The Zoom of Yesteryear

June 12, 2020

Like so many people, I have had more Zoom meetings in the last month than I had in the last five years. Although normalcy has gone out the window, these virtual meetings are an opportunity to see some of my co-workers, check-in with what we all are doing, and have a discussion like we would do in-person if that were an option right now. 

But Zoom is far from the first video calling service in the professional world. You need to go back well into the 20th century to find the first example of video chatting. At the 1964 World’s Fair, Bell Labs introduced the picturephone. For a variety of reasons, the picturephone did not take off. 

The NAM in 1980 had a series of discussions held via picturephone. Members in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco could talk with NAM staff and a guest speaker (typically a government official). The video was triggered by voice-activated microphones. Meaning when a person started talking the video feed would switch to them; this also meant if someone coughed, the feed would flash to them. An experience I am sure many of us have now experienced. 

Please enjoy the 1980 picturephone discussion below, and appreciate how far technology has come, even if virtual meetings are not your cup of tea.


There are six picturephone videos total in the Hagley Digital Archives: Two are separated into two parts we have a total of four different picturephone discussions in our archive. Check them out here: 

Picturephone with SEC chairman Williams: Tape 01 and Picturephone with SEC chairman Williams: Tape 02

Senator Charles Percy dialogue: Tape 01 and Senator Charles Percy dialogue: Tape 02

Rep. Jim Jones picturephone

Rep. Jim Blanchard dialogue

Ashley Williams is the project archivist for the NAM Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.