Grandma’s Telephone

As I waited in the Verizon store for an updated cell phone, I had time to ponder how far we’ve come over the years. Here I was getting a phone that I can carry with me everywhere and can reach anyone. It’s a smart phone and at times is too smart for me, so many of the features go unused.

The person ahead of me was adding his girlfriend on his phone account and selecting the latest cell phone. Together they would pay $200 a month for being accessible 24 hours a day. It made me think of the phone used by my grandparents many years ago.


Photo by Virginia Allain

It was the old style wooden box on the wall with a hand crank on the right side. You spoke into the center mouthpiece and held the black part (on the left) to your ear to hear. The handy little shelf could hold your phone book or serve as a place to keep paper and pencil for noting numbers and information.

You cranked the handle on the right to connect to the operator who had a switchboard to connect your call to distant places. The phone line was shared with neighbors, and you had to wait for them to finish their call before you could make yours.  When the phone rang, the number of rings indicated if the call was for you or for someone else on the line.

This old-fashioned system seems clunky but was a huge step forward from the previous system. In my grandparents’ childhood days, the early 1900s, you had to walk or ride your horse to the neighbors to give them a message or send a letter to reach more distant friends and family.  Telephones were available but not affordable for all households.

Where my mother grew up in the Flint Hills of Kansas in the 1920s and 1930s, not all areas had phone service early on. I know by the time World War II started, they had a phone as she mentions it in her story about her father’s accident. The story is called Why I Love Horses.

As for me, I remember the standard black phone of the 1950s and I can even remember our phone number from that time. It was DAvis1 – 5399, but you only had to dial on the rotary dial DA1-5399. Tell me about your memories of long-ago phones.


One thought on “Grandma’s Telephone

  1. I still remember our phone number from he 50’s, too. My aunt was a phone operator In a small rural community. I can remember going to visit her & marveling at her ability to connect people to one another.


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