Captain Crunch Whistle

Trace the iPhone waaay back, and you’ll find a toy whistle.

In 1971, a friend called John Draper to share a discovery. A toy whistle packaged inside Captain Crunch cereal emitted a perfect 2600 hertz tone when blown—the same frequency that telephone operators use to authenticate themselves when connecting to the central exchange.

The friend explained that if someone dialed the number of a phone exchange and blew the whistle into the phone when the call connected, the exchange would think it was an operator calling and allow full access to the phone network. Draper understood the potential of the toy whistle:

“This could unlock America’s phone system.”

A few months later Draper built “blue boxes” to reproduce the whistle’s frequency. A university student named Steve Wozniak read an article about Draper and his blue boxes and invited Draper to his dorm room to learn about them firsthand.

When Draper arrived, he found that Wozniak had invited a friend to join them named Steve Jobs.

After a demo of the blue box’s abilities and a tutorial on how to make them, Wozniak and Jobs decided to go into business together making blue boxes—with Wozniak making them and Jobs selling them. It was the beginning of a working relationship and an early source of funding that led to them founding Apple.

There’s delightful irony in the fact that today’s icon of telecommunications, the iPhone, can be traced back to someone blowing a toy whistle into a rotary phone and thinking “This could…”

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