Monday, March 1, 2010

Candlestick Phone

Today's picture comes from the 1910's and shows a man talking on an early candlestick phone. Interesting that a human operator had to connect each and every call. For calls over greater distances, some number of humans would have to patch the connection together. Later, phones got dials, and people were able to make some connections simply by dialing. When I was growing up, we had a "Party" line, which meant that a number of families along our road shared one line. Sometimes you would pick the phone up, and there would already be someone using the line. At other times, you would be talking on the phone, and then here a click . . . meaning someone on your line was listening in to the conversation. I think we were able to get a private line when I was in Jr. High school.


  1. I remember in the mid 1960's you were able to direct dial long distance call. My boss always worried that when you got a busy signal that he was still going to be charged for the direct dialed call, and wanted me to still use an operator to place the call for me. It took a long time to finally convince him that there would be no charge unless the call went through.

  2. Why does this man look like Rufus T. Firefly?

  3. Very interesting details! Thanx for sharing!

  4. I remember those "party lines"..
    You sure had to be careful what you said on them. I think some of those old biddies just sat on the phone all day long listening to every body else's conversations.
    But mostly people were pretty good about letting some one else have the line if they needed it.

  5. Yup. Party lines and the Internet, very similar. You never know who is "listening" to what you are saying.

    Back in the '60's, I got a Candlestick phone with a dial. Used it for quite some time. Can't remember if it was the need to use two hands to talk on the phone, a girlfriend complaining, or push-button dialing that finally made me give it up. Probably a combination thereof.

  6. This is a wonderfully crisp photograph. I've always thought those phones were cool, but then I never had to use one. Bet that metal earpiece was cold on a winter morning!

  7. Flatrus: At risk of being a nitpicker, I have to say the earpiece was made of Bakelite, an early plastic material. So maybe not as cold as you imagine.

  8. As I understand telephony, the technology we use today to place a call is based on the same system of pulses. I can recall seeing in a film a person picking up the phone and clicking the cradle a few times before saying "Operator." The clicking of the cradle sent pulses across the wire to get the operator's attention. With a rotary or push button phone, the button sends the signal of the pulses to get the attention of the receiving phone. I don't think I explained that very well.

  9. Hi, Guys:

    Sorry, I’ve been busy with my dad the past few days and haven’t had time to comment. But I’m really looking forward to “technology week!”

    First of all, I think the guy in this photo resembles Groucho Marx!!

    Secondly, my dad (who will be 95 in a couple of months) said that when he was young, his family in a 6-apartment tenement house where only ONE family could afford a phone, and they took calls for everyone else in the house!! Everyone went to their apartment to use the phone, and no-one minded.

    How things have changed!!

    PJM - will you be shipping fresh eggs to all of us “regulars” soon?

  10. Add me onto the list of folks who think this man looks like Groucho.

  11. I concur with Smartgirl and would like to join the list for PJM's Gentleman Farmer Eggs when the girls pick up the egg production.
    Do you think they will travel OK to Oz? Maybe extra cotton wool.
    We never had any phone growing up. I also think that I am the only one of my friends who could give up my phone now.
    I wouldn't want to give up the internet though as OPOD might be a bit slow with normal mail.

  12. When I was a kid growing up in Morocco, when we needed to call the States we'd dial the operator to request the call. Then after 2-3 hours, when the call was patched through and connected, the operator would call us back so we could talk.
    (By we I mean the adults, at a few dollars per minute.)

    Please add me to the egg list!

    And Mr. PJM, thank you for the time you put into this blog, and the pics are always great.

  13. I was on the road one time in the late 1950's, and had to make a phone call when I was in a little town.
    Not many public phones there. So I went to the phone company to make the call. There were 6 women sitting at banks of switch boards. There were wire all over the place. As I remember it each operator was able to connect 25 to 30 people at a time.
    There were 2 plugs with wires to make each connection. A light would come on the operator would put one of plugs into the hole below the light, talk to you then take the other plug and put it into another hole, thus completing a connection. She may have just hooked up to another operator etc. etc.
    It was fascinating.

  14. I remember those days as a very young boy, I would go to call my friends down the road and someone would be on, and I would quietly listen to them talk.

  15. Living in upstate ny in Amsterdam,we had a party line up until 1960 and finally technology took over. I remember not being able to stay on long before you'd here a click,someone has to get on the line.
    I believe there were 4 parties sharing our line at the time.
    Still hung onto that rotary dial until at least the early 70's.

  16. We had a party line until the early 80's. In the 60's there were six or seven people on the party line. (We all lived on the same rural road.) By the time it ended, there were just two of us but that other neighbor loved to eavesdrop. Once when I was 4 years old, the local Bank of America was on the party line for a short period. I kept trying to talk to the people on the line. ("Hey, what are you doing on our phone?") They asked my name, then called my mother who gave me a lesson about phone etiquette and listening for "our ring". That's my first memory of using a phone.

  17. Mr. PJM,
    In order to keep your blogger friends happy, you might need 10 more from my June order. :-) Hope you are feeling better....

  18. My mother-in-law lived on a farm in Oregon and I think there were at least 10 families using the line.
    On day, when she was talking with her 2 year old granddaughter, a neighbor burst in on the conversation saying she needed to call an ambulance and please clear the line!
    So the gramma kept saying "Hang up the phone, Carol!" which didn't work until she said, "Bye Bye Carol" .. "Bye By Gramma" and finally the line cleared.
    Oh boy, THEM were the days eh?