Skip to comments.The day that began touch-tone dialing
Posted on 11/18/2013 4:43:26 AM PST by Vigilanteman
Long before smartphones and text messages made the world instantly available with a split-second tap, reaching out to touch someone could take a full 10 seconds.
That was just to dial a number, ticked out one deliberate digit at a time, on a mechanical wheel owned by the phone company.
Monday marks 50 years since the United States began saying goodbye to the classic rotary phone, replaced by touch-tone services that slashed dialing time and foreshadowed a digital revolution that keeps reshuffling everyday communication.
The push-buttons became an especially big deal in Western Pennsylvania, where Carnegie and Greensburg were first in the country to see complete rollouts of the optional upgrade in November 1963.
Bell Telephone Co. customers could pay $1.50 a month for the pleasure and convenience of touch-tone, according to newspaper reports at the time.
All of the many things we can do by phone without interacting with a human got an awful lot easier with the touch-tone, said Jon Peha, a professor in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. The introduction allowed you to interact with automated systems on the other end in an easy way.
Although the pound and star keys would not appear until 1968, the first 10-button sets largely resembled the keypads used on billions of mobile and other phones worldwide. The Tribune-Review described the touch-tone approach as space-age telephony of missile-like speed and musical tones when Greensburg phone users tested the technology in early 1961.
(Excerpt) Read more at triblive.com ...
Yeah, I know it is insensitive. But the beginning of this week is the 50th anniversary of another event that changed America even more than the one at the end of the week.
And we got it first here in SW Pennsylvania, the place where other significant inventions debuted, including penicillin, the Ferris Wheel, the Big Mac and the banana split.
It was cumbersome, but you could actually dial back then without the dial....just push the or holder up and down fast enough and it would dial the ‘number’.....
bump (or is it beep?)
I wonder does rotary dial phones still work on land lines?
Or use a demon dialer.
This was to minimize the pulse dialing overhead that would tie up the long distance lines without providing revenue.
Hence, NYC was 5 clicks, LA/Chicago 6 clicks, and Hawaii/Alaska 26 clicks.
Also, I remember a trick where if you inverted the first three digits of your own phone number and then dialed the next four, you would make your own phone ring. I don't think that works anymore but in the 1970s, it did work and I would fake getting phone calls. Can't remember what value that provided but as a kid, it seemed pretty cool.
Prank phone calls were big in the 1970s. That was before people at home had caller ID so you could have all kinds of fun without getting caught.
The first patent for a rotary dial was filed by Almon Brown Strowger on December 21, 1891, which was awarded to him on November 29, 1892 as U.S. Patent 486,909. The early forms of a rotary dial used lugs on a finger plate instead of holes and the pulse train was generated without the control of spring action or a governor on the forward movement of the wheel, which proved to be difficult to operate correctly. The commonly known appearance of the rotary dial with finger holes was first introduced in 1904 but did not enter service in the Bell System in the United States until 1919, when AT&T abandoned its determined reliance on manual exchanges, and embraced automatic switching.
From the 1960s onward, the rotary dial was gradually supplanted by dual-tone multi-frequency push-button dialing, first introduced to the public at the 1962 World’s Fair (Seattle, WA) under the trade name Touch-Tone®. Touch-tone technology primarily used a keypad in form of a rectangular array of push-buttons for dialing.
From as early as 1836 onward, various suggestions and inventions of dials for sending telegraph signals were reported. After the first commercial telephone exchange was installed in 1878, the need for an automated, user-controlled method of directing a telephone call became apparent. Addressing the technical shortcomings, Almon Brown Strowger inventing a telephone dial in 1891. Before 1891, numerous competing inventions, and 26 patents for dials, push-buttons, and similar mechanisms, specified methods of signalling a destination telephone station that a subscriber wanted to call. Most inventions involved costly, intricate mechanisms and required the user to perform complex manipulations.
The first commercial installation of a telephone dial accompanied the first commercial installation of a 99-line automatic telephone exchange in La Porte, Indiana in 1892, which was based on the 1891 Strowger designs. The original dials required complex operational sequences and development continued during the 1890s and early 1900s in conjunctions with improvements in switching technology.
In the 1950s, plastic materials were introduced in dial construction, replacing metal which was heavier and subject to higher wear.
Despite their lack of modern features, rotary phones occasionally find special uses. For instance, the anti-drug Fairlawn Coalition of the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. persuaded the phone company to reinstall rotary-dial pay phones in the 1980s to discourage loitering by drug purchasers, since the dials could not be used to call dealers’ pagers. They are also retained for authenticity in historic properties such as the U.S. Route 66 Blue Swallow Motel which date from an era of named exchanges and pulse dialling.
Rotary Dialer Free - Android Apps on Google Play
Rotary Dialer on the App Store on iTunes
Yes, you can use them on today’s phone system! Legacy system.
Here’s the batphone being dialed to Commissioner Gordon!
In the 1960s, our phone in rural Iowa was on a party line. There was a crank handle on the phone to ring the attention of the operator.
So you’re the one who wore the numbers off the face.
Dialing Tips circa 1950 American Telephone & Telegraph - Bell System
1954 How to dial your phone by Bell System
Direct Distance Dialing circa 1959 Southwestern Bell Telephone Company
AT&T Archives: Seeing the Digital Future (1961)
AT&T Archives: Switchboards, Old and New (Bonus Edition)
Many people may know that the DTMF tones (the “beeps” you hear when you punch the buttons) are copyrighted by the phone company. What you may not know is that the dial tone, the busy signal, and the off-hook alarm are also copyrighted.
And on an old rotary phone, you could dial a number subtractively. If you wanted to dial a 4 for instance, you could put your finger in the 7 hole and move it to 3. Or 9 to 5. Etc.. The system worked by counting the number of pulses as the dialing wheel passed a sensor, so it didn’t care how those pulses were sent. Which also enabled a user to simply click the hangup buttons a specific number of times in rapid sequence to effect the dialing of a number.
Yes, but WE remember using smoke signals and carrier pigeons and primordial conch shells.
Few people notice that they are still being charged for the “extra service” of touch tone dialing. You got to love AT&T.
Once in a while you’ll hear some recording or a person trying to route a call say “please dial one” or “please dial the operator”.
Yep. It was actually cheaper to provide Touch Tone dialing then it was Rotary dialing, but they continued to charge extra for it.
Actually, there was a time before the rotary that we had voice dialing: Pick up phone & tell the operator who to call.
Yes...those folks who have a single ring sure get a lot of calls.
I remember being disappointed as a kid that I could never win those radio station “10th. caller” contests because my dad was too thrifty to spring for the buck fifty.
Was surprised to see that I phone I bought recently still offers pulse dialing “for Canada only”. Still got it up there, eh?
We used the ringback feature as and intercom in our house.
That was just to dial a number, ticked out one deliberate digit at a time, on a mechanical wheel owned by the phone company.
Oh, the hugh-mantaee!
I tapped out messages on a hollow tree with a rock after trees became available and got hollow. It was much better than tapping out a message on a big rock with a small rock. Both methods were wireless and free of charge.
You should still be able to dial that way.
(I have a rotary phone from the 1930s I can still make calls with)
I never told you before, but I hollowed out that tree for you.
Was gonna make a canoe but I thought, “You know, it would be really nice of me to let CG have this to use as a communication device.”
I LOVE THE SOUND OF A DIALED PHONE.
You’re probably right. All it should take is a 60/40 contract break if they still allow regular dialing without tones. I haven’t tried it in years, though.
Then there was the 11911 technique. Dial that number and your phone rang back. Never could figure out why. But it was awfully handy when you wanted to call someone to dinner and you knew they were near an extension.
We didn't even have extensions until 1969 or so when my parents bought a rural house from a guy who worked for the phone company.
Obviously, this pre-dates 'touch-tone' dialing, also called 'true-tone' by AT&T using DTMF, or even 'rotary' dialing.
The process would begin like this, you'd pick up your phone reciever, and hit the cradle a few times. This would cause a light on the central switchboard blink, which would get the operator's attention. You'd tell the operator that you wanted to place a long distance call to, say PEnnsylvania 6-5000. You'd hang up and wait for the call to be completed. The operator would then begin the process of building, by way of patch boards a physical cable that connected the caller to the called party. He/she would ring the next operator down the line and they would build that cable. Once completed, the operator would ring you back, and you'd pick up the phone and start talking.
Hard to believe, these days given how easy it is to make a phone call to just about anywhere on the planet.
Last time I tried it it did...
Good idea, but we never thought of that.
A few years ago, I saw a story on the Phonephreaks:
Sort of the ancestors of modern hackers. They had all kinds of work-arounds.
It was not long before lightning hit it and burned it down. I grilled a mastodon on the fire and we feasted for days. Now i had fire. Next time I needed fire I took a tree branch and wandered for days looking for a thunderstorm. Like most ancient people I was sick of living so long ago. So I gathered my family and we went in search of a better life. After a week of walking we found a Zippo, a cell phone and an Neanderthal express credit card. 2 days later we found a Walmart super store. Our lives have changed.
Not penicillin. Maybe you are thinking about the Salk Polio Vaccine.
I stand corrected. And that’s a good thing because polio is easier to spell.
Yes, they do. I have a rotary phone still in use in my house and one in my garage. I also have push-button phones in each building. I also have DSL internet access on those same lines.
If I am not mistaken, the earliest phones will still work on today's systems. The reason is that no change-out of technology could take place simultaneously everywhere. Device have to be backward compatible. The old "land-line" system will last until it is finally scrapped someday in the far distant future.
Miraculously, new technology continues to function in the old system.
When I was a kid in a small Alaskan village, we had the old crank type wall phones too, but no operator. Every house had their own ring kind of like morse code, Three shorts and a long or two longs two short etc.
Also, wern't there a lot of ways to beat the phone co. in Abbey Hoffmans "Steel this book". A friend of mine used one of those tricks using the payphone at school and got to a hotel in Manhatten.
“Prank phone calls were big in the 1970s. That was before people at home had caller ID so you could have all kinds of fun without getting caught. “
A rite of passage back then.
Do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in the can?
Is your refrigerator running?
What are you specials? Can you repeat that?..again...again...
“Did you ever use the automated collect call system to leave a message for your parents? for example your parents got a call that went like this: “you have a collect call from (pickmeupatthemall). will you accept the charges?” and then your parents would hang up and then go pick you up at the mall. “
Never did that one but we did have a code worked out for when us kids were leaving home and traveling we’d call home collect using a historical name play like Abel Lincoln or Georgio Washington to let the parents know we’d arrived safe.
the advances from those days is pretty amazing
If you see posts of interest to Pennsylvanians, please ping me.
No secretary was without one of these dialer pens.
Mom used to put a dime in my sneaker. When it was time to get picked up (pool, bowling alley, whatever), I’d call from the pay phone, ring three times, and hang up.
It was possible to tap-dial calls that way out of some pay phones without the coin. I would not do that now (more honest now) but that seemed a cool trick at the time (mid seventies).
By the seventies touch tones were available most places in the USA. But in many locales all they did was to trigger pulse dialers on the telephone poles.