1960s Western Electric videophone ad

Paleofuture's recovered this great Western Electric videophone ad from one of the early rounds of failed video telephony. The ad itself comes from an intriguing-sounding book called The Golden Age of Advertising: The 60s. Be sure to check the whole Paleofuture post for a great potted history of the boom-and-bust videophone efforts over the years.

Crossing a telephone with a TV set in 1968


  1. I doubt there was a futurist of the 20th century that could have predicted that video calls were the one thing that almost no one would actually do with their fantastically advanced 21st century phones.

      1. Eh, peeps are doing it, it’s just taken a long time for us to get used to it.

        The first commercial videophones were rolled out in the 1970s. With the exception of people who communicate using sign language very few have chosen to use them for most long-distance conversations. That could change one day, but I’m not holding my breath.

  2. Western digital makes hard drives. Western Electric was a division of AT&T, founded in 1856. It was part of one of the greatest patent battles ever with Alexander Graham Bell, and was sold to him after they lost in 1881. There is no relationship at all between it and the company in your title.

  3. Now that we essentially have video phones, I have just one question, “Where’s my flying car science has been promising for decades?”

  4. We night not have gotten our hoverboards, but something akin to the giant video phones of Back To The Future Part II are technically available.  It just turns out that many people don’t necessarily like standing still and having someone stare at them whenever they make a call.

  5. Since I still take calls while in the bath I’ll still be avoiding video phones. Think of the callers!

  6. Mad Magazine did a parody of this product with a selection of roll-up fake backdrop screens that would show your wife that you were at the office when you were really at the saloon, etc.

    It’s also a product that made absolutely no technical sense in 1968, requiring a coax cable to be installed to your house and some imaginary coax switching facility in the central office. It would have cost $1000/month.

    Now it makes sense technically, but it still makes no sense socially. Still, Steve Jobs was influenced by it, so he gives us FaceTime.

    1. Now it makes sense technically, but it still makes no sense socially. Still, Steve Jobs was influenced by it, so he gives us FaceTime.


      I call it the “Jetson’s Effect”. If it was in a dumb sci-fi movie or cartoon from the 50’s thru the 80’s it’s included. Worst offender: A show I loved when I was a kid during the 60’s starring Walter Cronkite called “The 21st Century”.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0287889/

  7. Video phones won’t gain universal acceptance until they come with a little dial that displays slides explaining why the camera is off, such as “Sorry, I Look Like Crap,” “Hah, hah, you caught me masturbating,” or “Whoops, I’m meeting with the other reptoids to coordinate plans to herd our human chattel into SPAM factories.”

  8. Say what you will about teh evil Ma Bell, were it not for Bell Labs, Western Electric, et.al., our little technological nirvana of today would be far, far different without their dedicated research.

    1. Also, Western Electric telephones were sturdy enough to be used to bash in the head of a zombie. Pre-911 AT&T telephone operators received training on how to talk panicked callers through putting down a zombie, and how to use a Princess(tm) phone as an emergency semaphore.

  9. By the time video phone technology came along, it was already made obsolete by mobile phones. And mobile phones don’t lend themselves towards video.

  10. Sort-of on topic: I highly recommend “The Golden Age of Advertising” books.  They’re fascinating looks into print ads of the past, organized by general topic (cars, electronics, etc.).  Definitely worth the money.

  11. The issue for me is it seems that most people I know have no clue how ugly they are. They think everyone wants to see them at the oddest times, which would include making phone calls. For me that’s the beauty of calling instead of seeing them in person. I can lounge on the couch and scratch my balls while I talk to them, nobody cares. 

    They don’t wanna see me even if I wasn’t scratching my balls. I’m doing them a favor. Everyone else should too.

  12. Phones and surveillance cameras. Good combo.

    Unless it’s for work, I don’t answer my phone unless I’m in the mood to talk to the person – I have different custom ringtones for everyone I’m willing to answer – otherwise I call them back. Giving them the expectation that they’ll see my face will not have a positive impact on the number of calls I answer.

  13. Best futurist commentary on the videophone was DFW’s commentary on its life cycle in Infinite Jest.  Made total sense and pointed out the various reasons why we love the audio only medium of the bog standard telephone call.

  14. Western Electric telephones are still an unmatched manufacturing marvel in the history of technology.  Because telephone customers were forced to rent their equipment from their phone company, the cost of replacing broken sets fell onto the providers, not the customers.  The result was the sturdiest mass produced electornics device ever made.  Even if you wanted to break one of those sets, it was very difficult.  Water, fire, hammer whatever, you had your work cut out for you if you wanted to destory one. 

  15. The real innovations in that photo are the # and * buttons on the Model 2500 phone, introduced just that year.  The model 1500 it replaced had only 10 buttons.

  16. given the number of people buying iPad 2’s precisely because of it’s camera- so they can use it for skype- i’d say folks use it in increasingly large numbers. just wish they’d realise it was in fact possible prior to last year.

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