary and local news.
3:00 PM 3:15 PM Latest exchange reports.
3:15 PM 4:00 PM Weather, parliamentary, legal, theatrical, fashion and sporting news.
4:00 PM 4:30 PM Latest exchange reports and general news.
4:30 PM 6:30 PM Regimental bands.
7:00 PM 8:15 PM Opera.
8:15 PM (or after the first act of the opera) Exchange news from New York, Frankfurt, Paris, Berlin, London, and other business centers.
8:30 9:30 Opera.

Fitz-Gerald also mentions that special lectures or concerts would be given for the children once a week, and reports of all the principal Hungarian and Austrian horse races would be flashed as soon as the results were known.

The American author Thomas Denison, who visited Budapest in 1901, found the report of news to be "highly satisfactory", but felt that the music by telephone, whether vocal or instrumental, still left something to be desired.[11]


The Telefon Hírmondó reporters (1901)

In 1901, when the American author Thomas S. Denison visited Budapest, the Telefon Hírmondó employed about 180 people in winter and 150 in summer.[11] The staff consisted of a business manager, an editor-in-chief, four assistant editors, and nine reporters. The only ladies among the staff were those who sang in the concerts. In 1901, the newspaper used to employ six stentors in the Winter: four for duty, and two for alternates. They would take turns of ten minutes each. In the summer, four stentors would suffice. In case of only two stentors being on duty, they would take turns of half an hour maximum. The stentors had strong and clear voices with distinct articulation to maintain clarity of sound over the telephone lines.[11] W. G. Fitz-Gerald (1907) writes that the newspaper, by that time, had a staff of over two hundred people, including two business managers, two principal editors, six sub-editors, twelve reporters, and eight stentors.[10]

Telefon Hírmondó had no leading articles or editorials. The editor alone was responsible in case of action against the paper for libel. By 1901, there had been two or three lawsuits against the editor, and he had won all of them.[11] The newspaper exchanged reports with the city press, and the editors and managers of the newspaper received usual courtesies extended to the press, such as passes and free tickets.[11]

Subscriber base[edit]

The "Telefon-Hirmondo" has proved a real boon to this great city. For one thing it gives news of great importance far sooner than any printed daily can put it before the public. It is the delight of women and children, and is a real entertainment to the sick in their homes, to patients in hospitals, the blind, and all those who have neither time nor money to go to theater, concert, or opera.

— W. G. Fitz-Gerald, Scientific American 1907.[10]

Telefon Hírmondó started with 60 subscribers, a figure that changed to 700 in 1894, 4915 in 1895,[7] 7629 in 1899,[8] around 6200 in 1901, and 15,000 by 1907.[10] Some of the notable subscribers included the Emperor Francis Joseph, the Prime Minister Baron Banffy, all the other members of the Hungarian Cabinet, the famous Hungarian author Mór Jókai, and the Mayor of Budapest.[11][15] The paper appealed strongly to the more intellectual classes. The principal hotels in the city also subscribed to the newspapers, and their guests were free to use the instrument.[9] The newspaper could also be found in other places including doctors' waiting rooms, barber shops, cafes, restaurants, and dentists' parlours.[10]

Thomas S. Denison wrote in the April 1901 issue of World's Work:

Business model[edit]

In 1901, the expenses of the newspaper ranged between 9000 and 10,000 krones per month (a krone was about 42 U.S. cents at that time). The fixed charges (telegrams, salaries, rent etc.) were about 7000 krones a month, and varied with the seasons.[11]

The annual subscription price of the newspaper was 18 krones (the price of 10 kg sugar or 20 kg coffee in Budapest at that time).[7] A receiver would be put into the subscriber's house at the company's expense. The subscriber was obliged to give security for a year's subscription, one-third of which had to be paid when the instrument would be ready for use. The balance had to be paid in two equal installments, at the end of four months and eight months respectively.[11]

An advertisement would be sandwiched between two interesting news items, so that it would command special attention.[10] In 1901, the newspaper used to charge one krones for a twelve-second advertising slot.[11] The newspaper also experimented with the "penny-in-the-slot" machines, using 20-Fillér coins.

In the 1920s, the company was granted the rights to operate as a radio broadcaster, and began its radio broadcasting service on 1 December 1925.[8] The services were offered in parallel for some time, both on radio waves and telephone wires. By 1930, Telefon Hírmondó had started other services, and it had 91079 subscribers.[8] During World War II, the wire network of the company was destroyed completely, leading to the cessation of telephone news services.


The technology of Telefon Hírmondó was licensed to others, leading to the establishment of l'Araldo telefonico in Rome, in 1910. L'Araldo telefonico (Italian for "The Telephone Herald") had surpassed 1300 subscribers by 1914.[16] The service was interrupted during World War I, and was re-launched in 1922, under the name Fonogiornale.[17]

M. M. Gillam, a former advertising manager of the New York Herald discovered Telefon Hírmondó on a tour to Hungary, and obtained the American rights for the technology. He established the United States Telephone Herald Co. to distribute state rights. A company obtained the New Jersey rights for the newspaper and started an issue at Newark, which lasted from 1911 to 1912.[13][15]


  1. ^ Talbot, Frederick A. (August 8, 1983). "A Telephone Newsletter". The Living Age: 372–376. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  2. ^ "An extract". Harper's Weekly: 929. September 28, 1895. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  3. ^ Lunenfeld, Peter (July 1, 1997). "In search of the telephone opera: from communications to art. (critiquing the world wide web as an art form)". Afterimage. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  4. ^ Irving Fang, A history of mass communication, Focal Press, 1997, p.87-88
  5. ^ a b Nguyen, An (March 2007). "The interaction between technologies and society: Lessons learnt from 160 evolutionary years of online news services". First Monday 12 (3). doi:10.5210/fm.v12i3.1627. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  6. ^ "The Telephone Newspaper". The Electrical Engineer, London: 257. September 6, 1895. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Evgeny Katz. "Tivadar Puskás". Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Hungarian Telecom Portal. "The History of the 'telefonhírmondó' (archived)". Archived from the original on 2002-02-15. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  9. ^ a b Denison, Thomas S. (April 27, 1901). "A Telephone Newspaper". Electrical Review: 516–517. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Fitz-Gerald, W. G. (June 22, 1907). "A Telephone Newspaper". Scientific American: 507. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Denison, Thomas S. (April 1901). "The Telephone Newspaper". World's Work: 640–643. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  12. ^ Andrew Orlowski (April 26, 2001). "Talking Back To Happiness – how voice calls can save 3G". The Register. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  13. ^ a b Marvin, Carolyn (1990). When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506341-7. OCLC 15109205. 
  14. ^ a b Briggs, A. (1977). "The pleasure telephone: A chapter in the prehistory of the media". In Ithiel de Sola Pool. The Social impact of the telephone. MIT Press. pp. 40–65. ISBN 978-0-262-16066-7. OCLC 2875378. 
  15. ^ a b Colton, Arthur F. (March 30, 1912). "The Telephone Newspaper--New Experiment in America". Telephony: 391–392. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  16. ^ "Telefonia circolare" (in Italian). Fondazione Guglielmo Marconi. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  17. ^ "Le Origini Della Radiodiffusione In Italia" (in Italian). Comitato Guglielmo Marconi International. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 

Further reading[edit]

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