The truth remains that the tech world grew through a process. Telephones in the 1950s were the best thing to happen then. It serves as a major means of reaching each other. Most of the technological and economic advances erupted in the 1950s. As such, the 1950s were considered prosperous years for the United States. One of the notable achievements was the widespread adoption of the telephone in American homes and businesses.
As of the 1950s, roughly two-thirds of American households had at least one telephone, and the percentage kept growing every year.
Now even though the core technology was already highly advanced, none of the ancillary technologies like voicemail and text messaging existed yet. This was also a different time where one company AT&T, controlled nearly the entire industry.
Now let’s start by looking at the features of telephones in the 1950s.
When it comes to physical appearance, telephones in the 1950s had a sleek, shiny appearance but were bulky by 2010s standards. They came with a freestanding base as well as a rotary dial on the front.
This is because by then, keypads had not yet been introduced. The dial consisted of 10 finger holes in it, which corresponds to the digits 1 through 9 and zero. When you wind the phone from the right finger hole, callers could dial any number. Behind the dial was a holster for the receiver.
The receiver looked more like a horn, with a large earpiece and mouthpiece on either end and a comfortable handgrip in the middle.
The base carries two bells for the ringer, spring for the rotary dial.
It also has a governor which keeps the spring from uncoiling too quickly and various electronic components.
A Regulated Monopoly
The difference between telephones in the 1950s is that people did not own their telephones. Rather, they rented them from AT&T.
AT&T wanted to supply universal telephone service to the country and as such as consented to become a regulated monopoly in 1913. This remained so for most of the 20th century. At this time, AT&T allowed the Federal Communications Commission in order to approve its policies and prices.
AT&T and its subsidiaries in turn became the sole providers of everything a person required for telephone service. With just a few exceptions, AT&T owned the phones, the phone lines as well as the networks. It offered both local and long-distance telephone service to the majority of Americans.
When it came to the use of its products and services, AT&T was quite ruthlessly restrictive. The company regularly sued other companies who manufactured their own devices to attach to AT&T phones or lines.
Even though AT&T won these battles, however in 1956, a court ruling went the other way.
This then led to other companies being allowed to make products that could modify AT&T products and services. Decades later, this later helped in unraveling AT&T’s monopoly.
During the 1950s, telephone aesthetics didn’t change much. But since it already controlled the market, AT&T had no reason to offer unnecessary choices and complexity.
As such, consumers had to make their choice from several different models of freestanding and wall-mounted units. These were encased in shiny plastic which came in a variety of colors mostly black, white, and brown. However brighter colors like red and teal were also available. Apart from these, there was little variety available.
This differed significantly from the conventions of the 2010s, where aesthetics are a major competitive selling point.
Technological innovations for telephones in the 1950s continued apace throughout the 1950s.
At the end of the decade, almost all the remaining manual local telephone exchanges, needed a human operator to connect a local phone call. This was replaced by automatic exchanges even though operators remained available for directory assistance.
There was also direct distance dialing which also came about in the 1950s. This enabled callers to directly dial long-distance numbers without an operator intermediary.
Another major revolution in telephones was the gradual phase-out of the named telephone exchange system.
Up until the 1950s, telephone numbers typically consisted of letters followed by numbers. These letters were mnemonics that mapped to words and made phone numbers easier to remember. These served as names for the local telephone exchanges which handled those phone lines.
As late as 1955, AT&T was still updating as well as streamlining this system. However, in 1958 it started to phase out in favor of the all-number dialing used currently.