Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rotary phones and party lines


Who remembers in the 1950s and 1960s when families in the USA had rotary dial phones? And I do mean "one rotary phone" as in one phone per household. Yes, those phones have a dial that rotates rather than the push buttons. In those early days each family typically had one phone.
When I was a child our phone number had only four digits, like 8379.
Now typical numbers have seven digits plus three digit area code for a total of ten numbers.
Those four digits were quick and easy to dial, even on a slower rotary dial phone.
Since I am talking phones here for fun I include this photo of what looks like the top of one of the classic British red phone booths. I have read that they are disappearing which is a sad story indeed.

As I recall when we first got a telephone we had a party line. That meant that whoever shared your line and was talking on the phone controlled the phone until they would hang up. So you would wait a few minutes and pick up the receiver again, hoping they were done.
It could be pretty annoying if your line sharer was a chatty Cathy type. If "chatter box" was on the line when I picked up the phone receiver I could hear her conversation.
A snoopy gal could listen in which of course is totally rude! Usually you could tell if a party line person was listening to your chat.

For those bloggers who have only known cell phones and their convenience and privacy, rotary phones on land lines are the way it used to be. Of course, there really is no cell phone privacy as the government monitors our calls and knows where we are as our cell phones ping continually, to stay connected. When turned off but the battery still in them, they continue to ping, even more, as the phone struggles to connect. Kim Komando has an excellent email newsletter which I subscribe to, which discusses all things tech, including this issue.
The ping tells the phone company and the government which cell phone tower we are near. This is true even when our cell phone is turned off.
I was going to just write about the old rotary phones but then I realize the shortcomings of cell phones so had to add that in.
One aspect of our family having one phone that was anchored to the wall was that you could not go in another room with the phone for privacy. When a call arrived for me, my mom, dad or sis would announce something along the lines of "Terra, call for you from Sandy". Or sometimes "a call for you, it is a boy!" Imagine trying to chat in those conditions! Teens today can have all sorts of private calls. Is that good or bad? Who can say? Change is ever with us, that is for sure.

23 comments:

Cheapchick said...

We had a party line in the 1970s for years. I hated it as others on the same line could listen in - plus we had one lady who would be on the phone all the bloody time! We are certainly spoiled now!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Terra,

We are certainly of the old rotary phone days! There was something very reassuring in placing a finger into the hole and sliding it round. And, party lines......oh yes......otherwise one had to wait for decades to get a new line.

When we first came to Budapest, some fifteen years ago, we had to wait two months for a telephone to be connected. We complained that the wait was outrageous until a young friend advised us that two months was progress indeed. His parents had had to wait for seven years for a phone line! Progress is relative!

Glenda/MidSouth said...

Yes, I remember them well, along with the party lines. Had a great Aunt that still had the old wooden wall phone, and an operator would ask what number you were calling.People that are addicted to their phones now days and have to have one with them all the time to talk or text would have a breakdown if they had to revert back to those days. :)

Pom Pom said...

We used to pick the paint off the wall while we talked on the wall phone. Naughty!

Happyone said...

Oh sure I remember rotary phones and partly lines. When I was a kid I used to listen to our 'chatty' user all the time. : )

We had a very long wire on the phone so we could walk around a bit with the phone. : )

Gill - That British Woman said...

I remember rotary phones and when we rented a place in Canada for a few months in 1989 we ended up having a party line.......never heard of that before.

The kids today don't know how lucky they are with their cell phones!!

~Kim at Golden Pines~ said...

I do remember rotary phones and party-lines--We had both. As kids we always tried to listen into what was being said. I guess it was just what some kids (and adults) just did. I have a feeling that if we heard anything good, it would be pretty tame by today's standards, don't you think? :-)

Wanda said...

Hi Terra ~ Wanda calling!!! We had ONE rotary phone, in one place. Our number was ME63449. Now I can't remember what day it is, but for some reason that number is forever in my brain.

You are right NO privacy. And we were limited to how many calls we could make and how long we were on the phone.

So different now.....But I was in High School in the 50's so I remember.

Joy said...

Nice remembering the past:) Those are sweet stories:)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi terra - I remember ours ... Black and powered by a battery - now I don't have a landline .. But am not that in favour of being constantly in touch - so the phone gets left here!!

I only found out about party lines when I got to Rhodesia as it was then ... Interesting to be reminded - cheers Hilary

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I was just talking about this to my students the other day! I think we had a healthier perspective about how important we were--if we couldn't reach someone--try again later. If we missed a call, it meant we were busy doing something AWAY from our phone! Technology helped us but didn't dictate us back then.

Allie said...

I still have a rotary phone - just need to re-wire it so it works! Of course, our state is considering doing away with land lines, which is really, really bad. They're the only thing that works in a power outage. My grandma had a party line - I remember how frustrating it could be!

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

My parents still had a rotary phone and a party line until the early 90s, When my hubby and I dated, our nosy neighbor liked to try and listen to our conversations.

Heart2Heart said...

I remember rotary phones but never had the opportunity of a "Party line". What we did have was back in the day, our cell phone conversations would intermingle with one another. One moment you'd be talking to your friend and the next you'd be talking to a complete stranger. Funny how some of those conversations went too!

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Red Rose Alley said...

Oh Terra, I remember the old phones, and I was just thinking about that today when my phone was getting static when talking to someone. I even got cut off the other day when I was talking to a dear blog friend of mine. Maybe I need a new phone. Those phones from the good ol' days were great, why do they keep changing things all the time?

And remember when a sales person literally answered the phone at a store and connected you to the department you asked for?

Oh, what a splendid post this is and it brought back some good memories.

love, ~Sheri

Tete said...

Oh, I remember them! We had 10 people on our party line and one had 10 kids with a bunch of teenagers. We were so happy to get a private line.
We were uppity when we got a push button phone! Those were the days.

Privet and Holly said...

We never had a
party line, but I
do remember needing
to memorize our
new phone number
everytime my family
moved, which was
often!

Thanks for the smiles.
I think it was more fun
back then, but I guess
it's really what you are
used to...

xo Suzanne

Annesphamily said...

I still have my land line! I keep hearing that in an emergency the cell phone does not get help as quickly as a land line will! Plus everyone will get calls once the government allows them, telemarketers, politicians, etc. to bug us 24/7! I wish my sister had not given up the rotary dial phone when she moved into our aunt and uncles home. They had an original phone from the 1940s at least! It was ancient! I doubt the phone co. guy turned it in! Probably belonged in the Smithsonian! This was a great share Terra! Tahnk you

Susan said...

ha ha haha Oh Terra, I do remember party lines! Phones in booths are just about kaput now. Landline phones are also on their way out. Such is modern life. Susan p.s. Thanks so much for your visit, too!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

I remember stretching our phone out from the hallway where the rotary phone was into the front porch so I could talk in private as a teenager. Of course, I would get in trouble by my father especially for "stretching out the cord," but what else you gonna do? :) Thanks for stopping by my blog today. I would love to see your Mary statue!

Dee said...

I remember those phone days. I still like the sound of a phone ringing and the feel of dialing. I am glad we no longer have to sit next to the wall or table the phone is on. :)

Carol Z said...

I remember our kitchen wall phone when I was growing up. The kitchen door was permanently ajar to form a little "phone booth." What was worse was college. There was a pay phone in the hall -- no phones in the room for the first two years -- and there were definitely some dramas that took place for everyone who walked by to hear.

David C Brown said...

Those were the days! Still remember my father's shop number when lots of useful numbers escape me now.