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 AT&T Trimline phone 25 years old*

 

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"Mirrophone" wire ribbon recorder/player
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Editor's note: Products mentioned in this release are not available from AT&T and some may have been discontinued. See note below for service and sales information.

*Webmaster's note: This article was published by AT&T in 1989 thus the title is no longer accurate by stating "25 years old".


PARSIPPANY, N.J. – 1964. Styles were changing – fast. The Beatles brought us long hair. Twiggy turned our heads with short, short skirts. And AT&T gave us a sleek new telephone.

Twenty-five years ago this month, the Trimline* telephone made its appearance. It was a curvy, contoured set with a twist – the dial, located in the handset, now "came to you." It paved the way for today's cordless telephone.

While long hair, mini skirts and other styles come and go, the Trimline is now the most popular phone in America.

"We estimate that more than 75 million sets have been bought or leased by customers since its introduction 25 years ago," said Rich Tilden, AT&T's consumer telephone product manager. "The Trimline still is appealing for the same reasons it proved so successful in 1964 – style, convenience and quality."

Today, the Trimline is considered an American classic, but 25 years ago it was dramatically different than any other telephone. Developed with the help of the noted industrial design firm Henry Dreyfuss Associates, just one year after its introduction it was selected by The Museum of Modern Art in New York City for its permanent design collection.

In its May 1977 issue, Fortune magazine named the Trimline one of the country's 25 best-designed products. Three years ago, the Trimline was selected for the "Designed in America" exhibit produced by the U.S. Information Agency.

The introduction of the Trimline took an exhaustive amount of research – more than a decade's worth of work – on the part of AT&T. Scientists at the company's Bell Laboratories had to not only perfect the inner workings of the new phone, they also had to make it easy to handle, light to hold and good looking.

That was no easy task. In fact, the evolution of the Trimline is a little like the tale of the ugly duckling.

The Trimline telephone is based on a homely looking handset with a built-in dial that was developed in 1939 to help AT&T craftsmen test telephone lines. The development of a dial-in-handset for the public began with an experimental model constructed at Bell Labs in 1952.

Subsequent models included one – known as the Demitasse – that had a small dial around the transmitter, or mouthpiece. A version known affectionately as the Schmoo had a bulge in the middle of the handset in order to accommodate a full-sized dial.

Each early version of the new telephone was thoroughly tested for customer acceptance. The Demitasse, for example, was put through its paces with customers in Brooklyn, N.Y.; San Leandro, Calif.; and Columbus, Ohio. The public liked the concept but not the style.

The Schmoo, on the other hand, had a more attractive silhouette but was just too hard to handle, in the opinion of customers in a New Brunswick, N.J., test group.

According to John Karlin, who headed up the Human Factors Research Department in Bell Labs at the time, "The rotary dial made the telephone bulge out too much in the middle. People just couldn't hold on to it comfortably at all."

AT&T tried various ways to make the dial smaller, including a dial with spokes in the rim instead of holes. That idea was rejected quickly; fingers kept slipping off the spokes. Making the holes smaller made it difficult for many people to dial.

The breakthrough came, Karlin said, when a Bell Labs mechanical design engineer developed a moveable fingerstop that slid subtly past the zero whenever a number was dialed, thus eliminating the space between the "1" and the "0."

"It was an example of the innovation Bell Labs is famous for," said Karlin, who is retired now. No one previously had questioned the space between the "1" and the fingerstop. "Many great inventions are the result of people questioning why things are the way they are," he said.

The new "floating" fingerstop worked well, but AT&T wondered whether it would meet customer approval. As it turned out, most users took the change in stride, and a good many weren't even aware that the fingerstop moved at all.

Taking advantage of the smaller dial and other innovations such as printed circuits and miniaturization, the transmitter and receiver became smaller, as did the ringer, which now fit snugly into the telephone's trim base.

In the summer of 1964, AT&T began manufacturing the Trimline in an Indianapolis plant, and the first new phones were offered to customers in Michigan just a few months later.

As the Trimline celebrates its silver anniversary, AT&T researchers and developers continue to use the latest technology to ensure that the Trimline is highly efficient as well as cost effective to use and produce. Most of these changes are transparent to users, but important nevertheless.

The success of the Trimline is based in large part on the human factors research that went into perfecting a phone that would please the public at large.

"When designing the Trimline, or any phone for that matter," says Karlin, "we have to think of more than just the human ear. We have to take into account people's wants, needs, comfort levels and even their likeliness to make mistakes when dialing.

"Human factors research helped us make the Trimline phone the pride of our industry."


* Trimline is a registered trademark of Lucent Technologies, Inc.


Note: AT&T no longer makes or sells telephones, typewriters or telecommunications equipment. In 1996, AT&T spun off its equipment units into a separate company, Lucent Technologies Inc. The Bell Labs and Consumer Products groups that made or sold these devices are now part of Lucent Technologies, which still sells and services AT&T-branded equipment. For information about Lucent's products,

Call 1-800-222-3111 or visit Lucent's Consumer Products page http://www.lucent.com/consumer/
Call Lucent at 1-888-4-LUCENT (1-888-458-2368)
or visit Lucent's website http://www.lucent.com/

 

Updated Notice: Advanced American Telephones is the current owner of the Trimline®.

Go to http://telephones.att.com/products/product_detail/200 to order a Trimline®.  AT&T and the AT&T logo are trademarks of AT&T Intellectual Property licensed to Advanced American Telephones.

 

 

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