The History of the 'telefonhírmondó'

Mr Mackó and Dorka are dancing for the music coming from the receiver. Illustration in a fairy tale book from the end of the 19th century

At the time of the opear broadcast in Paris, Puskás was already considering the possible ways of distributing such programmes among a significantly higher number of telephone sets. The first version of the solution appeared 11 years later, by 1892. It was then that Puskás registered his first patent in Germany, England, the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia, apart from Budapest. (The actual registration took place then only in Mexico and Australia.) Transmission began on 15 February 1893. The editorial office was near Astoria, at 6 Magyar Street. It worked with four editors and a hundred-member staff. 'Like in a beehive, correspondents are swarming in and out and the staff are working up the arriving telegraphs, news and foreign newspapers. There is a separate room for the communication between the editorial office and the outside world through the telephone. There are nine phones available to the corresppondents and shorthand writers. There is a connection between the office and the House of Representatives, and a separate line broadcasts the reports from the stock-market. The news arriving from these sources are worked up and written down before the announcers get them, who read the issues in turn, in a room especially furnished for this purpose, in front of telephone sets used only for this purpose,' the 'Ország-Világ' wrote in the first year.

In the first year the 'telefonhírmondó' had no wires and sets of its own, so only those with a telephone used for conversation could listen to the programmes, if they asked for connection to the Hírmondó. Later, after the death of Puskás, but according to his ideas and those of the technical manager, Nándor Szmazsenka, they built up a network absolutely independent of the lines of the telephones used for conversation. (It happened sometimes that people stole the transmission from the cable under their window with the help of a wire, against which the 'telefonhírmondó' often complained. Subscribers received a piece of Turkey oak, which they put on the wall. 'There are two wires coming from the stret to the piece of wood, where two receivers are hanging. They are constantly pouring out news between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.The public know that they get a new issue every hour, which is repeated in that hour as many times as possible. This way, the subscriber only has to put the receiver to his ears once an hour. because whenever he does so during the hour, he can listen to the whole issue. He puts down the receiver only when he hears repetition,' wrote the paper quoted above.

The editorial office of the 'Telefonhírmondó'

The Hírmondó was started as a pirate edition, without written permission, and it was only after two weeks that Puskás asked for it in an official petition. He did it because he wanted to get the exlusive rights for five years. However, he did not live to enjoy the permission. He died of heart attack on 16 May 1893. The government dealt with the permission to a great extent. The representatives of four ministries and the office of the Prime Minister talked about it. The reason why it was so can be found in the resolution stating why the meeting was summoned. It was written in the Ministry of Trade. According to the document, The 'telefonhírmondó' can develop into an 'important tool of the power', since it can quickly make known 'the strategic, political, state police, social' information. 'In addition, itis not impossible to imagine a device that can make the speaker or the announcement written on a piece of paper visible, not only audible, with the help of electricity. These points require the greatest care in themselves.' (It is interesting that the future possibilities of telecommunications did not appear in the thoughts of Puskás or other scientists but in the heads of the officers of the authorities who wanted to restrict it.) Since the press laws valid at that time did not apply to the 'telefonhírmondó', it had to be restricted in a new way. Authorization obliged the Hírmondó to write down the news in advance, with the signature of the manager and the announcer, and send the pages to the ministries concerned every day, to the Budapest police three times a day.The exlusive permission for fifty years was not granted to Albert, bother and heir to Puskás. Therefore, Albert Puskás sold the whole enterprise, together with the patent rights, to the lawyer István Popper, who accepted the authorization conditions of the government (26 September 1894). Popper created The Telefonhírmondó Joint-Stock Company, built up its own network, modernized the equipment, broadened the range of the programmes and made them better arranged.

Map of the 'Telefonhírmondó' network in the area bordered by the Teréz Boulevard, Andrássy and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Streets

Subscription was not considered to be expensive, since it was only one third of that of the normal telephone. It was 18 forints for a year (the price of 10 kg sugar or 20 kg coffee), while the equipment was free. In February 1893, transmission began with two dozen subscribers. In the next year there were 700 subscribers, in two years 4915, in three years 6185. In this year there was the celebration of the thousand years of Hungary's existence. At the millenary exhibition the 'telefonhírmondó' had a pavilion of its own, where the king could try Puskás's invention with a set especially produced for him. From then on, the number of subscribers was fluctuating (1899: 7629, '930: 91079. The length of the wires increased from 69 km (at the time of Puskás) to 1200 km.

Meanwhile, the range of services was constantly extended. The 'alarm signal' was inttroduced, which was to draw the owner's attention and made him go to the phone before a sensational item of news was announced. Portable telephones were put into circulation, which could be fitted in different rooms of the house. 'Telefonhírmondó' language courses began in 1897 with native speakers. (The courses had to be paid for when the the books needed for them were bought.) They also told the correct time.

The Telefonhírmondó Joint-Stock Company won the consession of radio broadcast, so it began in the rooms of the Telefonhírmondó, with the help of its staff on 1 December 1925 in Budapest. The services were for some time parallel, both on radio waves and telephone wires, until the 2nd World War, when the wire network of the Hírmondó was damaged completely. It was not renovated any more. Puskás had been planning to introduce 'telefonhírmondó' abroad, but he could not do it because of his early death. Some people from foreign countries seemed to be interested in the first years, but they reached no agreement with the owners. (In 1911, Telephone Herald was operated for a short time in New Jersey. Its arrangement, programmes copied the Budapest ancestor, but it went bankrupt in a few months.) 'Telefonhírmondó,' which Puskás intended to be a hit in the whole world, was soon forgotten abroad.






Letter to the editor