TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Classic Six-Button Keysets - Cost During 1970s?

Re: Classic Six-Button Keysets - Cost During 1970s?
15 Aug 2005 11:06:12 -0700

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I have seen a few very elaborate and
> very complex (regards wiring) six-buton sets. One of the strangest I
> ever saw had six buttons (five lines plus hold) but the 'lines' were
> very special purpose: from left to right, the hold button (red
> plastic) was followed by 'intercom' for an open-loop arrangement (just
> battery to provide talking voltage on to a similar set in a place
> called 'radio station booth' and also 'box office' and 'stage left'
> [anyone using one of the instruments at 'radio booth' or 'box office'
> or 'stage left' could talk to or be heard by persons at the the other
> instruments by going off hook]) the fourth button (or third 'line')
> was 'extension 263' from the building PBX. ...

Such arrangements were actually quite common. The common talk circuit
light would go on if anyone was on it. Either other keyset buttons
could be used to sound a particular buzzer or there was a little plate
next to the phone with tiny buttons on it.

We don't see it nowadays, but in old movies you'd often see a boss
press a buzzer and a secretary or aide would come inside. You could
use a key telephone buzzer for that arrangement, though you could of
course wire one up yourself. I once inherited a desk that had a
forest of disconnected push buttons underneath it.

Other intercom arrangements were dial. I think they may have had some
large ones needing two digits. Obviously there are a variety
tradeoffs between using a key system which requires lots of cabling to
each station set but no attendant vs. a PBX which requires an
attendant and a switchboard. I've seen very small outfits have a
switchboard and larger outfits with a key system, with every phone in
a sprawling facility having the line buttons. I guess it depends on
traffic, both internal and external. My uncle worked in a
modest-sized factory served by a key system. A frequent use on that
was the loudspeaker (intercom 6--"Joe pick up line 3"). I don't think
the shop floors used the phones that much.

Occassionally you'd see key systems with various colored buttons, such
as blue or deep-yellow in addition to the red hold button.

> They told me they had to pay Illinois Bell seventy five cents per
> month for the intercom loop, which I presume was to maintain the
> power supply and the wiring of same. They paid a dollar per month
> for the rental of the operator-style headset and about the same
> amount for the beehive lamp. PAT]

I was thinking that's pretty reasonable until I realized that was in
1960 dollars. Still, it's not really that bad in that it's all
maintained for you as part of the telephone. To go out and buy your
own parts and build your own system would be costly in terms of time
and materials. For the person wearing the headset it's a big
convenience to answer/use the telephone or intercom quickly and
simply. I don't know if power supplies were solid state back then but
any needed maintenance was handled by the phone co.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: But the most ancient arrangement I ever
saw was a phone with the six buttons in a separate box next to it.
This one was in the clock tower at Holy Family Catholic Church on West
Roosevelt Road in Chicago, back in 1972 or so. A relatively ancient
wall phone (with a side ringer, yet) and the feed to it coming from a
somewhat newer but still ancient side box with six round buttons on it. I
was employed with someone else to get the tower clock started once
again (it had been inactive for many years at that point). Taking the
cover off the side ringer caused much dust and cobwebs to fall out,
and a typewritten note inside the side ringer dated 1929 said 'this
phone comes from the terminal box in the basement of the rectory on
Hoyne Street (about 100 feet away I guess). And the side box with the
line buttons had a note dated 1946 which said the pairs went to
the inside terminal box in the basement of the rectory also where they
appeared on 'strip 2 row 3'.

I recall the actual clock (the four faces of it on each side of the
tower was on the ninth floor (walking up the inside stairway) and the
bells were below it on the 8th floor, the stairs and floor at that
point full of pigeon 'stuff' and the bells had a note on them saying
the construction of the clock and bells came from a company in
'Southwick England' ; I think it was the Southwick Clock and Bell
Company. A notice on the bells said they had been installed in 1905,
and that 'for proper care of the bells, the sexton must rotate the
clapper one-quarter turn every _75 years_ '. Since this was in the
1970's, I guess it was about time to rotate the clapper which we did.
I could find out no information about Southwick Clock and Bell
Company; they were many years out of business. But some detective
work got me to the 'General Time Company' offices in Chicago where the
people there told me they had inherited all of Southwick's business
and maintainence files many years before that. We _thought_ we had
the bell chimes working once again but then they got stuck and would
not quit chiming the hour over and over and over and over, about a
hundred times while we climbed back up there and turned it off
manually. But we got the clock mechanism working again for what it was
worth. The clock motor (where the telephone was located) was in the
now long since abandoned sexton's office in the tower on the fifth
floor; the motor had a very long shaft on it going up through the
ceilings, etc with a universal connector to turn the hands on the
four sides of the clock three or four stories further up. PAT]

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