Voice mail invented by TU alumnus.

Held 35 Patents. ' Voice Mail ' patent sold to 3M

Gordon Matthews, the inventor and patent holder for voice mail, was a TU alumnus, graduating in 1959 with a B.S. in engineering physics. A tireless inventor and strategically gifted entrepreneur, Matthews also invented the first voice-activated cockpit control system for pilots; created the "WATSBOX," which was an important development in the evolution of today's computer-controlled phone network; and designed processes for manufacturing circuit boards. He developed and marketed his biggest inventions through his own companies, making him not only a great inventor, but also a shrewd businessman.

Gordon Matthews passed away February 23, 2002, from complications related to a stroke. He was 65.

Gordon H. Matthews, VTEL, University of Tulsa graduate

In 1983 Gordon Matthews patented a new technology. His patent application claims he invented a “Voice Message System that enables a user to access the system to determine if any messages have been in the data storage subsystem.” Today we simply refer to Mr. Matthews’ invention as “voice mail”. His company, VMX, introduced voice mail and installed the first system at the 3M Corporation in Minnesota.

Throughout Matthews’ life, he was recognized as one of the brilliant minds leading the telecommunications revolution. Dr. Stan Bellovich, Dean of the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences at the University of Tulsa had this to say following a visit to Austin, TX to meet Gordon Matthews, “He was overflowing with energy. It was amazing to me; he was like an idea machine. There was almost an idea in every sentence." Matthews held 33 American and foreign patents and also invented the first voice-controlled cockpit system for pilots. His voice mail invention not only significantly improved society’s ability to communicate, but his innovative concept is also credited as being the forerunner of email. Matthews worked at IBM and then at Texas Instruments, where he invented a minicomputer-based messaging system that laid the foundation for e-mail by automating the sending and receiving of teletype messages.

Matthews, who died in February 2002 at the age of 65, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Tulsa in 1959. He was named Inventor of the Year by the Texas Bar Association, was inducted in to the TU College of Engineering and Natural Sciences Hall of Fame and received the International Communications Association Industry Achievement Award.

In the late seventies, Matthews first began working on the technology that would come to be called "voicemail." He patented it in 1982. His "Voice Message Exchange" managed electronic messages in a digital format.

At times, it seems Matthews saw his invention as a bit of a Frankenstein.

"I'm not really pleased with some of the things I see voicemail being used for today," Matthews once remarked.

"We didn't design this technology to annoy people, but rather make their lives easier."

His first inspiration to develop communications tools came when he was in the marines, which he joined as a pilot in 1959. A friend and fellow aviator was killed in a mid-air collision. Matthews suspected that the accident was caused when the pilot had to take his hands off the flight controls to adjust his radio frequency. After the marines, he went to work at IBM, helping to develop a voice-controlled military cockpit.

In 1966, Matthews moved to Dallas to work for Texas Instruments. He specialized in using computers to automate telephone systems of large corporations with multiple lines and then launched a series of his own businesses specializing in computers and telecommunications.

In 1979, Matthews formed his company, VMX, of Dallas, which stands for Voice Message Express. He applied for a patent in 1979 for his voicemail invention and sold the first system to 3M. His wife, Monika, recorded the first greeting on this first commercial voicemail.

He sold VMX and retired to Austin after 13 years.

"The market was growing faster than I could grow the company," Matthews once said.

Matthews also developed the first minicomputer message switching system -- but his inventions were not limited to the world of business communications. An avid golfer, Matthews developed a monitoring system for golf course managers that would alert a marshal if a group took too long on a hole.

In 2001, Matthews was named chief intellectual property officer at VTel, where he'd been a member of the board since 1994.

"Gordon Matthews' mastery of developing effective ideas into defendable patents is legendary," stated Dick Snyder, VTel's chairman of the board in 2001.

Matthews suffered a stroke Wednesday at a Dallas hotel. He is survived by his wife and daughter, Christina.


Gordon Matthews (deceased 2002)

Engineer and Inventor, Entrepreneur,

Patent Holder for ' Voice Mail '