TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: What's This Telephone Related Item?

Re: What's This Telephone Related Item?
22 Aug 2006 13:35:27 -0700

TELECOM Digest Editor noted in response to writer:

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: The one of the two Woolworth stores
> in downtown Chicago had Gray Pay Station Company phones and phone
> booths until sometime in the 1960's (although long since taken over
> by Illinois Bell, via the Chicago Telephone Company), and they were
> the two-piece instruments with a piece you held up to your ear
> (brown cloth, not metal and not armored cord) in one hand while you
> leaned forward to speak into the microphone mouthpiece. I think
> maybe those were removed by 1960;

Many two-piece phones remained in service in the 1950s, especially in
coin service. Old B&W TV shows made in the 1950s showed them in
regular use. I'm told, however, that the transmitter and receiver
elements were actually modern "F" units, not the original types. The
sound quality was noticeably better on F units. Someone says the
voltage changed as well from early systems. Note too that the 202
type "French Telephone" were replaced with F handsets instead of the E
model for the same reason.

Pay phones with the mounted transmitter were simpler since sound
induction to that transmitter carried the coin drop bell sounds. The
later models required a separate tiny microphone near the bells to
transmit the signal.

"F" units were from the 302 series telephone sets. "G" units were
from the 500 sets. I don't know about H, I, or J, but K units were
used in modern sets where the handset ends are somewhat squared off
instead of circular, including late Western Electric units. K and G
are not compatible.

> Do you remember when nearby the phone booths there would always be a
> table with phone directories mounted on it, and a seat with a small
> reading lamp where you could sit to locate the number you were trying
> to call? And of course the phone booths themselves were made out of
> rather elegant wood with a nice brown-stained finish; they all had
> the little domed ceiling lights, the 'accordion doors with glass in
> the front which would slide open or closed (turning on the overhead
> light and the little ceiling fan inside, and the sign on the front of
> each one announcing 'Public Telephone'.

And you could turn the vent fan on or off to suit your needs. They
almost always had a phone book nearby; large banks had a block of
directories. Sadly, most of those old booths are gone, replaced by
nothing or wall mounted phones.

A very busy place, like a main train station, had a telephone service
center with an attendant and switchboard to assist you in person.

Some newer 1960ish buildings had modern sit down booths made of
circular glass or other designs, newer 1970ish buildings just had wall
mounted phones in an enclosure. It varied; even in the old days some
phones were simply mounted without any enclosure.

Some years ago I visited a former employer and the lobby of the
building once held a bank of such phone booths--the chair, table, fan,
door, etc. I needed to use a pay phone but the bank was completely
gone. The lobby had no pay phone at all! I was directed to another
building across the street where I found a wall mounted phone (no
enclosure at all) in a narrow back hall. There was another phone and
some loud talker was on it. His voice echoed badly throughout the
narrow hall and I couldn't hear a thing on my call.

What angered me was that phone booths were supplied for a reason! It
was to give the caller some privacy and ability to hear (esp in the
days when telephones weren't so good.

Sadly, even in the 1960s vandalism and sleaze took its toll and new
installations tended to be free standing or acoustical surrounding
only, not a full booth. Some places had a row of pay phones without
any separation whatsoever which was absurb for acoustics.

Some train stations have phones subsidized by the carrier so as to
provide a 911 emergency service. This is probably cheaper than
providing merely an emergency call box, at least the pay phone might
generate some revenue to cover its cost even nowadays.

> When my uncle had his Walgreen Agency Drug Store in Whiting in the
> middle 1950's the store payphone near the front door was similar to
> those, but the booth had a Genuine Bell style phone in it rather than
> a Gray Pay Station instrument.

The Bell 3-slot phone was based on the Gray design and Gray built a
great many for Bell under Bell specs.

At the rate things are going pay phones will be gone eventually. One
factor is everyone having a cell phone. Another factor is that local
calls are cheap people will let you use their business lines; years
ago that'd be too costly. Years ago employees were forbidden from
using employer lines for personal calls, an edict strictly enforced.
In those days large workplaces often had payphones on every floor as
well as banks in the lobby. Today the lobbies of fancy businesses
have house phones offering free local calls.

Of course the telcos by charging exhorbitant rates for pay phone toll
calls pushed away a lot of this business. A payphone won't take a
real long distance coin call but charge a huge amount $25.00 on a
credit card. An regional toll call, which they still carry, runs a
dollar or more for a 10 mile call for 1 minute. (Some Bell payphones
in Pennsylvania Station NYC offer within-state per minute calls).

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