Bell System Memorial

 

About Porticus Porticus Home Page References & Links Testimonials & Member Site Disclaimer
 
  Western Electric Products- Payphones and Phone Booths
 
Home Page About This Site What's New References and Links Bell System History Life in the Bell System Capsule History of the Bell System Bell Canada Bell Operating Companies Bell Labs AT&T Long Lines AT&T Historical Financials Historical Photos Historical Film & Video Bell Telephone Magazine Articles What Killed Ma Bell "The Day the Bell System Died The Rape of Ma Bell AT&T Divestiture The Decision to Divest Odds & Ends The Eastland Disaster Bell System Employee Stories Bell System Property - (Not) For Sale Bell Logo History Trading Post - Bell System stuff wanted, for sale, for trade, etc. Bell System Advertisements Don Lively's Essay and More Miscellaneous Retirees Info Trademarks and Copyrights Visitors Comments Dew (Distant Early Warning) Line Project "Yellow Pages" Site Map The Western Electric Store Books Bell System Practices (BSP) & Technical Manuals

 Western Electric Payphones and Phone Booths

 

Sewing Machine - Automatic Answering Service
"Mirrophone" wire ribbon recorder/player
Telephones - PicturePhone - Bell Chime

 

screenshot from Phone Booth
From the movie Phone Booth
Directed by Joel Schumacher
20th Century Fox

Contents:

Schematics

For 1960's Western Electric manual and rotary dial
Pay Phone schematics,
click here for figure 1 and here for figure 24.

Western Electric 236G coin (pay) phone info (courtesy of Dennis Owens): Page 1 and Page 2.

 

We Offer Personalized One-On-One Service!

Call Us Today at (651) 787-DIAL (3425)

The Western Electric Store

 

 

PAY PHONE HISTORY TIMELINE
  • In 1889, the first public coin telephone was installed by inventor William Gray at a bank in Hartford, Conn. It was a "postpay" machine (coins were deposited after the call was placed). Gray's previous claim to fame was inventing the inflatable chest protector for baseball.

  • In 1898, the Western Electric No. 5 Coin Collector, the first automatic "prepay" station, went into use in Chicago. The depositing of coins before placing a call would gradually become the norm in pay phones until the introduction of "dial tone first" service in 1966.

  • By 1902, there were 81,000 pay telephones in the United States.

  • In 1905, the first outdoor Bell System coin telephone was installed on a Cincinnati street. It wasn't an instant hit; people apparently were reluctant to make private calls on a public thoroughfare.
     

  • In the 1950s, glass outdoor telephone booths began replacing wooden ones.

  • In 1957, "calling from your car" was first tested in Mobile, Ala., and Chicago. Drive-up pay telephones proved popular and are still in use today.

  • In 1960, the Bell System installed its millionth pay telephone. Today there are 2.2 million pay phones, down from 2.6 million in 1998. Local calls on pay phones also have dropped 30 percent since 1998.

  • In 1964, when the Treasury Department decided to change the metallic composition of U.S. coins, it consulted with Bell Laboratories to ensure the new coins would still function properly in pay phones.

  • In 1966, "dial tone first" service was introduced in Hartford, Conn. This essentially turned coin phones into emergency call stations because such calls could be made without first depositing coins.

  • On Feb. 2, 2001, BellSouth announced that it's getting out of the pay phone business. That would make it the first major phone company to do so.

Sources: American Public Communications Council and AT&T

Phone Booth Advertisements


Phone Booth History Advertisement
Click to enlarge
(courtesy of Kermit Simon)


Click HERE to see an unusual phone booth made out of concrete!

Click HERE to see an old advertisement by the Bell System for payphones.


Scan of phone booth advertisement

 

And then came the breakup of the Bell System and anyone could own a payphone.  Here is an advertisement by AT&T for today's modern payphone.


Click on image
above to enlarge

 

Avaya Plant Readies To Close

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) -- The plant that once built the majority of U.S. pay telephones will close on Sept. 30, putting 900 workers out of jobs, the plant's new owner, Avaya Inc. (NYSE:AV - news), said Tuesday.

The plant is 35 years old and had been operated by Lucent Technologies, AT&T's consumer products division and Western Electric, which used the plant to build pay phones. At one time, the plant had as many as 3,000 employees.

Avaya, based in Basking Ridge, N.J., took over the plant in October, when it was spun off from Lucent, and had been manufacturing small business communication systems there.

The closure was part of a deal under which Avaya agreed to send most manufacturing of its communications systems as well as some software to Toronto-based Celestica Inc. (NYSE:CLS - news) in a transaction valued at $4 billion over five years.

"This is an economic decision for the company, a very difficult one," said Avaya spokesman Kevin Stewart. "We know it's a very difficult time for our employees."

About 700 of the workers are unionized and are eligible for immediate retirement, the company said. Workers also can apply for openings at other Avaya, Lucent and Celestica facilities, the company said.

Avaya's deal with Celestica is expected to close during the third quarter of 2001.

As call for pay phones lessens,
BellSouth to cash in its stake

By Michael E. Kanell
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: February 3, 2001

When it comes to pay phones, BellSouth is hanging up.

The company has decided to put its 143,000 pay phones on the block, selling them all during the next two years to exit a faltering business that once was emblematic of Americans on the move.

Once the only way to get in touch from airports, bus stations or the road, the pay phone has become the poor, tethered cousin to tens of millions of wireless devices. About 100 million people have wireless phones, so they don't often reach for a coin phone. Pay phone companies are looking for ways to get more out of their phones - or to get out of the business.

In 1998, the country had 2.6 million phones, 400,000 more than today. In that same period, BellSouth has shrunk its pay phone inventory by nearly 24,000 phones in the Southeast.

BellSouth would be the first of the regional phone companies to sell all its pay phones. But not the first to try. San Antonio-based SBC Communications, for example, announced plans to sell but never found a buyer.

And no one has sold off the pay phone business piecemeal, as BellSouth means to do. The company declined comment on whether it had already tried - and failed - to find a buyer.

"We explored a lot of things," said BellSouth spokesman David Blumenthal. "That's all we can say."

The company wants to put its efforts into high-growth businesses - high-speed data, wireless devices and Latin American investments.

The company declined to provide details for current use or profitability of its pay phones except to say that their usage has "decreased dramatically." But just two years ago, industry estimates put monthly revenues at $200 to $250 per phone. Today it may be less than $150.

BellSouth, because it traditionally placed phones all over its region and not just in the high-volume locations, may reap even less money.

Like many people, Jacqui Chew doesn't miss the days of driving down the road in search of that elusive phone booth.

"I remember in the early '90s, when I lived in Hawaii, my roommate and I used to go down to the 7-Eleven to use the pay phone. It was such a pain and you'd never have enough change," said Chew, marketing director for Avienda Technologies. "Now today, I think nothing of just dialing my friend in California on my cell phone."

And it's not just wireless that hurts. Pay phone operators also have trouble getting what they believe is full payment from companies offering toll-free numbers and "dial-around" calling.

That can mean 30 to 35 percent lost revenue, said Vince Sandusky, president of the American Public Communications Council. The 1,600-member trade group represents pay phone companies, except for regional Bells like BellSouth. Third-largest is Atlanta-based ETS, which has about 40,000 pay phones. Compared to the Bells, the independents are niche players in a shrinking market.

"There's really no question that this has become a very tough business," Sandusky said.

Tough, but not impossible, he said. After all, there are times that a wireless phone user is too far from a cell tower to make a call. Or has a dying battery. Or maybe fears having a delicate conversation plucked from the air.

Besides, there are about 6 million Americans who don't have any kind of phone, he said. "Add it up and there's still a business there."

And some people would prefer a landline connection for their laptop - something that more pay phone operators are offering as they try to retool for the new technologies.

Jeff Kagan, Atlanta-based telecommunications analyst, said pay phones will survive - at least for a time - by changing.

"The future pay phone will have keyboards and touch screens and will let people access their e-mail and voice mail boxes and access other Web-based information," he said. "That will give the pay phone business a few more years of viability, but ultimately, devices that make calls and send e-mail will be cheap enough for everyone to carry one."

Side note: Steve Schack (ATCA member #567 and Qwest  Smart payphone DB administrator) sent me an Excel spreadsheet file showing locations of some of the BellSouth payphones that still existed in the Atlanta, Georgia area in early 2003.  Click HERE to download or open this file.

3 slot pay phone It is difficult to find information on pay telephones or coin phones as they use to be called. However, I found an excellent and interesting historical summary about the history of pay phones on AT&T's web site. The text from the  AT&T web page is shown below.


 

 

For photos of pay phones from around the world,
go to this neat web site:
The Pay Phone Project.

 

 

Photos of Bob's Antique Telephones
Phone: 1-260-351-4792
E-mail: Bobspayphone@aol.com

"HIGHLIGHTS IN PAY PHONE HISTORY"

From a link on the AT&T web site http://www.att.com/press/1091/911002.csa.html

"Pay telephone stations preceded the invention of the pay phone and existed as early as 1878. These stations were supervised by telephone company attendants or agents (such as an employee in a hotel where a station might be located) who collected the money due after people made their calls. Some pay stations utilized a fail-safe collection method: After making the connections for customers, attendants would lock them in booths so they couldn't leave without paying.

In 1889, the first public coin telephone was installed by inventor William Gray at a bank in Hartford, Conn. It was a "postpay" machine (coins were deposited after the call was placed). Gray's previous claim to fame was inventing the inflatable chest protector for baseball.

In 1898, the Western Electric No. 5 Coin Collector, the first automatic "prepay" station, went into use in Chicago. The depositing of coins before placing a call would gradually become the norm in pay phones until the introduction of "dial tone first" service in 1966.

By 1902, there were 81,000 pay telephones in the United States.

In 1905, the first outdoor Bell System coin telephone was installed on a Cincinnati street. It wasn't an instant hit; people apparently were reluctant to make private calls on a public thoroughfare. (Moose were not as shy when they first encountered outdoor pay phones. When Bell Laboratories designed a new glass and aluminum outdoor telephone booth in the 1950s, it was a great advancement over the wooden outdoor booths that had been in use for a number of years. And yet several booths ordered by the U.S. National Park Service were found mysteriously broken and battered. Park rangers soon knew the answer, though: It was mating season for moose. Amorous--but territorial--bulls were charging the booths whenever they saw their reflections in the glass.)

In 1910, Western Electric and Gray Telephone Pay Station Co. signed an agreement for Gray to manufacture coin collectors for the Bell System using both Gray and Western Electric patents.

The result of that agreement, the 50A coin collector, went into production in 1911. By the end of 1912, 25,000 of these coin telephones had been ordered for New York City alone. The 50A model had three coin slots--for nickels, dimes and quarters --and was a "prepay" machine. The basic design, though often modified, was so practical and reliable it remained in production until 1964. In 1965, Western Electric introduced the 50A's successor. Among other things, it had a single coin slot instead of three, and electronic signalling of coins deposited replaced mechanical bells.

The booths that house pay phones have undergone more design changes than the phones themselves. At the turn of the century, indoor booths were constructed of durable hardwood, such as mahogany, with comfort and privacy in mind, and exhibited detailed craftsmanship. They were often carpeted. The "original" telephone booth is credited to Thomas Watson, the man who helped Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone. Watson's "booth" was made by draping blankets over the furniture in his room and crawling underneath to conduct early telephone experiments. One story says Watson, in order to hear, was insulating himself from street noises. Another story is that his landlady ordered Watson to be quieter; his shouting, albeit for the sake of science, was disturbing other boarders. In 1883 Watson designed a real booth. It was built of expensive wood, had a domed top with a ventilator, windows with screens, and a desk with pen and ink. Over the years, telephone booths have reflected their surroundings as well as the times. There have been phone booths resembling cable cars in San Francisco, and others resembling pagodas in New York City's Chinatown district. In the 1960s, as American architects designed glass-wall office buildings, wooden phone booths looked out of place in lobbies. Bell Laboratories designed an indoor glass and metal phone booth to better fit newer surroundings. Not all of the designs for phone booths have reached the market. An experimental "hands-free" booth in 1972 featured a microphone in front of the caller and a loudspeaker in the booth's ceiling. Observers noted that people readily tried the new arrangement but that, conditioned to speaking in the direction another voice is coming from, they were all shouting into the ceiling.

In 1950, the first coin telephone mobile train service was established on the Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and Washington.

"Calling from your car" was first tested in Mobile Ala., and Chicago in 1957. Drive-up pay telephones proved popular and are still in use today.

In 1960, the Bell System installed its one millionth pay telephone.

In 1964, when the U.S. Treasury Department decided to change the metallic composition of U.S. coins, it consulted with Bell Laboratories to ensure the new coins would still function properly in pay phones.

"Dial tone first" service was introduced in 1966 in Hartford, Conn. This essentially turned coin phones into emergency call stations because such calls could be made without first depositing coins.

In 1977, "automatic coin telephone service" was introduced in Phoenix, Ariz. This allowed most pay telephone calls, including long-distance, to be made without operator assistance. A computer-controlled synthesized voice gave customers the necessary instructions.

AT&T introduced "Charge-a-Call," a "coinless" pay phone, in 1978 (and the term "pay phone" began to replace "coin phone").

In 1984, AT&T introduced the AT&T Card Caller, which featured a video screen with dialing instructions and allowed customers to charge calls by inserting an AT&T Calling Card. The Card Caller also was the first of AT&T's public phones to feature a "loud" button, which allows callers to control the listening volume. It helps the hearing-impaired as well as those having a hard time hearing because of environmental noise.

In 1990, AT&T introduced the AT&T Public Phone 1000, which features a data port for laptop computer and portable fax use, speed dialing for select AT&T services and travelers assistance. This tabletop phone was designed primarily for airline lounges and hotels.

The latest advance in pay phone technology is the AT&T Public Phone 2000. Introduced in the fall of 1991, the Public Phone 2000 has a built-in keyboard, a data port and a nine-inch color monitor. Besides offering all the traditional voice services, it enables travelers to use an array of services never before available from a pay phone. Public Phone 2000 users can access electronic mail and online databases, connect a portable fax machine or computer, obtain language translation services, speed-dial travel assistance services and even get weather forecasts."

Copyright © 1997 AT&T. All rights reserved.

Links:

Pay Phone Directory

PayPhone Project
 

Miscellaneous:

Man Separated from Payphone at Hospital

On November 17, 2003 in East St. Louis, Illinois, a guy named Fleming was trying to call his wife from a payphone but the line was busy. As we all know, the payphone is suppose to return your coins if the line is busy or nobody answers the phone at the other end. Well, this guy got his middle finger stuck in the coin return while trying to retrieve his refunded money. Two people that happened to pass by tried to help him free his finger from the payphone but failed. Fleming then used his other hand to dial 911 for help.

According to the Associated Press news story of November 18, 2003, the emergency crews were unable to free him from the phone so they proceeded to cut the payphone off at the base and hauled the payphone, with Fleming still attached to the payphone, to the hospital.

It took three hours at the hospital before they were able to separate Fleming from the payphone. The manager of the ambulance company said he has seen some weird things in his 30 years of working emergencies but never before had he seen a person stuck in a payphone.

I wonder if he got his fifty cents back from that payphone after they got his finger out of the coin return?


Famous people seen with payphones:


A Western Electric 3-slotter pay phone (on wall between restroom doors)
was used in Al's Diner on the TV show "Happy Days"


The 1950's look: A teenage girl standing next to a
Western Electric pay telephone in the "Happy Days" TV show!


Guess who this famous person is?  Hint:  "It's A Wonderful Life".


Could these guys be the Beatles in those phone booths?
 


And just some ordinary people with payphones:


Modern day girl on modern payphone using calling card instead of coins.


April 2002 - Payphone at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park near where I live.

A close-up front view of this payphone can be viewed by clicking HERE.
Note BellSouth logo on left side of booth partition and on vault door.
Booth is painted "forest green" to make it blend in with the natural environment of the park.
The phone number of this payphone is 770-428-9258 in the USA.
 

One year later, April 2003 UPDATE!!

Well, as expected, BellSouth is serious about getting out of the payphone business. I went back to this location April of 2003 and the phone was gone!
See updated photo below:

To view the inside of this now empty and lonely phone booth showing the mounting plate where the phone use to be attached, click HERE.  Click HERE to see another photo of this empty phone booth at full size. This is a sad situation indeed.  A piece of telephone history will soon be no more than a memory and millions of dollars worth of pay phones and phone booths will be sold for scrap!



These phone booths are located at the BP gasoline station at the intersection of Cobb Parkway (Hwy. 41) and Bells Ferry Road in Marietta, Georgia, USA which is in BellSouth's service area. However, the phone itself has a  Cincinnati Bell identification card  but the phone book's protective cover (seen hanging down from the phone booth in photo above) says BellSouth and there is no company name or logo on the top part of the phone booth where you would normally find some sort of logo and name.  There is no telling what phone company this unidentified girl was using when she placed her call.


Just a few steps away from the phone booths at the BP station shown above is a real BellSouth phone booth at the McDonald's restaurant.  It is in need of repair at seen in the photo below but it is interesting that McDonald's has their name and logo on the sides of the booth.

Clicking on the sign on the top of the pole, or the middle of the booth, or the
top of the booth in the photo above will enlarge those areas for better viewing.


Photo taken by and sent to by anonymous donor.

The following photos were sent by a retired manager from Verizon named Tim Coe.  His last assignment (which lasted 10 years) was in the Public Telephone Installation Maintenance Center (essentially the payphone service center.) His responsibilities were Results/Analysis of of service related indices along with oversight responsibility of outside contractors who installed booths/enclosures.

A bank of 35A units in Suburban Station in downtown Philadelphia PA.
Click on images above to view full-size

"Bell System" Phone Booths spotted
at Yellowstone National Park!


View outside the "General Store"

Photo #1 of Phone Booths

Photo #2 of Phone Booths

Close-up photo of Bell System
logo on lighted sign of phone booth

Click on images above to view full-size

"Over the July 4 [2003] holiday, I visited Yellowstone National Park. At Historic Fort Yellowstone outside the general store, there are 3 booths with US West signs on the front but vintage signs on the back." - Contributor of these photos asked to remain anonymous.

You'll find lots of payphone photos from around the world at:
http://www.payphone-project.com/payphones/photos/

t h e   p a y p h o n e   p r o j e c t
This compilation copyright 1995-2002, Mark Thomas. All rights reserved worldwide.



Source unknown

Payphone instruction and information display cards

No payphone is complete without those cards that go in the framed "windows" on the front and (in the case of the old 3-slot phones) the top.  You can buy them or make some yourself from high-quality scans of original cards.

We have scanned some of the original cards we have and posted them on this website for anyone that wishes to make their own cards for their payphone collection.  Just download the following high resolution image files by selecting the thumbnail image then import the images into a word processor program like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org so you can print them easily:

Although Centel is NOT a former Bell System operating company, this is the size card that fits in the chrome-plated frame that mounts on the front of a Western Electric model 233G and similar 3-slot payphones just below the dial.

This is the card that goes in the chrome-plated frame that mounts on top of a Western Electric model 233G and similar 3-slot payphones.
This is the card that goes in the window under the coin slot (above the handset hook) on modern single-slot Western Electric / AT&T payphones. [Version #1]
This is the card that goes in the window under the coin slot (above the handset hook) on modern single-slot Western Electric / AT&T payphones. [Version #2]
This is the card that goes in the window under the touch-tone or rotary dial (above the coin box and coin return) on modern single-slot Western Electric / AT&T payphones.

Here are some Bell System Practices sections on old phone booths -  courtesy of Sam Etler:

Gray Manufacturing Company Stock Certificate - (Nice scan by Paul Rauth who bought the original certificate.) Has Gray pay station image on it.

 

Contact Beatrice  Careers  About Us  Site Map  Disclaimer  Legal Policy  Privacy Policy

Copyright ©MDCCCXCIV-MMXIII Beatrice Companies, Inc., All rights reserved.

Porticus Home Page