There is nothing like a birthday, especially one on the near side of seventy, to get an old guy reminiscing. I am sitting at my desk (dining room table) trying to decide on the subject of my next post for this site. What catches my eye is a large antique piece of equipment hanging on the wall that I have been looking at for some time looking for inspiration. It is something I bet very few people have…but its latest version seems to be stuck in almost everyone’s ear most of the time! This one is secured to the wall and has never heard the word ‘mobile’.
If you have not yet guessed what I am referring to, I maybe should tell you what the heck I am talking about. It is a lowly old hand-cranked telephone, this thing is like a favorite piece of art to be hung on the wall and admired. My ‘wall-hangers’ story began in 1907 and was called the 1317 Wall Telephone and was manufactured by the Western Electric Company. The original phones back then had a small dome at the top that was used to secure the incoming phone line on the outside of the phone and had what was called a ‘picture frame’ door at the front. In 1911 the ornate picture frame door was replaced by a plain flat door and all wiring was now concealed within the phone. That means my phone was made after this time and was used until the 1960’s.
The world’s first ‘definitive’ test of the telephone occurred in Brantford, Ontario in 1876 and were one-way transmissions. This was when Mr. Bell first said, “Mr. Watson…come here…I want to see you.” The first long distance phone call was made from Lyceum, Salem in MA to the Boston Globe, Boston MA. In this case, Mr. Bell said Mr. Watson, “Can you hear me? Watson replied, “Yes, sir, I hear you.” After a pause, “Mr. Bell, I should like to sing a song for your audience in Salem. Are you ready?”
In the early days there was three to five families sharing a ‘party-line’ with each having their own number and each phone was assigned with its own special ring. When a call came in, you might hear a long ring, a double short ring or three short rings. You had to know how your phone would ring to know if the call was for you. When making a call-you might hear someone else talking when you lifted the receiver, so you had to wait until the line was free.
You were required to answer your phone by saying “the Smith’s residence” or family name. To reach the operator, you merely clicked the ‘hang-up’ several times. Operators could even be reached if other people were using their phone on the party line. You were allowed to ask the ‘gabby’ party to hang up so you could make a call. Yes, sometimes the operator would eaves- drop on your conversations, so it was prohibited by law to use profanity on a call or you would be reported! How things have changed.
Before the Bell divestiture, you could not legally buy or sell these old crank phones. These famous words were found on the handset and on the bottom of every phone, “Bell System Property-Not For Sale-Western Electric.” You were expected to return their property to them, but not everyone did. At this time Bell owned your phone and the phone lines. Dial phones were invented in 1919 and Rotary phones appeared in the 1950’s. Yeah, some users wanting a no-cost extension on these phones would merely disconnect the bell inside of the extension making this phone ‘invisible’ to the phone company’s testing equipment. In the 1980’s consumers were notified of the pending Bell divestiture and were given choices they would have to make for their telephone instrument. They could continue to lease or to buy the one they now had or buy equipment from another supplier.
Today if you see a rotary phone, a manual typewriter or carbon paper…do you think to yourself, yeah, I actually used those exotic things! How many readers remember the dry cleaner’s truck showing up once a week, picking up and delivering your dry cleaning? The Fuller Brush man and of course the Raleigh man with the best ever black pepper and that ‘vapor rub’ in a tin. Joe Preet (fresh fruit and vegetables) and Roy White (butcher) appeared at least once or twice a month from Harwood, Ont. with their wares in the back of their trucks. We kids always showed up to meet the butcher and were always rewarded with fresh (uncooked) hot dogs. Raw hot dogs and unpasteurized milk…what were our parents thinking! Where the heck was the local Health Unit people?
Remember the milk man delivering to your door? Living on a farm, the Ranger does not remember the milk man putting the glass bottles of milk into the ‘milk chute’ on the side of your house or between your front doors. We had unpasteurized milk direct from ‘Bessie’ the cow. That warm foam on the milk from milking would be skimmed off and topped our hot porridge for many a year. I do remember delivering the Toronto Daily Star for some years, more than once opening a front door and throwing the paper between the doors and hearing a crash of glass, and milk oozing out under the door. How about shaking that milk bottle to mix the cream before using the milk. The cream was at the top of the bottle and the rest of the milk was as thin as water! You had to love the cardboard tops with the pull tab. Today, everything is sealed tight to prevent tampering, a word unheard of back then!
Remember seeing that first black & white television, usually at a richer neighbor’s home. Before cable and satellite, the antenna was on the roof and with no rotator it had to be turned by hand for the best TV reception, a dangerous job any time of the year! Between the ‘snowy picture and static’ we got to watch The Little Rascals; the Mighty Mouse Club; I Love Lucy; Treasure Hunt with Jan Murray; Art Linkletter’s Kids say the Darndest Things and cartoons like Tom Terrific (and Manfred his Wonder Dog) and many other classics. Saturday and Sunday evening TV would be out for us kids, as Ma & Pa had to watch Hockey Night in Canada, the Carol Burnett Show (I think my dad was in love with Carol) and The Lawrence Welk Champagne Hour. And, oh yeah, our TV was never allowed on during the day. Tell that to your kids nowadays!
Okay, now that I have completely bored you or put a smile on your face…its back to reality.