Telephone — there’s a word you don’t hear any more. That little “piece-o-toast” looking device that you carry around with you everywhere you go is now called a “phone.” If you want to know something, look on your phone, which, as you probably know, is much more than a telephone. Some of you who are reading this don’t yet have a “smart phone,” that piece-of-toast I was referring to earlier. If you don’t, you probably have a “flip phone” and you probably only use it to make voice telephone calls, or perhaps you don’t have an electronic leash at all. If so, good for you. They really are not necessary to live a quiet, peaceful and happy life.
So where did the phone come from. Most of us know, but I doubt if you have given it much thought lately. In my family our first phone was in my great-grandfather’s house. We still have it in the family. It was a very small wooden box with a mouthpiece on the front and a bell-shaped receiver on the end of a cord, which hung on a little cradle on the side. It was only about half the size of a shoebox, unlike the big walnut box you see in the Cracker Barrel restaurants today. As I mentioned in an earlier article a while back, he only had the service connected during cotton season so he could keep up with the market.
With all that said, my first memories of the telephone was that black device that sat on a little table in the hall of the house. It had something that we called a receiver on it that sat on a cradle with two little buttons on each side. You “picked up” to answer and you “hung up” to end the call. Hanging up came from the older phones like my great-grandfather’s.
Our phone had something you called a dial on it. Everybody has seen one but if you were asked to describe one, could you do it? Don’t look. Think about it. Can you describe this round feature in detail? I remembered most of it but I had a little trouble remembering everything. It has a little metal stop for your finger. That‘s down at about four o’clock comparing it to a clock face. Straight up was usually between the numbers three and four.
So how many finger holes did it have? There were ten. One through nine and the zero. What was also significant about the finger holes? There were letters. Each finger hole had a number but only the two through nine had letters. The one did not have any letters. The zero had the word operator if there was anything at all printed there. Our phone number was 797-xxxx. This was actually Sunset 7-xxxx. Sue’s (my wife) number in Ila was State 9-xxxx, a number that is burned into my brain since we courted from the ninth grade until we got married.
So back then, after the phone systems became automated, you had a dial. Before that you had to pick up the little ear piece off the hook and talk to Sara (Andy Griffith) the operator to make a call. She ran a switchboard, which was nothing but phone jacks with wires where she connected caller A to caller B. If you are a youngster and this is foreign to you, it is exactly like the cords from an electric guitar to an amplifier today. That would probably be familiar to you.
How did this dial work if there were no electronics back then (1950s)? It was all little switches behind that dial. Every number had a contact and if you dialed three, which meant putting your finger in three and turning it clockwise to the stop and then letting go. As it returned, the spring loaded dial sent three electric signals down the line to the equipment at the telephone company. Same for all numbers. What you were doing, probably without thinking about it, was entering code into a primitive electrical computer, giving it instructions on what to do.
These things were around for a lot of years and most folks today know about them. They have also been obsolete for a lot of years. Not too many of us ever stopped to think about how these things worked. When I think about it today, it makes me smile. If you are of the younger, push-button generation, ask someone who’s a good bit older than you about the “party line.” It will be an interesting conversation.
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