We’ve been imagining a future of ubiquitous videophones for over a century. And today it’s considered no big deal that we’re able to make video calls with devices that we carry around in our pockets. But it took a while to get to that point. One reason? It was incredibly expensive.

Above we have a Universal newsreel from 1955 showing off a videophone made by Bell Labs. The newsreel explains that the current set-up would cost about $5,000 per phone. That’s over $44,000 adjusted for inflation.

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Even as late as the 1970s, videophone service was still incredibly expensive. But as soon as we saw videophone technology less as a standalone device and more as a feature in the devices we already carried around with us, the videophone managed to sneak up on modern culture.

From the newsreel:

How does it work? Just lift the receiver and you see your own image. This feature’s for the girls. At long last a reason for the primping that usually proceeds a woman’s phone call. No picture is transmitted over the line though since no call is placed. Then dial your number just as with an obsolete old ‘55 model phone. And when your party answers? There is, only as big as life on the 10-inch video screen.

The system could have its disadvantages as well as virtues. But there’s plenty of time to iron out problems in human relations. This hook-up would cost $5,000 per phone today. So until the price comes down, the videophone remains the phone of the future. See you then, good looking!

The videophone may have cost $44,000, but the 1950s-era sexism? They throw that in for free.