Little Bits of History

Pay Up

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 13, 2014
Patent # 408709

Patent # 408709

August 13, 1889: William Gray receives patent # 408709. Communication across distances has always been problematic. Getting a message to someone far away could be arduous. Eventually, better methods were created and we finally had a patent for a telephone granted to Alexander Graham Bell in March 1876, although he was not the first person to create something akin to a telephone. Not everyone could afford a phone and so there were methods created to let a user pay for the service of using someone else’s phone. Originally, these phones were owned by a telephone company who had attendants in place to collect payments for people who wished to use their phones. The first record of this took place in New Haven, Connecticut on June 1, 1880.

Gray’s invention allowed the phone itself to collect the fee. It contained a coin-controlled locking device which prevented the sending of messages although it did not interfere with the receiving of any messages. He had filed for the patent exactly one year prior to it being granted. The first such phone was set up at the Hartford Bank in Hartford, Connecticut by the Southern New England Telephone Co. While this was the beginning, Gray went on to receive more patents as he perfected the idea. His early payphones were “post-pay” meaning the coins were deposited at the end of the conversation. The first “pre-pay” phones debuted in Chicago in 1898.

By 1902 there were 81,000 payphones in the US. Just three years later, the first outdoor phones were installed, each in their own little booth. This was an improvement and by twenty years later, there were 25,000 of these phone booths in New York City alone. In 1960, the Bell System installed its one millionth telephone booth. There is some dispute over when the greatest number of these phone booths were scattered across the countryside as well as how many were actually so scattered. The two disputed figures are 1995 with 2.6 million or possibly the year 2000 with 2.2 million. With the ubiquitous use of cell phones, the number has dropped precipitously and today there are fewer than 500,000.

Britain’s payphone was first designed by the United Kingdom Post Office and was a concrete kiosk which was unsightly and unacceptable. In 1924, a contest was held and the red telephone box won. There were several different models of the kiosk created over time. In some foreign counties with unstable currencies, a token was used in place of cash. Today, there are few phone booths available. Instead, the phone is held in a sheltered space but is not completely enclosed. With the coming of so many cell phones, there is really no place left for Clark Kent to hide while he becomes Superman.

Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone? – James Thurber

As an old reporter, we have a few secrets, and the first thing is we try the phone book. – Andy Rooney

My first phone was two tin cans tied together with string, and it worked pretty good. – Dolly Parton

I don’t even know how to use a parking meter, let alone a phone box. – Princess Diana

Also on this day: Just Another Brick in the Wall – In 1961, the first steps toward the building of the Berlin Wall are taken.
Bootiful – In 1934, L’il Abner premiered.
The World is Created – In 3114 BC, the world began, according to the Mayan Long Count calendar.
167 for 1 – In 1906. a bartender in Brownville, Texas was killed.


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