Back when telephones were first used, what did people say when they answered the phone?
We’re so glad you asked, because it allows us to mention a short feature on the subject in The 1993 Old Farmer’s Almanac. The word hello, as used today, didn’t really exist back in the 19th century. Halloo was used to hail someone from a distance — as in “Halloo! You up there on the roof!” — or to incite hounds to chase, but it was not used as a greeting. Thanks to the discovery of a letter buried for more than a hundred years in AT&T’s archives, we now believe that the word originated with Thomas Edison and the telephone he invented. Edison suggested using “Are you there?” or “Are you ready to talk?” to start a conversation on his phones. His rival, Alexander Graham Bell, was insisting on “Ahoy!” as the preferred greeting. In a letter to a colleague, Edison wrote, “I don’t think we shall need a call bell, as hello can be heard 10 to 20 feet away.” From then on, hello became the recommended greeting in telephone operating manuals.