Telephone pioneer Tivadar Puskás was born on 12th September 1844. After Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, Puskás came up with the idea of the telephone exchange to make numerous telephone calls possible at the same time. Based on Thomas Alva Edison’s telegraph exchange, he imagined the same thing for the telephone.
Tivadar Puskás was born in Pest, and he was of Transylvanian origin (Ditró). His family was once wealthy, but by the time he was born, they fell into poverty. He received strict education at home and then started to study law at Theresianum (Vienna). He could not tolerate the constraints in his studies, so after his father died, he moved to England from his small financial heritage after him. He continued his studies in engineering sciences there and learnt the English language in a relatively short time. Apart from this, he also worked as an educator in an English lord’s family and managed to provide enough for himself.
He graduated as a mechanical engineer, and after gathering work experience at a railway construction company, he moved to Transylvania where he was employed as an official of a local railway company, and later, he was promoted to be a chief engineer there.
In 1873, at the World Exhibition of Vienna, he founded the Puskás Travel Agency (the first one in Central Europe) and managed to make a significant profit.
In 1875, he moved to the USA thanks to his adventurous nature and bought land in Colorado. He worked as a gold miner for a short while, and in the meantime, he started to work on his own telegraph exchange scheme. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, and the new invention triggered an even more daring idea from Puskás. He made contact with Thomas Edison and convinced him to create a telephone exchange based on the scheme of the telegraph exchange.
“Tivadar Puskás was the first person to suggest the idea of a telephone exchange,”
Edison stated later in 1911 (Budapest).
In 1877, the Bell Telephone Company created the first experimental telephone exchange in Boston, based on the plans of Tivadar Puskás. Two years later, Puskás set up the first telephone exchange of Europe in Paris. His younger brother, Ferenc Puskás (not the famous football player), helped him as best as he could in Paris, and later, he established the first telephone exchange of Budapest. In 1887, Tivadar Puskás introduced his new invention, the multiplex switchboard, which provided great help for the further development of the telephone exchange.
The telephone exchange is his most famous invention, and it made him well-known in the whole world, but he had another significant achievement that we tend to forget. In Pest,
he introduced the “Telephone News Service” in 1893 – it announced news and broadcast programmes, so it can be considered to be the forerunner of the radio and the internet.
Thanks to the exchange, more than half a million people could listen to the programme of “Telefon Hírmondó” (the first “telephone newspaper” that Puskás started in the same year – it had 60 subscribers), and compared to Edison’s original maximum of fifty, this is a huge number.
Unfortunately, Tivadar Puskás died in the same year without gaining public recognition during his lifetime. After his death (16th March 1893), his other younger brother, Albert Puskás, sold the Telefon Hírmondó.
You can read about Hungarian inventors who are not that known publicly here.