Remember the pay phone?

Telephone box in Ireland
Telephone booths (or telephone kiosks or telephone call boxes) were ubiquitous features of street corners across the country. They've become a victim of cell phones.

The credit for developing the telephone booth goes to William Gray, who introduced the first one in bank in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1889, about 13 years after Alexander Graham Bell received the first patent for the telephone itself. Gray was a trusting soul. His customers did not have to pay until after the completion of the call.

Western Electric changed this arrangement in 1898, introducing the prepay system. Public coin-operated phones soon flourished. They were, after all, incredibly convenient. No longer would a caller have to return home (or beg a shopkeeper) to make a call. In 1905, the first outdoor pay phone was installed in Cincinnati, Ohio. These were wooden affairs. Glass and plastic booths came much later. Initially the United Kingdom used concrete. That was back in the 1920s.

(The wooden box of the 1940s is how Clark Kent was able to change into Superman. Some comic books had him using a glass-in booth. It's a miracle he wasn't arrested for public indecency.)


The heyday of the telephone booth was in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960 Bell System installed its one-millionth pay phone; about four years later, push-button phones began replacing rotary dial phones.

But phone booths were not to last. AT&T introduced a radio-based phone service, the forerunner of today's cell phones, in 1965. The first cellular phone system was conceived in 1973; it had a talk time of 30 minutes and required 10 hours to recharge. By 2000, cell phone began replacing pay phones in a serious way. The penetration of cell phones is so intense that phone companies dismantled most phone booths. Starting with Jordan in 2004 several countries have eliminated phone booths entirely.

Telephone booths always will exist popular culture, whether as Superman's changing room or college students trying to cram as many bodies into a single phone booth. The unofficial record goes to Modesto Junior College in California. The students there squeezed 32 bodies into a single booth. I'll bet they could have fit in one or two more had they left their clothes behind. It would have been more fun, too.

As you can see, not all phone booths are gone. There is no Clark Kent here, but there are some super guys who aren't hesitant about making on-street phone calls. Enjoy.






Kevin in Irish phone box

Toward the end, phone companies tried to save costs by eliminating the booth

Phone booth at Matsushima shrine in Japan


Oxford, England





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