In 2020, webinars, WhatsApp video calls, Zoom and Google Meets are routine, just like a telephone call was 30 years back. Yet, it had to start at some time in the past, and video calling technology first broke in on June 30, 1970.
It was on this day that the Pittsburgh Mayor Peter Flaherty and Alcoa Chairman and CEO John Harper placed the first ever video call. The very next day, AT&T launched the “Picturephone”, with 38 Picturephones in use at eight Pittsburgh companies. By 1973, the service had expanded to Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and other major cities, and 450 sets were in use.
This was not a commercial success, but it marked the first time video calling came on users’ desks; it was no longer a concept but a practical business tool. Picturephone heralded a future of ubiquitous video calling, webinars, online teaching and learning, and Work From Home that is mainstream today. To celebrate the 50th anniversary — June 30, 2020 —Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto and Michael G. Morris, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Alcoa, will video chat, as their predecessors did a half century ago.
View the livestream on the site https://www.videocall50th.com/ and there is a registration process to be followed.
Scholars from Carnegie Mellon University will host a Q&A discussing the history and legacy of the Picturephone’s launch.
Visit the event website.
Photo of the Picturephone system from “RECORD”, Bell Laboratories, May/June 1969. This issue also contains exciting history and technical details of the first Picturephone system.
You can see the Picturephones gallery here.