Phones with dialing in the handset are extremely popular today, with thousands of different cordless, corded, and cellular models. The design makes a lot of sense, and started with telephone repairmen's "buttsets" in the 1930s.
The first popular residential phone with dialing in the handset is the Trimline, which was first offered by the Bell System in 1964, and is still made today.
It was a curvy, comfortable, contoured set with a twist – the dial, located in the handset, now "came to you." It was perfect for making calls while in bed, or while sitting in the kitchen, or locations with limited space.
Today, the Trimline is considered an American classic, but in 1964 it was dramatically different than any other telephone.
Developed with the help of the noted industrial design firm Henry Dreyfuss Associates, it was selected by The Museum of Modern Art in New York City for its
permanent design collection. just one year after its introduction.
In 1977, Fortune magazine named the Trimline one of the country's 25 best-designed products. It was also selected for the
"Designed in America" exhibit produced by the U.S. Information Agency.
The introduction of the Trimline took an
exhaustive amount of research – more than a decade's worth of work – on the part
of AT&T. Scientists at the company's Bell Laboratories had to not only perfect
the inner workings of the new phone, they also had to make it easy to handle,
light to hold and good looking.
That was no easy task. In fact, the evolution
of the Trimline is a little like the tale of the ugly duckling.
The Trimline telephone is based on a homely
looking handset with a built-in dial that was developed in 1939 to help AT&T
craftsmen test telephone lines. The development of a dial-in-handset for the
public began with an experimental model constructed at Bell Labs in 1952.
Subsequent models included one – known as the
Demitasse – that had a small dial around the mouthpiece. A version known
affectionately as the Schmoo had a bulge in the middle of the handset in order
to accommodate a full-sized dial.
Each early version of the new telephone was
thoroughly tested for customer acceptance. The Demitasse, for example, was put
through its paces with customers in Brooklyn, N.Y.; San Leandro, Calif.; and
Columbus, Ohio. The public liked the concept but not the style.
The Schmoo, on the other hand, had a more
attractive silhouette but was just too hard to handle, in the opinion of
customers in a New Brunswick, N.J., test group. The rotary dial made the
telephone bulge out too much in the middle. People just couldn't hold on to it
AT&T tried various ways to make the dial
smaller, including a dial with spokes in the rim instead of holes. That idea was
rejected quickly; fingers kept slipping off the spokes. Making the holes smaller
made it difficult for many people to dial.
The breakthrough came when a Bell Labs
engineer developed a moveable fingerstop that slid subtly past the zero whenever
a number was dialed, thus eliminating the space between the "1" and the "0." No
one previously had questioned the space between the "1" and the fingerstop. Many
great inventions are the result of people questioning why things are the way
The new "floating" fingerstop worked well,
but AT&T wondered whether it would meet customer approval. As it turned out,
most users took the change in stride, and a good many weren't even aware that
the fingerstop moved at all.
Taking advantage of the smaller dial and
other innovations such as printed circuits and miniaturization, the transmitter
and receiver became smaller, as did the ringer, which now fit snugly into the
telephone's trim base.
In the summer of 1964, AT&T began
manufacturing the Trimline in Indianapolis, and the first new phones were
offered to customers in Michigan in 1965.
The success of the Trimline is based in large
part on the human factors research that went into perfecting a phone that would
please the public at large.
The first Trimline models used incandescent
dial lights powered by a power transformer plugged into a standard 120VAC
outlet. The bulky transformer and the need for an outlet was criticized by many consumers, and Western Electric subsequently
redesigned the Trimline to use a green LED backlit dial powered by current
from the phone line. AT&T later repainted and resold early-model
pre-divestiture Trimlines without a transformer as 'non-lighted' models.
The Trimline had a sleek, curved plastic
housing that took up little space compared to earlier phones. Unfortunately,
the glass-smooth and shallowly-curved plastic proved difficult to retain
between cheek and shoulder for hands-free communication without slipping, and
this problem was never corrected over the life of the phone.
The Trimline was the first new AT&T/Western
Electric phone made in both rotary dial and Touch-Tone versions from the start
The Trimline was the first American phone
to achieve some design recognition in Europe, where it was referred to as the
Today, similarly designed models are sold
by many companies. AT&T retained the Trimline name for the later 'Trimline
III', a more compact successor featuring squared corners and straight lines.
Early Touch -Tone Trimlines had round
buttons and clear plastic backplates surrounding the buttons. Later versions
had square-ish buttons.
The first Touch-tone phones had ten
buttons. Twelve-button phones, with pound and star, came later.
The original handset cords were round, with
five conductors and large plugs held in place with stainless-steel clips. This
cord design was also used in 851-series "cuckoo clock" multi-line wall phone.
Later phones used standard modular cords.
Handsets, bases and cords were packed
separately in telephone trucks, so an installer could assemble Touch-Tone or
rotary, desk or wall models, with less inventory than would be required if
complete phones were carried.
Specialized phone models using the Trimline
handset include elevator phones, multi-line phones, blackboard and bulletin
board phones, chest phones and hospital bedside phones with hands-free
Original Trimline is introduced in both rotary and Touch-Tone versions. First
Touch-Tone phones lack pound and star buttons.
The clear plastic button backplate with colored paper backing matching the color
of the phone is replaced with an aluminum backplate on the round button
Touch-Tone phones. Also at this time, the round handset cords using proprietary
connectors are replaced with modern flat modular cords and jacks. On all
Trimline phones, the screw cover above the dial changes from reading "Bell
System made by Western Electric" to just "Trimline" with a bell logo to the left
of the text.
A green LED light powered by the phone line replaces the incandescent lamp. The
Touch-Tone version now sports slightly larger, square keys, as opposed to the
earlier small round keys, and now has an aluminum faceplate behind the keys.
AT&T begins selling phones, including the Trimline, to the public (as
opposed to their previous rental-only policy) through its newly created American
AT&T is divested of its regional operating companies and is prohibited from
using the Bell name or logo, so the American Bell brand is dropped and replaced
with simply AT&T. All telephone production continues as normal. The Touch-tone
Trimline phone is heavily modified with the following new features: electronic
chirp ringer in the handset, replacing the previous mechanical bell ringer. keys
are now made of a soft rubber material, line switch (switch hook) eliminated
from base, moved to top of phone just below the receiver, handset screw cover no
longer says "Trimline"; made smaller in the middle to conform to new switch hook
location; only one cord is required for the telephone connection -- a
part-coiled, part-straight design that passes through a groove on the bottom of
the phone base, which now has no
purpose other than as a place to keep the handset .
The rotary Trimline is discontinued, and further modifications are made to
the touch-tone model: desk or wall convertible, eliminating separate desk and
wall models; Touch-Tone/dial pulse switch, eliminating separate Touch-Tone and
rotary models; redial and mute functions; single cord to connect telephone is
eliminated, base-to-handset and base-to-jack cords reinstated
With the closing of the Western Electric Indianapolis Works, Trimline
production is moved overseas to Singapore and China. Modifications included:
receiver volume control; ringer loudness switch moved to base of the phone;
bottom of the base is now made of plastic, with a lead weight inside the base;
only one screw is used to hold the handset together; location of screw and screw
cover is moved to below the Touch-Tone pad; 2220 Trimline is dropped as a model
number, replaced by the 210, 220, and 230.
Trimline is updated with the following features: soft rubber keys are again
replaced with hard plastic keys, similar to the late 70s and early 80s models,
but the keys are even larger and rectangular rather than square; the faceplate
behind the keys, aluminum since the late 70s LED conversion is now a dark gray
plastic with a matte surface; production is moved to Mexico; Caller ID models,
the 250 & 260, are introduced under the Trimline brand. The design shares
nothing in common with the 210 model.
Lucent Technologies is spun off from AT&T, and minor modifications are made
to the Trimline : Phones are marked "Lucent Technologies", though this turned
out to be temporary, and the boxes and marketing materials were always
co-branded with AT&T; "Trimline" again marked above the Touch-Tone pad on the
matte surface; ringer loudness switch is moved back to the handset, but the
ringer remains inside the base
1997 Lucent enters a short-lived joint venture with Philips, creating
Philips Consumer Communications. More Trimline changes: handset screws are
eliminated completely. Handset is only held together by "snap" ends at both ends
of the phone, above the receiver and below the microphone; phones are again
branded AT&T (Lucent name is dropped); ringer moved into handset.
2000 Lucent sells its consumer division to Hong Kong company VTech, which
establishes Advanced American Telephones to market AT&T-branded phones. VTech
moves production from Mexico to China.
from Other Makers
The Trimline is design is ubiquitous, with
probably thousands of variations from hundreds of manufacturers, some licensed
by AT&T, some not.
"Trendline" was the ITT/Cortelco version.
It was initially identical to the Trimline, but has gone through many
modifications. It was originally made in Mississippi, and now comes from
"Slenderet" was the Stromberg-Carlson/Comdial
"Styleline" was the GTE version. Although
it had the same basic shape as the Trimline, it was bigger, clunkier, and
uglier, as was usual with GTE adaptations of AT&T designs. It used a really
weird cord connector. Strangely, GTE phone stores also offered the ITT
"Contempra" and Contemprette"
were dial-in-handset phones from Northern Telecom/Nortel, but were
wedge-shaped, not rounded like the Trimline.
Based on info from AT&T, Bell System
Memorial, Wikipedia, personal knowledge.