Telephone History

500 phone history

By the late 1940s, research and development in electronics and in plastics had come far enough so that Western Electric (the manufacturing division of AT&T) felt it was time to replace the venerable old 302 that had been in production since 1936.

The Western Electric Model 500 telephone was the standard desk-style telephone set used by American Telephone & Telegraph (the Bell System) in North America from the late 1940s through the divestiture of AT&T in 1984. The last phone of this type was made by Cortelco (formerly ITT) in about 2005.

The model 500 went into production in 1949, and was initially available only in black, with a plastic housing and dial face, straight handset cord, and a bakelite handset. This finally changed in 1953, when four colors were introduced. Soon, coiled handset cords would become standard. Over the years, colors would come and go.

Although some various production changes and tweaks would occur over the over the years, the basic design remained almost totally unchanged from 1949 right up through the divestiture of AT&T in 1984. Production continued after divestiture under the name AT&T Technologies until 1986, when the Indianapolis Phone Works plant was finally closed, and production moved offshore.

The vast majority of telephones made by Western Electric were made for the Bell System, although they also made special models without Bell System markings for independent phone companies. Western Electric also made some special models of the 500 for military and government use.

Many millions of Model 500 phones were produced and were a familiar sight in almost every home in America. Many 500 phones are still in use today thanks to their durability, low prices, and ready availability.

The phone's construction made manufacture and repair simple, but also made possible a large number of derivative models with different details and features. A touch-tone version, the Model 2500, was first introduced in the 1960s, and is still produced today by several manufacturers.

The original WE Model 500 was designed by the Henry Dreyfuss industrial design firm, and was the result of several years of research and testing, and was introduced in 1949.

The 500 replaced the Dreyfuss-designed Western Electric Model 300 series, and improved upon several areas of design that were problematic in the earlier models. For example, the Model 302 utilized a porcelain-coated dial plate, with the numbers printed inside the finger-holes. After years of use, the printed numbers and the even the dial plate's porcelain coating would wear off. The design of the 500 corrected this by moving the numbers outside of the finger holes, and molding them into the plastic instead of printing them on the surface. This numbering arrangement also had the benefit of reducing the number of mis-dialed calls.

During its long service lifetime, the 500 was not without critics. The phone's blocky and uninspired styling was considered merely adequate in 1949. The phone's internal components remained little changed over the years, and the sheer weight of the phone and its handset were an obstacle for some users, notably the elderly and the physically challenged.

By the early 1960s, European phone designs offered cleaner lines, lighter weight and more ergonomic handsets, and made the 500 look positively ancient in comparison.

Originally, the 500 was available only in black and had a rotary dial with a black-painted metal fingerwheel (black remained the most popular color throughout the model's production, and the Model 500 has been affectionately nicknamed by some as "the black brick"). Within a few years the Model 500 began to be made in a variety of colors, and the metal finger-wheel was replaced with a clear plastic wheel. The 500 was also the first phone to use the "G"-style handset, which remains in use today.


Telephones derived from the basic Model 500, using some if not most of the same components, included the Model 554 wall-mounted phone and the 1500, 2500, 1554 and 2554 touch-tone phones. In the mid-1950s, in order to avoid disposing of older phones, Western Electric manufactured a 500-style plastic replacement shell to update the appearance of the 302, calling it the Model 5302. This model used the internal components of Western Electric's earlier Model 302 phone.

Because most phones used in the Bell System were owned by the Bell System, which was responsible for keeping them working, the Model 500 was designed to minimize repairs. It was extremely rugged and reliable, and intended to last for decades. The 1940s-era technology of the 500 makes extensive use of solid metal components and point-to-point wiring, and most components are simple to remove and replace.

Originally the line cord and headset cord were secured by screw down terminals at both ends, with a strain relief anchor. Tubular rubber covers at the ends resisted tangling and wear. The line cord (the cord that connected a desk phone to the wall) was originally the same color as the phone. In approximately 1973, the line cords were changed to a neutral gray color and went from round to flat. In the late 1960s a need arose for a plug and jack system. Initially, the phones were equipped with "hard-wired" cords, but plug-ended "modular" cords ware introduced in the 1970s, starting in Chicago.

In the 1980s AT&T started selling phones outright to the public through its then-new American Bell division, instead of just renting. AT&T found itself unable to compete either in price or in selection, and eventually closed its telephone manufacturing plants and retail stores.

Other Model 500 manufacturers

Beginning in the early 1950s 500-style phones were also made under license by ITT Kellogg (now Cortelco), Northern Telecom (now Nortel Networks) and Stromberg-Carlson (later Comdial).

Timeline (some items need verification)



  • First year of production

  • The bases are date-coded in the form, "mm-yy," where mm = month, and yy = year.

  • Initial models use a 425A network, together with a model 311A equalizer unit.

  • Just like Henry Ford, you can have whatever color you want, as long as it's black. All black sets have plastic housings, matching black plastic hookswitch plungers, bakelite model G1 handsets, and a model 7A rotary dial, with a black painted metal fingerwheel.

  • The faceplates on the dials are clear, with the underside painted black.

  • Straight handset cords are standard, with coiled cords also available.

  • The G1 handset has a groove running the length of the handset on each side, similar to the F1 handset and the later E1 handsets. The grooves were to remove the mold mark from the casting.

  • The cavity for the transmitter cup has two prongs in it for holding the cord, and the back of the plastic cup is plain, with no prongs.

  • The date of manufacture of the housing is printed in ink along the inside front.


  • Shifted from the 425A network with a separate model 311 equalizer (using the tungsten-element) to the improved 425B network, which had an integrated equalizer, using varistors. Special-purpose models like the 500J/K/T continued to use the 425A network without an equalizer for a few more years.


  • Shifted from clear dial faceplates with black paint to double injection-molded faceplates, which have black plastic on top, and white plastic letters/number insets that are part of the backing.

  • The grooves are eliminated from the inside of the G1 handsets (?).

  • The prongs that hold the handset cord inside the cavity are moved from the bottom of the cavity onto the bottom of the plastic transmitter cup itself.


  • Four colors are introduced for the first time as a premium option:

    • Ivory

    • Moss Green

    • Dark Gray

    • Cherry Red

    All of these colors come with straight neutral gray handset and line cords, clear plastic plungers, a colored plastic model G3 handset, and a model 7C dial with an open-center clear plastic fingerwheel.

  • Black sets continue to have black plastic plungers, a model 7A dial, with a black painted metal fingerwheel, and a black model G1 bakelite handset.


  • Four more colors are introduced:

    • Mahogany Brown

    • Dark Beige

    • Pastel Yellow

    • Dark Blue

    All of the available colors come with straight gray cords, except brown and ivory, which come with matching straight colored cords.

  • Colored sets are also now available either in full color, or two-tone (colored housing, but with a black dial face and handset).

  • Shifted from 7A to 7D dial on black sets (?) The 7D dial is nearly identical to the 7C dial, except for having screws instead of die-stamped lugs holding the gear frame; and the governor on the 7D dial uses a spiral spring instead of a coiled spring on the centrifugal weights.

  • Coiled handset cords are now available as a premium option.


  • Coiled handset cords, which were previously a premium option, are now standard.(?)


  • Dark gray, dark beige, and dark blue are discontinued, and replaced with light gray, light beige, and light blue. Mahogany brown is discontinued on residential sets, but stays around a bit longer for business phones. Brown was brought back in the 1980s.

  • Pink and white are added, making a total of nine colors.

  • Dial mounting brackets now have 2 mount points instead of 3. (?)

  • Handset cords are all coiled and match the phone body colors. (?)


  • Shifted from triangular leather feet to triangular neoprene feet.

  • Two-tone colored sets are discontinued.

  • ABS-based "hard" plastic is gradually phased in. This transition is completed in 1964.


  • The date of manufacture on the housing is now molded into the plastic near the cradle, instead of printed in ink along the front edge.

  • Production of colors reaches: red 4%, yellow 7%, light blue 5%, pink 12%, white 27%, light beige 22%, green 7 %, light gray 5% and ivory 11%. These percentages are of the total 67% of production, so about 33% of production is still black.


  • The die-cast aluminum top on the 7C/7D dials is changed from a complete circle to a point on top, and the gear frame is now die-stamped together, instead of held together with screws as before. (?)

  • The resonator shells on the C-type ringer are now plastic instead of metal. (?)


  • Production of black G1 bakelite handsets gradually shifts to black G3 plastic handsets. This transition is completed in 1965.


  • Shifted from triangular neoprene feet to round feet with ribs.

  • Shifted from 425B network to 425E network. Apparently the only difference between these networks is a screw-on "C" terminal instead of a soldered one.


  • Turquoise is added, for a total of eleven colors.

  • Transition to hard plastic is completed.


  • Transition to black G3 plastic handsets is completed.

  • Black sets are finally brought in line with the colored sets. All of the colors thus now have hard plastic housings, plastic G3 handsets, clear plungers, and closed-center clear plastic fingerwheels.

  • The #7-series dial is replaced with the #9-series dial on all colors. The #9-series dial is designed with an emphasis on quieter, smoother operation, and greater cost-effectiveness. Also note that the faceplates for #9-series dials are NOT interchangeable with the faceplates for #7-series dials. Unlike the #7-series faceplates, which are held in place by screws, the #9-series faceplates are held in place with a twist-on spring metal retaining ring.

  • Shifted from black paint to yellow cadmium plating on the bases.


  • The round neoprene feet are now flat instead of ribbed.


  • The bases and handsets on all models made for the Bell System are now stamped with the words, "Bell System Property, Not For Sale."


  • Shifted from 425E network to 4228 network. (?)

  • Shifted from hardwired to modular line/handset cords. (?)

  • Changed the style of date coding. Instead of "mm-yy," it is now "yyddd," where yy = year, and ddd = the day of the year.


  • Shifted from the old model 9C dial to a new model 9CA dial. The new model has plastic bearings for the gear shafts, and a plastic shell around the metal governor drum. The faceplate is now held on directly by plastic lugs molded into the dial frame, instead of the metal retaining clip used on the previous model. Also, the traditional screwed-on fingerstop has been replaced with a clip-on fingerstop, which also acts as a way to secure the faceplate in place under the plastic holding lugs.

  • Shifted from the 4228 network to the 4293 network. The 4293 network is similar to the network found inside the Trimline phones. Compared to the 4228, it sacrifices some performance in favor of lighter weight and smaller footprint, which were important for the Trimline, as well as lower cost.

  • Introduced customer-owned models with "CS" prefix. They are pretty much identical to the traditional rented models, except that they lack the "Bell System Property, Not for Sale" markings. (?)


  • Production under the Western Electric name ceases, with the divestiture of AT&T. Production of customer-owned "CS" models continues a little bit longer under the "AT&T Technologies" brand.

  • Color changes.

  • Shifted from metal screws and brass inserts to self-tapping screws directly into plastic to fasten the housing to the base. (?)


  • Production of the traditional Western Electric model 500 ceases when the factory in Indianapolis is closed, and production is moved overseas.


Based on info provided by DanielPorticusWikipedia  

Princess phone history

By the 1950s, the form and function of the telephone had become mature. Western Electric, the supply arm of the Bell System, realized that there was limited growth potential in making just basic phones. In 1955, Bartlett Miller in Bell's merchandising department determined that Bell had done a good job providing the customer with what theyneeded -- but weren't listening to what they wanted.

The world was changing; convenience and decoration were as important -- or even more important -- than pure utility. People wanted more than just the main phone in the hallway. They wanted a phone that would fit on a bedside table; and they wanted the teenagers out of the hallway, too. Miller realized this potential market and went after it.

In 1956, the design of the Princess phone was turned over to Henry Dreyfuss Associates, which had designed earlier phones for Western Electric, and it would be the last telephone design to be overseen personally by Henry Dreyfuss.

He worked with Bell Labs engineers and Western Electric's Indianapolis Model Shop to create a phone that was lighter and smaller than the standard model. In 1956, Princess prototypes were shown in Richmond and Cleveland. When Western completed design of the Princess, it conducted field trials.


Customer comments were highly critical. Western Electric had designed the small, oval-shaped base with all the internal equipment on the left side. The right side was empty so new components could be added in the future. The uneven distribution of weight caused the phone to move around the table when someone tried to dial. She needed one hand to hold the base in place and the other to dial, while squeezing the handset between neck and shoulder.

Bell Labs chose to disregard the complaints and gave Western Electric the green light to manufacture the Princess sets as designed. Tens of thousands of sets went out to subscribers, and the result was thousands of disgruntled customers and thousands of calls to phone company repair service.


Because of customer pressure, Western produced a counterweight to be mounted on the right side of each phone, and repairmen made visits to retrofit tens of thousands of Princess phones in people's homes. Millions of dollars were spent because the infallible Bell Laboratories rejected their own test results.

The Princess phone was the first model designed from a marketing perspective instead of an engineering perspective. The Princess was also the first Western Electric phone to have a trademarked model name instead of just a model number. Model numbers are not as memorable as names, and numbers can't be trademarked. It's name was chosen from a list of 300 suggestions. The Princess also made history with an internal light bulb to act as a bedside night light and to aid dialing in the darkness.

The Princess went into production in 1959, and although radically different in appearance from previous models, the technology in it was the same.

It was initially available in any standard phone color except black, which was added in 1963. Legend has it that black was added when Jackie Kennedy wanted one.

Early Princess phones had some serious deficiencies:

  • They required an external ringer in a wall-mounted box.

  • The base was too light, so the phone flopped and fell.

  • The weight was unevenly distributed, because the network was on one end of the phone, and the other side was totally empty. This made the Princess phone very prone to scooting around while the user tried to dial.

  • The Princess phone thus initially became known as the "three handed phone," requiring one hand to dial, one hand to hold the handset, and one hand to hold the phone in place while dialing.

  • It was very easy to knock the handset off the phone base. At least one company modified the Princess for use as a car phone, and installed clear plastic "fences" around the ends of the phones to keep the handset from flopping out on rough roads.


The external ringer was later replaced with a single-gong internal ringer, and the problem with the base moving around while dialing was partially solved by the addition of a lead weight (later replaced by the M-type single-gong ringer). Ultimately, the heavier touch-tone models made this problem almost a total non-issue. However, the problem of knocking the handset off the cradle always remained, and this caused some people to hate the Princess phone forever.

Despite all these problems and design shortcomings, the Princess phone remains one of the most beloved telephone designs of all time.

Although some various production changes and tweaks would occur over the over the years, the basic design remained almost totally unchanged from 1959 right up through the divestiture of AT&T in 1984. Production continued after divestiture under the name AT&T Technologies until 1986, when the Indianapolis Phone Works plant was finally closed, and production moved offshore. AT&T introduced a new "Signature Princess" series made in Mexico in 1993.

The vast majority of telephones made by Western Electric were made for the Bell System, although they also made special models without Bell System markings for independent phone companies. Western Electric also made some special models of the Princess for businesses and institutions.

Specialized versions of the Princess included models with message-waiting lights, and two-line operation.



  • Initial release of the rotary model 701B. Uses an external ringer.

  • Initial models use a 495A network, which is circuit-wise identical to the 425B network used in bigger phones. It was just repackaged into a slightly different form so it would fit in the Princess housing.

  • Phones have hard plastic housings, plastic G3 handsets, clear plungers, and closed-center clear plastic finger wheels. Colors available are white, pink, light beige, light blue and turquoise.

  • Two different patterns are used on the bottom mats. One was basically smooth with some bumps around the edges, while the other had a cross-hatched pattern.

  • The light used is a screw-base #46-type lamp.


  • Only the smooth style of bottom mat is now used.


  • Lead weights are now added to the left side to try to improve the balance of the set. They were also available for field installation if customers complained about the phones moving around while dialing.


  • Model 701B is replaced with the model 702B. The lead weight in this new model is replaced with an internal M-type ringer.

  • The 495A network is replaced with the more compact 4010B network (?)

  • The screw-base #46-type lamp is replaced with a #259 bayonet-style lamp.(?)

  • Green, Yellow, Gray, and black are added to the color choices.


  • The touch-tone (10 button) model 1702B is introduced.


  • Ivory and red phones are added.


  • The 10-button model 1702B is replaced with the 12 button model 2702B.

  • The bases and handsets on all models made for the Bell System are now stamped with the words, "Bell System Property, Not For Sale."


  • Turquoise and Gray are dropped, and clear is added.


  • Clear is discontinued.


  • Shift from 4010B network to 4228 network (?)

  • Shift from hardwired to modular cords (?)


  • The center cut-out on the bottom mat is enlarged.


  • The center cut-out on the bottom mat is enlarged yet again.

  • Changed the style of date coding. Instead of "mm-yy," it is now "yyddd," where yy = year, and ddd = the day of the year.


  • Shifted from the old rubber-style mats on the bottom to a new rubber/cork mixture, which is less likely to harden and crack with time.

  • Shifted from the M-type ringer to the P-type ringer (?)

  • Shifted to a greatly improved hook switch with a plastic cover on it (?)

1982 (or '83)

  • Introduction of for-sale models with "CS" prefix. They are pretty much identical to the traditional rented models, except that they lack the "Bell System Property, Not for Sale" markings, and do not have lights.


  • Production under the Western Electric name ceases, with the divestiture of AT&T. Production of customer-owned "CS" models continues a little bit longer under the "AT&T Technologies" brand.

  • Color selection changes again

  • Shifted from metal screws and brass inserts to self-tapping screws directly into plastic to fasten the housing to the base (?)


  • Production of the traditional Western Electric Princess ceases altogether, as the factory in Indianapolis is closed, and production is moved overseas.

Late 1990s

  • Refurbished phones are available in slate blue, peach and cameo green.


  • AT&T introduces the "Signature Princess" series, made in Mexico. It was offered for sale through AT&T Phone Center Stores (which closed in 1996) and is still available for rent from QLT Consumer Lease Services, previously AT&T Consumer Lease Services, which was not really part of AT&T. Colors include white, ivory, rose pink, aqua blue, and peach. This model has a modern electret condenser microphone in its handset, tone/pulse switchable pushbutton keypad lit by a green LED, and a receiver volume control on the front of the phone. The phone number card is moved from below the dial to the left end of the phone. With an optional transformer, this new model's dial will stay lit continuously, for use as a night light.


Princess Model Numbers

  • 701B: Original set without ringer

  • 701D: The D was for message waiting lamp

  • 702BM: The 2 designates an internal ringer, the M is for modular

  • 1702B: 10-button Touch-Tone

  • 2702B: 12-button Touch-Tone

  • 711B: Slide switch /push button, two line with exclusion

  • 712B: Turn Key, 2-line with hold (and several other combinations)

  • 713B: 2-line with Exclusion or hold

  • 2713B: Touch-tone version

  • CS2702BM: Touch-tone, no illumination

  • 2703BMG: Signature Princess

Trimline phone history

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 comfortably.

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 they are.

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.

Trimline Design

  • 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 of production.

  • The Trimline was the first American phone to achieve some design recognition in Europe, where it was referred to as the 'Manhattan' model.

  • 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 operation.


Trimline Timeline

Original Trimline is introduced in both rotary and Touch-Tone versions. First Touch-Tone phones lack pound and star buttons. 

Early 70s
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.

Late 70s 
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 Bell subsidiary. 

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. 


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. 

Similar Phones 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 China.

  • "Slenderet" was the Stromberg-Carlson/Comdial version.

  • "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 Trendline.

  • "Contempra" and Contemprette" were dial-in-handset phones from Northern Telecom/Nortel, but were wedge-shaped, not rounded like the Trimline.