First voicemail cost $180,000

Gordon Matthews (Tulsa, Oklahoma, July 26, 1936 – Dallas, February 23, 2002)

Gordon Matthews, the inventor of voicemail, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1936. He studied applied physics and, following his father and uncle, became a naval pilot. There he discovered his first need to invent practicalities.

A close friend collided with another device mid-air when he let go of the joystick to manually search for another radio station.

At least, that's how Matthews thought it must have happened. When he joined IBM after his military service, Matthews devised a system that allowed pilots to control certain tasks with their voice, without being distracted.

This was the first of 35 inventions he patented that would form the basis of his own company. From IBM he first moved to Texas Instruments and in 1979 he ventured out on his own.

In those days, it got on his nerves terribly that when he called his office, he couldn't find anyone in the office because of the time difference. That got him thinking.

He himself used to say that one day he discovered in a garbage can a pile of notes that staff members wrote to each other when one of them was not present at an incoming phone. "This is insane," the engineer mused. 'Large companies are very careless with those telephone calls.'

After much tinkering and experimenting, Matthews patented his voicemail in 1979. Its effect was very difficult. He equipped a telephone exchange with computer chips. They translated the sound of the human voice into zeros and ones.

These were stored digitally so that a recorded message could be listened to at any time. His wife Monica recorded the first message. To start, Matthews needed 64 telephones, 114 Intel microprocessors, and four hard drives, each the size of a refrigerator.

The storage capacity was 20 hours. The price of the investment rose to $180,000. Ten years later, it was less than one-tenth.

The firms Matthews approached didn't like it at first. He sold his first voicemail device in 1980 to 3M, the company that was just making waves in America with its yellow notepads, another way of communicating.

General Electric, Shell and Intel followed shortly afterwards.

Matthews was not only a handsome inventor but also a shrewd businessman. He managed to protect his patent well and made a fortune in a few years. So that in 1989, aged 53, he could easily live off his annuity.

He sold his firm because, in his own words, the market was growing faster than he could grow his firm. He threw himself into breeding Dobermanns and he spent a lot of time on the golf course. But even there, inventing did not let him go.

He invented a high-tech device that could track the progress of a cart on the golf course. Groups of golfers who, because of their dawdling, held up the game of others, could thus be called to order by the administrator.

After four years of breeding dogs and playing golf, he enthusiastically returned to business. Said a friend, “Matthews always asked the right questions.

He could walk around with 25 totally crazy ideas, but then suddenly came up with a great find.' He firmly believed that anyone could have good ideas and that bosses just had to be smart enough to unleash them with their employees.

Matthews thought it was sad that a person could end up in the 'voicemail jail', the 'voicemail jail', where you type madly one number after another without reaching your destination or ending up with the receipt. of a silly message.

He'd developed his system so that busy people wouldn't miss a call, and guess what, many Americans used voicemail to fend off callers. "I am loved by many, hated by many," Matthews said.

He was barely 65 when he unexpectedly died of a heart attack in a Dallas hotel in 2002.