Cell Phones

Portable telephones have come a long way. This display shows early “Mobile Telephone” equipment. These phones were installed in vehicles and transmitted over just two shared channels. If the channels were in use, you had to wait.

The briefcase phone here was one of the first telephones to use analog cell-phone technology.

For more about cell phones and their development, visit How Cordless and Cell Phones Work in the Science wing of the Virtual Museum.

The Call Box Caper

If you think this looks like an authentic English telephone box, you’re right. It’s made out of cast iron and has a concrete base. How this traveled over 6000 miles to our museum is quite the tale—we call it the Call Box Caper—and it involved many interesting people, including then British Prime Minister John Major. The full account of this story can be found in two parts printed in Dial-Log, the Telecommunications History Group's quarterly newsletter. It can be found online in the Summer 2006 issue and the Autumn 2006 issue of Dial-Log, hosted on the THG website.

Puff-a-phone, hard-of-hearing set

This unusual device is a “Puff-a-Phone.” It was built by Ed Hagwell, a local Pacific Northwest Bell employee from Olympia, Washington. This enabled paraplegics and other disabled people to use a telephone. Using an automatic dialer, the caller could select the desired number by blowing into a small tube to advance the selection of numbers on the auto dialer. The auto-dialer would out-pulse the number and the call would be connected. A speaker-phone arrangement and remote transmitter replaced the typical handset.

The fairly large wooden case on the bottom shelf was an early amplifier telephone set. This featured an adjustable amplifier that allows compensation in levels for hearing-impaired customers.

The Big Phone

What is this huge Trimline? As the Bell System introduced new service offerings, new telephone sets were launched with great fanfare. This Trimline set was a promotional model that was used for public relations. Yes—it really does work!

Explosion-Proof Phone

This telephone was used in hazardous locations such as mines, refineries, and flour mills. The very heavy cast-iron housings are airtight and sealed to contain any sparks that may occur within the telephone set.

The Space Needle Phone

This is the first “cordless” telephone. It was developed right here in Seattle for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Five of these sets were installed in the restaurant at the top of the famous Space Needle. The restaurant’s seating area allowed a 360-degree view as it revolved once every hour. Cordless phones permitted connection to the outside world without having to use complex and unreliable wire connections. (Find out more about cordless phones in our Science wing, in our How Cordless and Cell Phones Work article.)

Triangle display

Telephones came from a wide variety of manufacturers in different sizes and shapes. This three-sided display reveals some of those devices.

Traveling four-unit display

The Museum of Communications supports community events and displays. We have a set of traveling displays that serve as an ambassador for public relations for the museum as well as for Qwest Communications.

Colored 500 sets

For many years, most homes had just one telephone, usually installed in the hallway at the foot of the stairs. And like early automobiles, telephones came in just one color—black. The demand for both business and residential telephone service increased tremendously during the economic boom of the 1950s. The improved model 500 desk telephone became widely available during this time.

By 1960, there was increased demand for extension telephones in the home. The improved plastics used in the model 500 made possible a large palette of designer colors that better harmonized with home furnishings. These telephones were more expensive to lease, but many customers preferred them to the basic black telephone.

Click here to move to the next page of this exhibit, or use the following links to jump to rooms in this exhibit. Hover over the links for short descriptions of each page.

Main, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

return to museum entrance | THG main page
site map | educational resources
PICTURED: (throughout article) The images on this page are described fully in the text. Click the images to enlarge them.