"I think a lot of kids whose mental growth outruns their maturity gravitate to science fiction."
H.G. Wells was not the first person to think of a telephone answering machine; however, he was the first one to really get it right.
Shortly after inventing the phonograph in 1878, Thomas Edison thought that a possible use would be as a recorder of telephone conversations. However, the first telephone answering machine was probably created by Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen; he modified his Telegraphone (first patented in 1898) to answer the phone automatically and record a message. The Telegraphone was eventually advertised as "the phone with a memory."
Thomas Edison created the Telescribe in 1914 and marketed the device the following year; the Telescribe could be used to record phone conversations. It was not an automated phone answering machine.
Thanks to the magic of sensible copyright laws, you can read the text of this novel on the Internet for free - see Men Like Gods.
Thanks also to S. Jones for pointing out this item and supplying a quote.
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