Gower Bell

Frederic Allan Gower was an American entrepreneur who, for a while, operated a Bell franchise in the U.S state of New England. He toured and lectured with Bell and Watson before heading off to England in the early 1880s. Here he completed the design that became the British Post Office standard for many years.

The unusual style of his phone was due to the technology of the times. Bell’s patents made it necessary to develop alternative designs of transmitters and receivers. For a receiver, Gower produced a version of the Watchcase Receiver. It used a fairly powerful semicircular magnet with a bobbin wound around the end of each pole. This design was not particularly efficient compared with the Bell receiver, but Gower made it much bigger than usual and used a very large tinned iron diaphragm. This gave quite adequate reception but its size (more than four inches across) meant that the receiver had to be mounted inside the case of the phone. Sound was fed from here to the ears by long rubber tubes. He patented this part of the design in December 1880 before he left the United States. This caused some ill feeling with Bell and Watson, and may have helped to encourage his move to Europe. Watson was quoted as saying “...he made some small modifications to Bell’s telephone, called it the “Gower-Bell” telephone and made a fortune out of this hyphenated atrocity”.



For a transmitter, Gower originally used a Bell-type magnetic instrument. In Britain he quickly saw the potential of the carbon pencil microphone described but not patented by Professor Hughes some years earlier. This conveniently worked around the Bell patents. After trying a number of variations, Gower settled on an eight-pencil model. The pencils, about one and three quarters of an inch long, were held in a star pattern by copper blocks. The multiple pencils stopped the dropout problem experienced when a single pencil vibrated off its copper contacts. The unit proved stable and reliable. The assembly was mounted on the back of a flat teak sounding board roughly nine inches by five inches. This became the transmitter’s diaphragm.

Because the diaphragm was quite thin, it was sometimes protected by another sheet of timber mounted above it, with decorative cutouts to let the sound in the style of Crossley phones. The cutout was quickly abandoned, and sound pressure reached the diaphragm through a porcelain mouthpiece horn. Condensation in the relatively cold horn caused moisture to drip onto the diaphragm, which caused faults and gave off a bad smell. Other mouthpieces were tried in ebonite and turned wood, but finally in the late 1890s the mouthpiece was abandoned. The diaphragm was generally left exposed, and sometimes decorated with a painted design.

A single trembler bell was provided to signal incoming calls, with the mechanism concealed inside the box on early models. Only the bell and clapper protruded from the bottom. On later models the bell was provided separately. Signalling out was provided by a pushbutton mounted at the top of the backboard. This gave a rather limited signalling range of a mile or so. A simple switchhook at each side to hold the speaking tubes and a coil inside the box were all that was needed to complete the phone. This basic design stayed unchanged through the life of the phone, during which some thousands were produced for the British Post Office.

Initially the phones were manufactured for the Gower Bell Telephone Company by Charles Moseley and Sons in Manchester. In April 1881 Gower Bell amalgamated with the United Telephone Company ( a union of the London Edison and Bell companies) and set up a new company, the Consolidated Telephone Construction and Maintenance Co. Ltd, to produce telephones. It not only manufactured Bell telephones and equipment for the United Telephone Company, but made Gower phones for the British Post Office, who in 1882 pronounced the Gower Bell as "the best and most reliable telephone in service". The BPO was in the unfortunate position of not being able to use Bell phones as they were still under patent, and the BPO was becoming increasingly hostile to the Bell companies, fearing a loss of revenue from the telegraph system.

Consolidated also made phones for a new European company, the Edison Gower-Bell Telephone Company of Europe, Ltd. This new company held Edison’s and Gower’s telephone patents for Europe, and was responsible for sales to all European countries outside Britain, France, Turkey and Greece. Edison’s motivation in this was the same as Bell’s - to expand his company’s influence to as many countries as possible. Until the Bell patents expired, Edison needed a phone to sell.

A magneto model is known from 1882 with a tall backboard to accommodate the magneto generator/bellbox and battery box. This model was sold overseas for a long time, particularly to Portugal, by the new company. Sales of Gower phones have been noted to Spain, Portugal, Australia and Japan. In Tasmania Gower-Bells were used on some of the first private telephone lines in the colony. Japan’s first telephone services were provided in 1893 with 244 locally-made improved Gower-Bells. These were converted to use Ader-type receivers instead of tubes.

In France, the Societe Generale des Telephones was formed from Societe du Telephone Edison, the Societe du Telephone Gower, and the Soulerin Company. In Argentina, Compañía de Teléfonos Gower-Bell began operations. Some of these foreign companies used Ader or Pony Crown receivers where the Bell patents were not a problem.

The British Post Office refitted their Gowers with simpler double-pole Bell receivers instead of the Gower tubes as soon as the Bell patents expired. The tubes needed a high level of maintenance, and the Bell receivers had better public acceptance. The name “Gower Bell” appears to have been only a marketing move by Gower, as this later BPO conversion was the first time the phone had anything to do with Bell.

By the turn of the century the Gower Bell had dropped into disuse, replaced by the more modern and efficient phones using standard Bell and Edison technology. The handset had been introduced by Ericsson and widely copied by others, and the Gower had become a rather clumsy relic of the past.

Gower was successful enough in the short life of his business that he was comfortably off and was able to indulge his hobbies. He lost his life in an attempt to fly a hot air balloon across the English Channel.


Original article for the ATCS Newsletter, January 1992, Havyatt R.

Further information from

Christiansen R. Internet site, (no longer available)

Allsop F. C. “Telephones - Their Construction and Fitting:” - London 1894

Poole J “The Practical Telephone Handbook” - New York 1912

Moyall A. “Clear Across Australia” - Melbourne 1984

Herbert T. E. & Proctor W. S. “Telephony Vol 1” - London 1932





Gower Bell Phones

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