BT has teamed up with Coventry University and The National Archives to create a searchable digital resource of almost half a million photographs, reports and items of correspondence preserved by BT since 1846. The project has been funded by Jisc, which provides digital services for UK education and research.
The remarkable collection showcases Britain’s pioneering role in the development of telecommunications and the impact of the technology on society, and will be freely available to the public under a Creative Commons licence to encourage sharing and the use of the material in school curricula and for research.
Users anywhere in the world will be able to log on to www.bt.com/btdigitalarchives and explore 50 terabytes worth of images and documents detailing how Britain laid the foundations for global telecommunications, including the first telephone exchange in 1879 and the Queen making the first automatic long distance telephone call in the fifties.
Highlights from the BT digital archives include:
- Documents relating to BT’s ancestor company, the Electric Telegraph Company, which in 1846 became the first nationwide communications company in the world
- A letter from 1877 from Alexander Graham Bell’s agent offering Bell’s telephone to the British government – who turned it down
- Correspondence between Guglielmo Marconi and the General Post Office from 1896 discussing the Italian’s “new system of telegraphy without wires”
- Photos of Britain’s first national telephone kiosks with concept drawings and correspondence detailing their design and public reaction to their introduction
- Pictorial records of the advent of the world’s first emergency call service, 999
- Images of Central Telegraph Office staff dealing with congratulatory telegrams to Buckingham Palace on the birth in 1948 of Prince Charles, the future Prince of Wales, and other Royal events
- Research reports by Tommy Flowers and his team on their work at Dollis Hill, where they built Colossus the World’s first programmable computer during the Second World War
- Photographs of bomb damaged streets and buildings around the UK during WWII
- Documents illustrating the role of British telecommunications workers in the war effort during both world wars
Direct to BT Digital Archive