Four-foot phone dial from 1931 initiated students to "mysteries of dialling"

Back in July, 1931, the Western Secretarial school whipped up this four-foot high working telephone dial to help initiate its students into the mysteries of the tele-phonic business instrument.
Not a dummy, the big dial actually works. It is connected with two telephones, an amplifying apparatus, and a loudspeaker. When the instructor dials a number, the loudspeaker reproduces, so that all may hear them, the typical sounds that will be heard; and the instructor explains to the pupils what they mean.


  1. They would love this at the New England Museum of Telephony.

    Among other things there, they have an entire mechanically switched telephone office, still working. There are two phones and you can dial your friend across the room and watch the rotary switches aligning themselves to connect your call.

    This thing would be great plugged into that!!

  2. When I was a sophomore in high school, one of the senior Advanced Science students hacked a rotary phone dialer to create a binary adder. You dialed a number, and it added that number to whatever was in the accumulator, displaying the result to a row of eight neon lamps. (Carries from the eighth bit just rotated off the high end.) As I recall, it was a stack of four or five 8″ square circuit boards. He had it all nice and neat, though. Great project. It was the first actual ‘computer’ I’d ever seen.

  3. I am SO GLAD I was born in 1988 instead of 1908. My double-x-chromosones would have probably forced me down a path like this, since I’m a “bright girl.” Jesus christ, I’m bored to death in my Statistics, Sociology and Journalism classes, in a class like this I think I’d straight out SHOOT MYSELF IN THE FACE with BOREDOM.

    Or just draw really fantastic comics and not pay attention at all and still get A’s, like all of secondary ed…XD

    Being a woman in the US now really is much better than back then. Neo-quasi-feminists like me want more progress, that 75 cents to the dollar still hasn’t gone away, but shit, we have made a lot of progress already, too…

  4. Strangely enough, unless you grew up in the era of the rotary-dial telephones most kids today have no concept of how to use one. An article I read in the times back in 1999 pretty much illustrates the mystery on the mechanics of rotary dial phones.

    “Rotary phone users are somewhat surprised when they have to show young children how to use them. That happened to Rick Walsh, a broadcasting engineer in Hartford who has been collecting vintage phones for 25 years, when he installed an intercom system based on rotary phones at his friend’s camp this summer. It seems like it would be pretty intuitive,” Mr. Walsh said, ”but a lot of the kids had no concept of how to use one. One 10-year-old boy who was trying to dial a three put his finger in the zero dial hole, brought it to three, and then released it. You’d have to see it to believe it.”

  5. 4 feet -Is that including stand?. So the women is 3’11″?
    Or 4′ without stand makes the total with stand about 8′.
    Hmm? I’m thinking closer to 3′ feet plus stand, for around 5 feet.
    Anyway… does size really matter?

  6. Geez. When I was in grade school in the late 70s our teachers brought in a gizmo that taught us how the phone system worked. We all got to play with a simple phone system and learned how to dial numbers. I was great.

    I collect rotary phones and have one hooked up at home now. Works great still. I just miss the audible clicks as the dial returns to the starting position. It’s not there anymore.

  7. I remember being in primary school and one of my classmates’ mum had brought in the first iteration of BT’s video calling. You couldn’t make head nor tail of the person on the other end but at the time, we were in awe.

  8. I remember vividly in grade school in the late 1960s that The Phone Company came to our classroom and taught us how to use a rotary-dial phone, and more importantly, phone etiquette–like say hello and goodbye, let a phone ring 10 times before hanging up with no answer, don’t call after 9 p.m. or before 6 or 7 a.m.–all good rules even now. I know I’ll sound like an old curmudgeon for saying so, but I wish today’s schools would spend some time on etiquette.

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