Thursday, September 2, 2010

2 September 1956 “The Telephone”

First off, I am sorry to be posting so late today. But, Hurricane Earl is heading now towards the Cape and will maintain a 2 Status. This requires us to prepare for some very damaging winds and possible multiple days of power outages. I have been to the market and stocked up on a few extra canned goods. We have secured what we could in the yard and have tested all our oil lamps. Hubby has just cut and singed the new wick ends. We are as prepared as we can be.
The telephone has gone through major changes in the past 100 years. Let’s see how those changes are affecting our life here in the 1950’s with this film.
At one point phones did not even have dials. You simply lifted the lever, tapped for attention and then talked to someone to connect you. One day that changed and here is how we were taught to ‘Learn To Dial A Phone” new phone numbers and directories were suddenly issued. And the ‘dial tone’ was born:
By the early 1960’s many new features were being considered.
Now, here in 1956 this is what our lovely new house phones look like. Beautiful colors and much more modern sleek design than 10 years earlier. banjoyellowphone56 (These phone images thanks to vintage rotary phones.)bellad bluephone This color is dreamy and I can picture it on the nightstand in a white and blue and gold bedroom or in the master bath perched on a white and gold ‘French Provencial’ stand.sidetables Something like these, maybe with a pair of these lovely equestrian lampshorselamp It would be dreamy.
pinkphone Of course pink is also lovely.
The phone in 1940’s were more of what we think of when we think of vintage phones. 40sphone They could be had in white/creams but many colors were not really available.
It was interesting to find out that even as late as now, in the mid 1950’s, some rural areas were still in a very antiquated phone system. I found this about the phone system in PA.
Those of you who grew up in cities may be surprised to be told that here in rural Tioga County PA we actually had wall phones with cranks well into the mid 1950s. We had party lines with several households on a line. Each household had its own ring - Ours was a short two longs and a short. People on the party line could call each other by ringing directly, using the crank and the right short - long code. Other calls came through the telephone operator. In Mainesburg, Gladys Smith was the operator and she lived in a house right next door to the store. She was tied to that switchboard 24-7-365, The store delivered her groceries. She had the switchboard in a room right by the kitchen with a cot in the same room. The following article reflects the sense of celebration these communities experienced when dial phones came into their world.
56switchboard This image is from 1956 newspaper: FAITHFULL SWITCHBOARD—Mrs. Bessie Updyke sits by the Millerton central switchboard which she has operated in her home for 11 years. The North Penn Telephone Co. will change over to dial operation in Millerton, and late, in Bentley Creek area (Star-Gazette Photos by Peggy Gallagher)
relays Here the automated relays are being installed and will replace faithful Bessie Updyke.  RELAYS—Howard Selleck, switchman for the North Penn Telephone Co. tests the all-relay dial equipment being installed at Millerton.
Such a change must have really greatly affected peoples lives. To have a system where one is calling a local person, such as Mrs. Updyke, who literally is sitting in her home and knows all in town, to a system run by a machine must have seemed cold. Much like the past decades when our own phone systems became more and more automated. In 2010 it is rather hard to actually speak to a person and when you do they are often in India at call centers. (That really burns me, as well, as if we need even MORE loss of jobs in our country that we even sub out our service calls!) But, I digress. Back to the phone…
We even have a ‘Phone Princess’ here on Cape Cod.phoneprincess This fun image is from a great BLOG about vintage rotary phones.
 teenonphone Of course we cannot forget the latest fad of the teen, far too much time on the phone. This seemed to mostly be a character trait of girls, though I am sure boys did their fair share. Many father’s here in 1956 are often concerned about these ‘long phone conversations’ because their may be a boy on the other end.
Of course, in true 50’s Madison Avenue style, if one phone is good, THREE is better! phonead2
I recall in the 1980’s when answering machines were coming out. That and ‘call waiting’ was seen rather rude by many people. That technology seems like a dinosaur now.
And, of course, we now know in 2010 that a phone is not a phone but a way of life. Text, camera, movie camera, tv, internet, computer, everything rolled into one. This is a common scene I am sure.teenstexting No longer sitting in the front hall on the phone, you are Always on it.
 modernphoneAt least it seems some people are still interested in the past style enough to try and make a compromise.
We have come a long way, but have we gone too far? Is the need to always be online and in contact with everyone actually making what we have to say or how we say it or think it less interesting or intelligent? Letters are gone and now every daily activity is texted and shared. Is it better, I don’t know.
I think a nice phone in the home that rang and was either answered or ignored, may have actually been far enough. I suppose for emergencies it is nice, but didn’t people have emergencies before cell phones? What did they do? How quickly we become so used to our technology that to live without it would be like living without oxygen.  I wonder if there could be a happy medium of a ‘docking station’ in an old phone that your cell phone lives in at home and is treated like a land line. And when you go out, it can be turned off and used only for that emergency? It might be a nice vintage alternative.


  1. Yes, once we have these conveniences (like cell phones) it is hard to imagine what we did without them.

    I remember those old "lead" black telephones (as I used to call them, because they were so heavy). My family kept that up until my dad passed away in 1995, then the house was cleared and rented out, so I don't know what happened to it.

    Some people had "party lines" when I was a kid. My husband remembers the neighbors, who had a party line, picking up the phone and hearing kids talking on it and shouting, "You kids get off the phone...there's an emergency here!" Party lines were cheaper. My husband's family and mine both had private lines.

  2. The movie Changling that came out a few years ago with Anglina Jolie was fascinating. It was based on a true story of a child kidnapping in the late 20's or early 30's. Jolie's character worked at the telephone operator's exchange in Los Angeles. It was amazing! She was a supervisor and they flitted around on roller skates.

    I've always been partial to the 40's phone. Never much cared for the ones that started coming out in the 50's.

  3. Our rotary phone looks great on the "gossip bench" in our front hall. We have just the one land line, no call waiting, and a mobile that is only used on dire emergencies; my husband and I are the only ones with the mobile number. Who remembers their old phone exchange? Ours, here in Boston, was Fairview-5.

  4. Ahh, vintage phones, I just adore them. In Denmark we didn’t have all those lovely colours, and my family didn’t get phone until the mid-seventies. Then dad told all of us that it was purely for short messages. I remember those early years with a phone, sometimes when we picked up the “bone” (Danish slang) to make a call, then you could hear another conversation, but they couldn’t hear us. We simply had to wait until their conversation had finished to do our call.

    You are right about cell phones, I simply don’t understand that everybody needs to be online all day long. That no one can concentrate on real people if the get a text or a call. I think it is rude, and if I bring my cell phone I put it on “silent” and ignore it, until I come home. I want to decide when I want to be online, and if I’m e.g. relaxing I don’t pick up the phone. DH teases me about never bringing my cell phone when we go out together, “what if you get lost?” he asks. “Well, I’ll never get a chance to get lost WITH my cell phone!”, I tease him back. And my cell phone doesn’t become my lovely vintage purses.

  5. I remember being invited to that worlds fair and could not go, I was so disappointed. We had the old black dial phone up till 1981 and it was so heavy my Grandma said it could be used as a weapon if some one broke in! Presently when we moved into this rental there is an old dial wall phone in the garage hooked up and ready to go, but as most we no longer maintaine a land line. I have been thinking about it more all the time and miss it. It was pleasent to sit at the desk and talk not moving around will a cell phone but taking time to visit with the caller. Maybe you can find a nice phone seat ( gossip bench) I see them around and they are very pretty, and can be upolstered in your own fabric. Growing up we had a special painted black desk that was made for us, narrow and fit over the cask iron radiator at the foot of the stairs in our living room. The most privacy I got was to hide behind the wing back chair, like as if I thought no one could hear me! Perhaps today if teens did not have cells and there were cords on the house phones parents would have even more understanding of what their children are doing or at least talking to! Does any one even teach phone manners? I had to learn how to answer the phone before I was allowed to use it.

  6. 50's Gal,

    When my Grandma Irene passed away, my father was going through her things and uncovered a beige dial phone and a black one, I excitedly brought the dial phone home, planning to hook it up in my kitchen, but sadly because we use cable for our phone line instead of Bell now we cannot use it to dial out.

    I am hanging onto the phone, and if we ever return to Bell, then I will hook it back up.

    The phone weighs a ton, and would probably last another 100 years (wish I could say the same for our cheaper cordless phones ugh- that's another story in and of itself).

    Mom in Canada

    1. I love that you are holding on to your grandmothers phone to keep in the family. I am a local phone collector in new brunswick and I want to let you know if you have rogers cable for telephone you can use both rotary and touch tone same as bell

  7. Isn't it interesting, though, that even if you did not want a new sleek design dial phone, if you had the older model, you could still just use it. Today it is all Planned Obsolescence. Things are built to NOT last and they don't. Cell phones when they don't break simply are 'out of fashion' in six months and we must all HAVE the latest.
    I suppose today parents don't teach their children phone manners, 'Say hello this is the X residence. And be polite' etc. And it is also true that it is just another way in which parents are removed from the equation of raising and responsibility for their teens and who they are talking to. NO sit down dinners, computers in every room, and a phone in every hand. It's like modern families are roomates rather than families. I wonder if in 100 years the very concept of family will be so foreign to us now that if we were alive we would be wondering at it. I am sure a family from 1910 would be hard pressed to guess that a modern family, shown to them but not told they are an actual related nuclear family, would not guess so. I suppose time and progress marches on, I just wish we individuals in groups would try to control it more rather than leave our fate up to the 'latest trend and technology' to dictate or sociology. Very sad, indeed.

  8. I think I am going to look for that 1950's phone and have it in the bedroom.

  9. I agree with you again 50's girl, Spot on!

    I am doing my best to raise my boys in the tradition of the old days, when the parents were in charge, not the other way around- kids today have way too much say in things.

    Every night we have sit down suppers, I pick my boys up for lunch from school so we sit down and eat that too together, as well as breakfast.

    Now there are times, hubby is running late from work, or we have afterschool activities, so hubby may have to reheat his supper because we have already eaten.

    But the point is we sit down together, we talk about our day, and even if Daddy is running late we still connect with him later on.

    When my boys are teenagers and have afterschool jobs where they might miss the supper hour, I will look back fondly on these days.

    I think as parents it's up to us to uphold the values of the nuclear family, the deterioration of families' is the reason why so many youth are lost and into gangs and who knows what else.

    I keep telling myself that I should have been a parent 50 years ago.

    My mom said that when she would visit my Grandma Irene, the pot of coffee was always fresh on the stove no matter what time of day, because the farmers in the area would always pop in no matter what time it was to sit and chat.

    Now doesn't that sound lovely, imagine always having the time to sit, chat and find out the latest even though there were farm chores to be done, the house to maintain.

    I really don't know where we went wrong as a society, but it is truly a sad state of affairs.

    Mom in Canada

  10. These days kids in school are involved in so many activities it is hard to get together for supper as a family. Our family lives 21 miles from the school our children went to, so because we couldn't afford the gas to have them involved in every event going, we only allowed them to be in one or two activities. So, we were able to eat dinner together every evening (and breakfast, too). This is important and should be done whenever possible. Families today do seem more like roommates than families. Very sad.

  11. I remember when you'd pick up the phone and the operator, always a lady, would ask, "Number, please?" Then, you'd give her the number, which always had an exchange with a name. My number was Atlantic 4-0844. My friend's was Park 7-2799. My husbands was Seatuck 9-0390. Then she'd patch you through. You always said, "Hello?" Not, "Yeah..."

    Then the name exchanges went away, and it was no longer Atlantic 4, or At. 4, but 878-0844. Everybody grumbled about that, because it seemed less regional and less personal.

    By the time it went to all numbers, the operators with, "Number, please?" went away. You just dialed. Very sad.

    If you had an emergency, you could always explain it to the operator and she would know what to do.

    I used to have my little brother recite the alphabet or do some other silly thing to the operator, and she'd say, "That's very nice, little boy, now hang up the phone!" After the third time, she called our house and asked to speak to an adult when I answered the phone. I put my grandmother on, and the operator told her that children were playing with the phone, and we got in trouble!

  12. We switched over to cell phones because of cost about three months ago. I have found that without my land line, the cell phone I 'never' used before is now getting lots of usage. In ways I never did before. My hubby now calls me all the time whenever I go out with my mom or by meself. Mostly cause he is bored and misses me. But that costs, for we are on pay as you use. I am seriously thinking of switching back to landline and not having long distance. It shouldn't be that much should we do that. And maybe keeping one cell for any long distance calls we have to make. So many cell numbers are long distance. And so many, like us, have only cell phones now.

    I remember my grandma had a rotary dial phone on her wall until about 2 years before she died. She couldn't hear as well on the roatry, so my aunt and uncle bought her a special phone and it was push button. She was amazed by it.

    We had rotary for years because you had to pay for touch tone for a long time. And a phone was a convienence, not an necessary item.

  13. First, as a fellow person from MA, I would like to wish you luck as Earl comes closer.
    As for your post about telephones, I found it quite timely as I was complaining about this very thing yesterday. I miss the rotary phones and telephone manners. Often it seems that things that should make our lives more convenient, simply increase the chaos.

  14. My auntie , who is 82, still has a 1940s style phone, the original one that has been in the house since she moved in. It is sooooo heavy but has great sound, and reception.
    We have, but don't use, a red early 1970s phone. We can't use the internet when that phone is plugged in so it just sits on the cupboard looking pretty ( and important because it's red)

  15. I love old phones and prefer their ring. The computerized sounding ring is annoying. And while I appreciate the flexibility of cordless phones I get so frustrated when they're not put back and cannot be found. I'm tempted to get an old phone installed on the landing on the stairs just so I can always at least find one phone. The landing has a pretty window seat and probably had a phone installed there at one time.

    I find it interesting that I'm not the only Iphone user that chooses the "old telephone" ring tone.

  16. Back in the 50's and early 60's, well, before long-distance calling was so cheap, there was this little "scam" that everybody pulled:

    Back then, if you made a long-distance call, you made it either "person to person" (you asked the operator if you could speak to a specific person, say, Mary. If somebody picked up and said that Mary was not there, you said, 'thank you," and both parties hung up and nobody had to pay for the call). Or, you made a "station-to-station" call, where you'd talk to anybody who picked up, and pay for the call.

    Well, when you relatives from out of town visited you, you'd always worry whether or not they had gotten home safely. So, before they left, you'd instruct them: "Make a person-to-person call to us us when you get home, and ask for YOURSELF, Mary. We'll tell the operator, 'Mary is not here,' and then we'll both hang up, we'll know you got home safely, and nobody will have to pay for the call!"

    Everybody did this (I'm sure the phone company knew) and that was the "sign" that you had gotten home safely!

  17. TWUS-that is the sweetest thing! And see, that was all one needed to cease any worry over their safe arrival home. One didn't need to have a play by play of their trip, what they ate, or texts about and pictures of roadside signs they saw or what music they were listening to. Save the conversations for letters and visits and the rare phone call. So sweet, so sweet.

  18. I remember when I was a child and we had a rotary phone. It disappeared around 1984 in favor of a horrible orange thing with small push buttons. My mother still had the orange one last I checked; she uses is when the cordless one in her bedroom breaks. She keep the cordless handset in the living room so she can check the caller ID and decide whether to bother getting up to answer the reproductions 40s phone on the phone table because she can't hear on the cordless. It's quite the system.

    I remember having a physical operator but there was an extra charge to talk to a person so I rarely did. There was someone sitting in the exchange switching the wires however. Back then our phone number was 9 digits (my grandfather had a 7 digit number, three if you were making a local call, because he lived in a smaller town) and now it's 11 digits. The only person I knew who called the operator was my great aunt. She didn't have a phone until the early 90s when she got one of those emergency call buttons which required a phone line. Her daughter lived overseas so her neighbor would allow her to use their phone. If the daughter was calling the neighbor would answer then go ring my great aunts door bell. If my great aunt wanted to call she'd call the operator first because they'd time the call and say how much it cost so she could pay the neighbor.

  19. Catching up with your blog, 50s gal-- just had to comment on this one. The problem with the old phones was that you were renting them from the phone company. Back in the 1980s, thinking I could save some money in the long run, I bought a (cheap) phone and called the phone company. They told me I had to take the old phone out myself. Then they told me I had to take it down to the phone company office. When I got to the office, I had go to another area and deposit my phone in a specific heap in the corner. I did all that. Next month my bill said: De-installation fee: $25.00!!!

  20. I'm writing from western Mass. Do you remember back in the 60's when there was a local phone number we could dial, get nothing but a busy signal, but in the background there'd be 10's of kids trying to link up? By that I mean by sharing their real phone numbers or finding a place to meet. I believe we dubbed it the "hotline" but other places might have had other names.

    Some voices were louder, some more distant. All the talking had to be done between the tones and usually had to be repeated to make sure the other party got it right. We'd often have to yell to be heard.

    I have to assume this was a bug in the old phone system and thought it was strictly local. But I just heard from someone who actually got a return phone call from a GI in Greenland!

    C from Chicopee MA.


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