“You can’t leave home without it.”
Those words have been applied to more than one thing, I’m sure. In today’s world it often applies to the telephone, or more specifically, a cellphone. Nearly everyone of all ages seems to have one now.
The telephone has come a long way since Alexander Graham Bell uttered those first words over a telephone wire: “Mr. Watson. Come here. I want to talk to you.” He patented his new invention on March 7, 1876. Bell Telephone Company began in 1877.
Those first telephones were primitive compared to the ones in existence now. The telephone I remember from our home was one known as the Kellogg model. It was a wooden box hung on the wall with a mouthpiece that projected from the front. On the left was the receiver which was removed from the hook and held to the ear. On the right was the crank which one turned to summon the operator who would then connect your call via the central switchboard.
Other models of the telephone were the candlestick and the desk type. The candlestick is the one used in the Andy Griffith shows. It still had a mouthpiece and a receiver held to the ear. The desk type had the receiver and mouthpiece as a single unit. Hold it up to your ear and speak into the transmitter, a simple one-handed operation.
Telephone operators were a key part of the telephoning experience. Early on, when you picked up the receiver a signal was sent to the switchboard at the telephone office. The operator would say, “Number please.” You would give the number of the person you wished to speak to, and the proper cables would be aligned to connect your call.
Phone numbers were different back in the earlier days, too. I remember ours in Emmett was 459W. All the numbers in our town ended in “W” or “R.” When Emmett went to the dial system the prefix was EMpire 5. Here in the Blackfoot area it was MUrdock 4 and SUnset 5, later becoming the more familiar to us now of “684-” and “785-.”
If you’re old enough, you might remember party lines. No, that isn’t the line of people waiting to get a drink of punch. Most home phones were on a line with two, four, or eight households. Private lines were reserved for places like hospitals or doctor offices or for those who could afford more than a basic phone bill.
When I was a teenager in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, our house in Rockford was on an eight-party line. It was divided in such a way that the numbers ending in even numbers heard only those rings of other even numbers, and odd numbers the same way. Each household had a unique ring of longs and shorts. Our number ended in 5, so our ring was a long and a short. Seven of the parties on our line were in our immediate neighborhood.
But, for some unknown reason, Snake River High School, four miles away, was also on our line. That number ended in 3 and the ring was two longs. And forget trying to use the phone during the hours of about 3:35 when school let out to about 6:00 when all the activities were done. There was always a line of students waiting to call home for one reason or another.
Long distance calls were once considered quite a luxury. They were very expensive, charging by the minute with a 3-minute minimum. They were used in emergencies or to announce the birth of a new baby or some other momentous occasion. No one would dream of just calling to chat. If one couldn’t afford the call, they could call collect and hope the charge would be accepted. Placing a person-to-person call to yourself was a way to let the folks at home know you had arrived at your destination safely without having to pay for the call. I don’t know of a college student that didn’t use that one.
Phone booths could be located on many a corner. The charge was a dime and then went to a quarter. Insert the coin and you would get a dial tone and be able to make the call or talk to the operator. Phone booths have disappeared now. Maybe Superman has, too!
This little walk down memory lane may strike a chord with some of the readers. Others may wonder what I’m talking about. Who knew that we could go in a few short years from “Number, please” to having a phone/computer in our pockets that can do so much more than just make a call. Keep in touch!