Historically Amazing


Culture | December 13, 2017

Nowadays, most people, both young and old, know what SMART phones are. Interestingly enough, at one time, phones, in general, were considered to be cutting edge and sophisticated.

The invention of the telephone was something of a modern technology breakthrough back in the day. People could dial the telephone number of a friend or relative and actually hear their voice in “real time”.  

Just to make sure you always had your most important phone numbers at hand, there was a clever invention called a “phone-book”.  It was so awesome to have the ability to let our “fingers do the walking” to find the phone numbers we needed. Even more convenient was the personal address/phone-book. We were able to record and keep all of our most important personal contacts in one place in case we wanted to contact someone by phone.  

Just about everyone these days has a smartphone or some version of a cell phone. If you are younger than 25, chances are you don’t remember having a phone hanging on your kitchen wall. Houses usually had the obligatory kitchen phone and possibly another phone somewhere in the house.

Years ago, when the phone rang, the only way to know who was calling was to answer it. Caller ID didn’t become common until around the 1980s. Before call-waiting, if someone was already on their phone, the caller got an obnoxious busy signal. If you called a person who was not home, you were at the mercy of the family member who answered the call, to deliver a message, before answering machines.

If the phone was accidentally left off the hook, a convenient message would play advising us to, “Please hang up your telephone”. If the phone was not hung up in a timely manner, a nerve-wracking alarm would sound in hopes that it would get the attention of someone close by.  

Because telephones were hard wired to the house, a person would have to remain in generally the same area for the duration of the call. If you wanted privacy, chances are you stretched that coiled phone cord to its limits to get as far away for others as possible. The phone cord in my family’s kitchen was stretched out so badly that it probably could have reached around the block. After the cord was sufficiently stretched, it wasn’t uncommon for girls to get their long hair tangled up in it.

At one point, I remember the phone company had numbers you could call to find out what the weather was and even what time it was. If the phone bill came and there was a charge for dialing the information number, somebody had some “splaining” to do! Every household had a copy of the Yellow Pages and the White Pages but calling the information operator was just so much easier! In my house, we mainly used the phone books to sit on, so we could reach the dinner table until we got older.

For years, party lines were a common feature of the phone system. Copper wire, used for telephone lines, was in short supply, so people were sharing phone lines. This was especially popular in rural areas because houses were so spread out. Each subscriber had their own unique ring, so they would know who the call was for. And talk about no privacy… your nosey neighbors often listened in on your conversations. If someone was on the line and you needed the phone for an emergency, protocol was to pick up the phone to announce it, requiring the person to end their call.

After most homes ended up with private lines the busy signal was still an issue. Some savvy, if not impatient, callers were known to call the phone company operator to ask that a call be interrupted so you could get through if the line was busy for an extended period of time. It was like having a personal secretary.

The first phone I remember in my home was a rotary dial phone, which was on loan from the phone company. It wasn’t until years later that we actually purchased our own phone. To make a call, we had to put our finger in the little circle next to the number we wanted and actually move the dial from that point all the way up to the top of the phone and release it before dialing the next number in the series. If you accidentally dialed a wrong number, you had to hang up and start all over. I also remember the inside of the dial being multi-colored because our fingernail polish would rub off while dialing.

When touch-tone phones came out, it was like a dream come true. It made calling so much easier. If a mistake was made in dialing, it wasn’t as big of a deal. 

Even more impressive was the cordless house phone. It was like a Christmas miracle when they came out! Never mind that they had long antennas that had to be extended in order to get reception. We were then free to move about the house and maybe even as far as the front porch!

I was in my 20’s when I got my first cell phone. It was a big bulky thing in a zippered bag. The next one I had was wired into my car which was really a mindblower. Are you kidding me? A telephone in a car? I thought it was so great!

Now, most people have phones that can do everything from paying for a cup of coffee to doing their holiday shopping. I have to admit that I am spoiled and totally dependent on my smartphone. I cannot believe that I lived all those years without it. When I accidentally leave it behind, I am almost paralyzed. I’m sure many can relate to the feeling!

NEXT: “Get Smart” – A Lovable But Incompetent Hero

Jackson Hall

Jackson Hall is one of the best writers of our generation. He has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list three different times and nominated multiple time for best Memoir on Goodreads. He studied history at Yale and became obsessed with the 70s. Now he focuses on digging up stories nobody has written about to help grow our extensive knowledge of the past. He is the glue to our company and we are so lucky to have him on the team.

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