TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Telephone History Enquiry: Earliest Pre-Pay Calls

Re: Telephone History Enquiry: Earliest Pre-Pay Calls
10 Nov 2005 13:43:25 -0800

John R. Covert wrote:

> Telephone History Buffs:

> I'm looking for information on early pre-pay systems that did not
> require special telephones. To be relevant to my search, the pre-pay
> system would need to:

> 1. Have been implemented before 1987.
> 2. Have documentation that we could find today.
> 3. Not require special telephone stations.

Are you talking about long distance, local service, or both?

I am not aware of any such services offered to the general market. It
is possible some sub-contractors might have offered such a service to
a limited population, such as boarding house residents or college
students in a dorm, where a private PBX operator manually tracked
calls and verified deposit balances.

It is possible the phone company offered such services on a trial or
limited basis in a few locations.

Deposit accounts of various sorts were common in institutions.
Students would get meal cards which would get punched for each meal
eaten until the card was punched down. Such prepaid accounts would be
used in other situations such as laundry or for transient populations
where the risk of default was high. Transit fare tokens are a form of
a deposit account -- you buy the tokens in advance and use them as you
go. There were once tokens for laundries, cafeterias, etc.

Today mag cards and computers have replaced cardboard and tokens.
Toll bridges have deposit accounts and cars use transponders ("EZ

It was common for the telephone company to require an up front deposit
for someone to get telephone service if they never had it before or
had bad credit. If you paid your bill on time for a while the deposit
would be refunded.* They said long distance charges would be monitored
and suspended if I exceeded my deposit balance. I was making many
calls but never heard from them.

I do wonder how closely Bell monitored toll usage against deposit
balances. I've heard they got burned by people running up big bills
and not paying them, despite having a deposit. The PUCs tend to favor
the poor guy over the big corporation.

*(I recall getting a handsome refund check still using the old style
Bell logo and Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania spelled out in
fancy type even though they had the modern logo and went by Bell of

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