Phones Then and Now

Phones Then and Now

Today phones do everything but the dishes. Seventy years ago in the 1950s life wasn’t ruled by the thing you held in your hand everywhere you went.

Each house had only one phone. It was usually installed on the wall with a very short cord. It was black with no dial mechanism. When you wanted to make a call, you picked up the phone and waited for an operator at the Southwestern Bell office in town to ask you, “Number, please.”

You told her the number and she plugged in your call on her switchboard and punched the ring button. Many families shared the same line. On country lines, as many as five families shared one line. You knew the call was for your family by the ring pattern. It might be something like three longs and one short. Of course, everyone on the line heard your ring and could pick up the receiver and listen to your call. You knew someone picked up their receiver to listen when you heard a little click.

Our number was 1988-J. We shared the line with my aunt and uncle downstairs. Their number was 1988-W. People could have a private line, but it cost more. Even if you had a private line, the phone operator could still listen to your conversation.

Hmmm. With all the recent news about the loss of privacy, maybe things haven’t changed that much after all!

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