Historical Trivia

Phone Company Freebies

In the mid-1960s, and maybe earlier and later, some Bell System operating companies offered a few freebies in addition to telephone directories. Actually, the directories were considered to be "phone company property," so maybe these were the only freebies.

(1) If you got a wall phone, you were entitled to have a free bracket to temporarily hang the handset from, next to the phone. It was useful if you had to answer the door, tend to a screaming child or go to the john during a call. The same type of bracket was used on switchboards to store the operator's headset or handset when not in use.

(2) If you paid for a color phone, you were entitled to a free matching handset and shoulder rest. The handset had a rubber cushion and was designed to swivel so it could be used on your right or left shoulder. The shoulder rest had two prongs, like snake fangs, that fit into sockets on the handset. If you changed from one color to another, you were entitled to a new matching shoulder rest. If you terminated service, there was a good chance that the phone guy would not want your used shoulder rest, but he would take the handset.

Table phone or desk phone?

For many years the phones made by major North American manufacturers (other than GTE) were nearly identical, and usually followed AT&T's designs.

Strangely, the follow-the-leader game did not always apply to product descriptions.

This photo of phone boxes from the early 1980s shows that AT&T considered phones designed for use on horizontal surfaces to be "table phones," but the ITT (later Cortelco) and Comdial (previously Stromberg-Carlson) models were "desk phones."

Plain or fancy packaging?

These six Western Electric/Bell System phone cartons span about three decades.

In the 1960s and 70s, money was spent on multi-color printing and attractive graphics. Earlier and later, the packaging was simpler.

The latest carton didn't even have typesetting -- the product labeling was from a hand-printed image.

The oldest carton was held together with tape. Newer cartons were designed to fold together, and stay together with no tape.

New handset for 1932

(Left-click on image to enlarge)

Bell & ATT logos