Rotary phone baffles teens

If you’re of a certain age, you’re going to love this. Were rotary phones really that complicated? Am I really that old?

The first push-button phones were introduced in 1963 but did not become common in the US until the 1980s.

25 comments

  1. I don’t remember when we got our first touch-tone phone (we were poor, so we made do with what we had, which included a rotary phone), but I remember that old heavy phone with the dial in the corner of the kitchen when I was little. It always took a while to dial, so I was always thankful that we got along with the people on our party line and would only have to dial four numbers to get them.
    We’re not that old, really. Heck, we had rotary phones at least till the late ’80s. I think only one of my nephews might have managed to escape rotaries completely.

    1. At my house one of the phones was in a coat closet. Made a great phone booth for teens! We never had a party line (that I can remember), but there was a party line at my aunt’s farm in Missouri. As I recall you had to crank it to get the operator and tell her the number you wanted. Our rotary phones at home were all clunky black things. No color options then. I can’t help wondering what my 16-year-old grandson would do with a rotary phone …

  2. We still have a handsome red Western Electric dial phone on the wall in our “powder room”, just for decoration. It goes well with the old Coca Cola ad, enamel on steel. I’ve never asked our grandkids if they know how it worked, but I think I’ll try. (My first thought in reading this post was that it might be a spoof.)

  3. We had a party line that we shared with the house next door. If they were on the phone, we could pick up our line and listen in on them. And vice versa. I thought it was funny how these two kids kept picking up the handset and hanging it up like it was resetting it.

    1. I got a kick out of them picking up the handset too. Like, okay, cancel that and start over. And the one wondering what all the holes were for. I keep trying to iimagine what I’d have done if I’d never seen a rotary dial before. Actually, I guess that was the last time we actually “dialed” our phones. You don’t “dial” with push buttons or touch screens.

  4. I can recall turning the handle and then asking the operator to connect me to a number,

    Also learnt to operate the old switchboard with the plugs and cables those that came before the PABX

    Those two boys were not the sharpest knives in the block were they?

    Am I that much older than PT?

    1. I just don’t remember having a crank phone or a party line at my home. It was a novelty at my aunt’s place.

      My hat’s off to you if you knew how to manage all those switchboard plugs and cables. Looks pretty nightmarish in the pictures I’ve seen. Like so much spaghetti hanging out of a wall.

      I’m 75. As I recall, you’re about 10 years older?

      1. I learned to work one of those switchboards with all the plugs and cables in April 1950 at age 15. When I came to Aust in 51 the first company I had had one and I’d have fun filling in at lunchtime. The girrls thought it was a scream a young bloke / boy handling a board.

        1. They were actually quite simple and easy to use, more so than these new cell phone thingys. When I started work in an office on my 15th birthday I was taken around and introduced to everybody including the 2 switchboard operators. They thought I was a cheeky little sod, and when I had a break I asked them to show me how it worked, and they did.
          Took all of 5 minutes, I have no doubt I could still operate one,
          Some lunch times instead of going out for lunch they’d let me take over, I don’t suppose there were many Insurance companies in London in 1950 that had a 15 year old boy telephonist.
          Until I went to work I’d never used a telephone or held one in my life before

        2. Obviously crank phones were in use in Oklahoma City at some point. I just don’t remember anything in our home prior to the rotary dials. We had two lines, one for the kids and one for my dad who was an ob/gyn who needed an open line available at all times for those babies that decided to be born on weekends or in the middle of the night, emergencies, etc.

      2. By the way that crank telephone I mentioned was on a farm in a country town (Kyneton Victoria) around 1952 /53,

        The bush here was still pretty far behind then and some places still it is,

        I recall once getting stranded 12/1300 miles north of Perth in Western Australia 1968/69 and the place where I was, there was no phones,, only contact with civilization was 1 hour on a 2 way radio every afternoon.
        Over

        1. At least there was that hour a day. I always think about people in such remote areas having medical emergencies and being so far from help or even a way to call for help. It’s great to be young, strong, and self-sufficient, living off the grid, etc. … until there’s a serious accident. Glad you didn’t encounter any emergencies.

        2. It was an emergency, I’d hit and killed a kangaroo, ruined the front end of my Ford and the garage took more than 2 weeks to get the RIGHT parts sent up from Perth, Meanwhile I was sleeping in my vehicle showering in the roadside cafe and eating there, There was one bright spot perhaps I should blog it!

        3. It was just a dirt road then. Now it’s bitumen all the way, right up to Darwin in the Northern Territory I think.It was big enough to stove in the front end of my Falcon, The Kangaroos are the most stupid creatures when it comes to motor vehicles, They will just sit there and let the big trucks and road trains kill them, they’re to big to swerve; and they’ll just jump right out in front of a car and there’s no chance to miss them. The road kill for the ‘roo’s is horrendous.

        4. Similar problem in this country with deer. There’s a little thing you can install on your front bumper that makes a noise that is supposed to warn/scare deer away from the road as you approach. I don’t know how well it works, but I know several people who’ve hit deer. Not a fun experience.

  5. Whatever would they do with the phone I remember at my grandmother’s — a crank phone to make a combination of a set number of short and long rings on her party system.

  6. I still have my rotary phone pretty much similar to the one being used in the video. Also have a table-type push button that I still keep out on the table. My portable Motorola phones work off my land line but if I loose power, they go dead and if my cell phone battery goes dead also and will no longer work, I therefore keep the ‘push button’ phone out so I can get a hold of the power company or emergency services because it will continue to function over the land line, even though the power is out.

    1. I do exactly the same thing. I have an old pink Princess push button phone that I keep for the same reasons. If all else fails, I can dig it out of the drawer, plug it in to the phone jack, and call for help or whatever. No power or batteries necessary. It’s not hard to imagine a future where new homes won’t even be wired for land lines.

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