9 Oldest Phones in the World

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Today, nearly everyone has a personal mobile phone, allowing them to call anyone at anytime around the world. With such widespread use of instant communication devices, it can be hard – especially for young people – to remember a time where phone calls were a novel idea. Although the idea for long distance communication devices has been around since at least the 17th century, the electric telephone was not invented until the late 19th century.

After Alexander Graham Bell filed the first official telephone patent, he went on to establish the Bell Telephone Company, which eventually developed into the Bell System (AT&T Long Lines, Western Electric Company, Bell Labs, and Bell operating companies). Bell’s manufacturing company, Western Electric, along with its research and development team at Bell Labs, invented a majority of the world’s oldest phones. While none of these phones are still produced today, they have become valuable collectors items.

9. Trimline Telephone

Year Invented: 1965
Inventor:  Bell System
Country of Origin:  United States
Years Manufactured:  1965 – late 1990s

Trimline Telephone photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The Trimline telephone was first introduced by the Bell System in 1965. It was developed after the success of Bell’s Princess phone, which was also compact and stylish. The phone’s dial was on the underside of the handset instead of the phone’s base, like earlier models. This made the phone smaller and easier to use.

Like the Princess, the Trimline had a lighted dial and was produced in both rotary dial and touch-tone versions. The phone was popular for several decades and went through a few redesigns. The phone’s look is so iconic that many modern landline telephones feature a similar design.


8. The Princess Telephone

Year Invented: 1959
Inventor:  Bell System
Country of Origin:  United States
Years Manufactured:  1959 – 1994

The Princess Telephone photo source: Flickr

The Princess telephone was released by the Bell System in 1959. Like all of Bell’s phones at the time, the Princess was manufactured by Western Electric and designed by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. It was the first phone to be specifically advertised to women, which is why the phone was slim and feminine looking.

The phone came in either a rotary dial or touch-tone dial model and was available in a broad range of vibrant colors such as pink, moss green, yellow, black, white, turquoise, gray, light blue, and ivory. In addition to its compact design, the Princess had a light-up dial, making it ideal for use in the bedroom. The Princess phone was slightly redesigned in later years and was pulled from production by AT&T in 1994.


7. Western Electric Model 500

Year Invented: 1950
Inventor:  Bell System
Country of Origin:  United States
Years Manufactured:  1950 – 1980s

Western Electric Model 500photo source: Wikimedia Commons  

The Western Electric model 500 telephone is probably the most iconic American phone as nearly every home in the country had one at some time. Millions of series 500 phones were produced and are still used today because of their durability and wide availability. The model 500 replaced Western Electric’s earlier 300 model series and was designed by Henry Dreyfuss and his industrial design firm.

Over the next few years after the phone was first produced, millions of Americans bought the more efficient model to replace their 300-type phones. The 500-type phones were the first to be available in a wide variety of colors including ivory, green, dark gray, red, brown, beige, yellow, and blue. In the 1960s, Western Electric released the model 1500, which adapted the 500 for touch-tone, keypad dialing.


6. Western Electric Model 302

Year Invented: 1937
Inventor:  Bell System; designed by the industrial design firm of Henry Dreyfuss
Country of Origin:  United States
Years Manufactured:  1937 – 1955

Western Electric Model 302photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Western Electric’s model 302 telephone was one of the company’s most popular phones for several years after it was first introduced in 1937. It was the first complete phone produced by Western Electric as a separate subscriber set (the ringer and network circuitry) was not needed; all components of the subscriber were redesigned to fit into the phone itself.

Before manufacturing the phone, Western Electric held a design competition in 1934, but was unable to find a design that fit the new phone’s technical aspects. Instead, the company hired industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss and his firm, who came up with the look for the 302. The phone was often featured in movies and television shows, such as I Love Lucy – this is why the 302 is sometimes called the “Lucy phone” by collectors.


5. The Bakelite Phone (Ericsson DBH 1001)

Year Invented: 1931
Inventor:  Collaboration between Elektrisk Bureau, LM Ericcson, and Televerket
Country of Origin:  Sweden/Norway
Years Manufactured:  1931 – 1962

The Bakelite Phonephoto source: Wikimedia Commons  

The Bakelite telephone, which got its name from an early plastic polymer, was a collaborative project between Elektrisk Bereau of Oslo, LM Ericcson, and Televerket – both from Sweden – that influenced the next generation of telephones. According to Ericcson, the switch from metal plate to Bakelite significantly reduced production time for the phone’s casing from one week to around seven minutes.

The phone was smooth and stylish and unlike earlier Bakelite models from other manufactures, the casing of the Ericcson phone was completely made from plastic including the cradle and handset. The use of Bakelite limited the color of the phones to black, but a few variations were introduced including a muted brown, red, and green.


4. Desk Top Cradle Telephone (Model 102/202)

Year Invented: 1927
Inventor:  Bell System
Country of Origin:  United States
Years Manufactured:  1927 – 1937

Desk Top Cradle Telephonephoto source: Wikipedia  

Western Electric’s model 102 telephone was the first commercial telephone set where the receiver and transmitter were combined into one handset. The company had already been experimenting with handsets that combined the receiver and transmitter since the 1890s, but the technology at the time was unreliable in this configuration.

To make the 102, which Western Electric called model A1, the new handset was paired with a shortened version of a candlestick phone with a cradle on top for the handset. Model 102 had problems which resulted sidetone, or users hearing their own voice. To solve all of the model 102’s issues, Western Electric upgraded to the 202 model in 1930.


3. Rotary Dial Candlestick

Year Invented: 1905
Inventor:  Automatic Electric Company founded by Almon Strowger
Country of Origin:  United States
Years Manufactured:  1905 – 1930

Rotary Dial Candlestickphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1889, Almon Strowger invented the first automatic telephone exchange in order to eliminate the need for an intermediary operator. Strowger, who was an undertaker, was motivated to create the automatic telephone exchange after the wife (who was a phone operator) of his only business competitor kept purposely redirecting calls for Strowger to her husband instead.

After Strowger was awarded the patent for his invention in 1891, he founded the Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange Company (later called the Automatic Electric Company). The company invented the first rotary dial telephone in 1905 and other companies, such as Western Electric, began producing their own versions soon after.


2. Candlestick Telephone

Year Invented: sometime in the 1890s
Inventor:  disputed – either Stromberg Carlson or Almon Stowger
Country of Origin:  United States
Years Manufactured:  1890s – 1920s

Candlestick Telephonephoto source: Flickr

After Alexander Graham Bell and others invented the first wooden hand cranked phones, the first lighter desk top models, called candlestick telephones, were produced by several different people and companies. The first person to invent the candlestick phone is often disputed and is attributed to either Almon Stowger or the Stromberg-Carlson company. This phone model was popular in the late 1890s until the 1920s and was also called a desk stand, and upright, or a stick phone.

The candlestick phone featured a mouthpiece at the top of the stand (the “candlestick” part) and a receiver that was held to the ear during a call. Some of the companies that produced the phone were Western Electric, Stromberg-Carlson, Automatic Electric Co., and Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Company.


1. Bell Telephone (Wooden Hand Crank Phone)

Year Invented: 1876
Inventor:  Alexander Graham Bell
Country of Origin:  United States
Years Manufactured:  1876 – 1910s

Bell Telephonephoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 is considered the oldest telephone in the world. Although the invention of the electric telephone is often disputed, Bell was the first to file a patent for a telephone, which is why he credited as the inventor of the telephone.

Bell filed his patent a few hours before Elisha Gray, who claims that he invented the phone first and filed a lawsuit against Bell, which Gray lost. In addition to filing his patent first, Bell’s phone was the first to transmit clear speech. On March 10, 1876, Bell spoke into his device and famously said, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”

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