From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Telephone Service in 1950

A phone in every home, Bell urged


I pulled a few National Geographic magazines from 1950 off the shelf and looked through them this evening.

It was interesting to see the ads that Bell Telephone System was running. I noticed two frequent themes: 1) We're a big company, so you can count on good service, and 2) If you don't have a telephone, you need to get one.

Here are the texts of two persuasive ads of the second sort:

Big Value At Low Cost

The telephone is a big bargain in security, convenience and good times for every member of the family. Just in the steps it saves, it more than pays for itself. Its value in emergencies is often beyond price. Day and night, every day, the telephone is at your service. And the cost is only pennies per call.

Advertisement by the Bell Telephone System, in The National Geographic Magazine, January 1950.

Service That Never Sleeps . . . Whatever the need or the hour, the telephone is on the job -- ready to take you where you want to go, quickly and dependably. Telephone service is one of the few services available twenty-four hours a day -- weekdays, Sundays and holidays. Yet the cost is small -- within reach of all . . . Bell Telephone Service

Advertisement by the Bell Telephone System, in The National Geographic Magazine, February 1950.

In 1950 -- the year of these ads --  62% of American households had telephone service (source). Most of those households were served by party lines.  Many of the rural party lines were owned by small locally-owned telephone companies that had no affiliation with Bell at all.

The Bell ads show sleek black desk telephones with rotary dials, but the telephones I remember from the 1950s had crank handles. We didn't have telephones with dials in rural Rock County, Nebraska, until the mid-1960s.

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Related:
Prairie Bluestem: Rural Party Line Remembered

2 comments:

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the text of those ads.

My children recently gave me a rotary desk phone (found in a thrift store). I use it in my office. The sound of the ringer, turned all the way, is amazing -- I'd forgotten how loud these things are.

Genevieve said...

We had a friend in Missouri who was retired from the telephone company. When he received a phone call, the whole house rang. He had several old phones in every room.

About the ad content: today, you might see an ad that describes the features offered by a telephone service provider, but hardly an ad that describes the benefits of owning a phone.

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