Telephones are credited to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. Like all technologies, the first decade was a shaking-out period for the design and the technology.
The earliest phones hung on a wall of your office or home (if you were someone important). You were connected by wires owned by the phone company to a central office. You didn't call your party. You called a live equipment operator who plugged your line into your neighbor's. Eventually, the operator could also call up other operators in other towns so you could call further and further away.
Two-story wooden two-box phone. Electrical components were in the top box, glass water/acid batteries in bottom. This phone required regular changing of electrodes. Cranking sent an electric current, which rang the operator's bell to get her attention. The steel center transmitter was an improvement over the first phones, where you had to be right up against a box. This phone was phased out around 1905. Mid 1880s to 1905.
All photos by PHONECO
|Wooden two-box phone|
Single box plain-front wood wall. These were quite decorated at first, then gradually became plainer. Receivers were hard rubber. By 1927, they were Bakelite. Note the writing pad.
|Single-box wall phone|
Crank phones begin in mid-1880s but were used into the 1960s in some rural areas. Northern Electric in Canada was the last maker of crank phones by the 1960s.
Side mount country junction. This one was small and plain, with a two-way handset. Local companies added dials. Hundreds of phones like this one came and went by the time World War I had started.
|Side mount country junction|
European phone with "French" handset. The handset is called a "French handset" because U.S. soldiers saw them in France. Very rare, if perfect
|Phone with "French" handset|
Candlestick phone. 1905-1940s Office and phone use. Well balanced. Can carry around. 1901 patent date is for the transmitter cup, and even those made in 1940s have 1901 patent date.
The more popular phones became, the more important it was that they be convenient, and that meant that phones landed on people's desks. Between 1901 and 1904, they switched to ordinary candlestick models, which lasted until World War II (1941). In the first 10 years of candlesticks (1905-1915), there were 30 variations in size and styles. But by 1915 or so, most fell by the wayside. By the 1920s, out of about 300 name brands, only about 10 equipment makers remained.
Cradle phone. 1927-1940s. Western Electric and Northern Electric in Canada made this metal model for the Bell system. Only numbers are on the dial. The early ones carried no letters.
Multi-line phone. 1940-early '50s. Collectors with a technical bent like some of the multi-line phones because of their complexity. The ordinary user doesn't find them attractive, even the old ones. Multi-line phones came in on phones in the '20s. Before that, a switchboard could send multi-lines to a candlestick phone.
Rotary wall phone. 1938. AE50 wall phone, rotary dial with letters. Stylish for its time.
|Rotary wall phone|
Color wall phone. 1957. Rotary dial plastic wall phone. You paid more for color phones.
|Color wall phone|
Rotary dial desk phone. 1949 on. A "modern" rotary dial desk phone, plastic starting after World War II in 1949. Colored plastic in 1954.
|Rotary dial desk phone|
Princess phone. 1963. Dial or Touch tone in 1963 (different kind of signal). It cost the customer $1 more a month for touch tone. It took some phone companies a decade or more to adopt it.
Ericafone. 1955. Ericafone, modern Swedish design. First one-piece phone. Beginning of novelty phone era.
Disney Dixieland Novelty: $75
|Dixieland Disney phone|
French fries: $30
1911-1970s: During that entire period, pay phones were virtually unchanged. They started without a dial in 1911. (The dial was added in 1920.) Later in the '20s, the one-piece handset was added.
|Pay phone with transmitter on front|
For more information, visit www.phonecoinc.com.
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