Telephones of the 1900s


Alexander Graham Bell changed the world in 1876 with the immortal words "Come here, Mr. Watson, I want to see you." Those were the first words ever spoken on the telephone. Before long the invention would cover much of the globe, connecting people across thousands of miles. Over the next 130 years, amazing advances would be made to Mr. Bell's creation.

Candlestick Desk Phone

  • The candlestick desk phone was innovative at the turn of the 20th century. Phones in the late 1800s were all wall mounted. The candlestick design consisted of a horn-shaped earpiece receiver on a cord from which people heard the caller and a base shaped like a tall tapered candlestick with a horn-shaped transmitter on top that people spoke into. On the side was a metal hook that held the receiver. Pressing the hook down contacted the operator, who dialed the caller's desired number for him.

Rotary Dial

  • The rotary dial was added to phones in the 1920s, but were not commonly found in many households until the '30s. Desktop phones now had a square base with a handset that had the receiver at the top and the transmitter at the bottom. The rotary dial was round, with a hole over each number. The caller placed his finger in each corresponding hole and dialed it in a circle to enter each digit of the phone number. Many towns at this time had party lines, meaning several houses in an area would share one phone line.

Push Button

  • The late 1950s and early '60s saw the innovation of push-button, or touch-tone technology. Many consumers bought push-button phones during the late '60s and '70s. Each number had its own square on a keypad, the layout of which is still the same today. A caller simply pushed each digit to dial. The trimline was also introduced, which was a smaller, lighter phone with a base shaped like the oblong handset. The dial on the trimline was in the handset, allowing for freedom of movement with a long enough cord.


  • True freedom of movement came in the 1990s, when household telephones advanced beyond the cord. Early cordless phones had large, bulky handsets with tall antennae. The handset contained a battery and charged when it rested on the cradle. Other innovations accompanied the cordless phone at the end of the 20th century, such as caller ID, enabling the caller to see the number dialing in, and call waiting, which helped eliminate the busy signal. By the end of the 1990s, many people were purchasing the phones that would usher people into the new century--cellular phones.

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