Imagine being able to dial a phone number yourself for the first time.
In 1929 no one in Colorado could. By 1984 everyone could.
Phones change for easier calling
As automated switching machines replaced live operators for connecting phone calls, phones had to change so you could let the new switches know what number you wanted to call. At first this was done using dial telephones that were later replaced by more streamlined touchtone phones.
Operators switching calls
Step by Step - the first mechanical switch (Roach Photos, Inc.)
Crossbar - the second and last mechanical switch (AT&T Archives)
Electronic Switch similar to those used today
Telephone companies created a vast network of wires to connect people throughout Colorado.
(top) Jerrold Starcom 36 cable television set-top box (Cable Center Technology Archive, Barco Library/The Cable Center; photographer Rob Stuehrk); (right) first Apple computer
The world was about to change. Colorado's first cable telephone system was installed in Trinidad in 1953, and cable television later began developing technology to connect people over cable lines. Cellular systems began to appear across the country with the first public telephone call placed on a portable cell phone on April 3, 1973. Personal computers began to gain wide acceptance. Combined with the new internet protocol, our options for sending our thoughts would multiply. An explosive transformation had begun.
No longer a luxury
From introduction of the first mechanical switch in Colorado in 1929 to the dismantling of AT&T in 1984, telephone policy was to place a phone in every home. Telephones, first an expensive luxury that only the most affluent could afford, became a necessity that every household felt was critical to daily living.
Proportion of houses with phones
Monthly local service rate*
Toll call to New York
* Cost in current dollars
To make a phone call before mechanical switching equipment you would ring your local operator to complete your call. You would say "I want to talk to ..." and the operator would manually connect you to that person by plugging a telephone cord into a switchboard.
In 1984 you could complete a phone call by simply typing the desired number into your telephone. Computers in the central switching office would then automatically connect you to whomever you were calling.
The evolution of switching machines made it easier and quicker to reach your friends. You paid less when machines replaced live operators to connect your call.
Bell System served most families
In 1984 nearly everyone had a phone and could call almost anywhere in the world for a reasonable price. A single telephone company provided service to most families within a given area. For a majority of these families that company was AT&T, the "head" of the Bell System and the largest single company in the world.
What was different from today?
- The telephone was virtually the only option most people had to fly thoughts to others. Other choices weren't widely available.
- Your telephone was connected to a wire in the house, so you couldn't carry it around.
- Cellular, cable and wireless phone service were in their infancy and not widely available.
- PCs were barely beginning to gain wide acceptance.
"Why do we say 'I'm dialing the number' when we make a call?"