1,200 years ago the Chimu elite were using telephones to communicate with underlings

In the Andes region, a tribe known as the Chimu created the world’s first known phone at least 1,200 years ago. The device consists of two cups made of gourd and coated in resin, connected by a 75-foot long cord.

When the string is pulled tight, sound is able to be transmitted from one end to another. This particular tribe lived in multi-family compounds constructed of adobe. National Museum of the American Indian curator Ruben Matos explains:

The NMAI telephone, Matos says, was “a tool designed for an executive level of communication”—perhaps for a courtier-like assistant required to speak into a gourd mouthpiece from an anteroom, forbidden face-to-face contact with a superior conscious of status and of security concerns.

Contemplating the brainstorm that led to the Chimu telephone—a eureka moment undocumented for posterity—summons up its 21st-century equivalent. On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs strode onto a stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco and announced, “This is the day I have been looking forward to for two and a half years.” As he swiped the touchscreen of the iPhone, it was clear that the paradigm in communications technology had shifted. The unsung Edison of the Chimu must have experienced an equivalent, incandescent exhilaration when his (or her) device first transmitted sound from chamber to chamber.

Bonus: There is a fascinating backstory to the actual artefact that the Smithsonian now has on display involving Baron Walram V. Von Schoeler, “a shadowy Indiana Jones-type adventurer…”

Link: Smithsonian Magazine