AT&T ad boasting about armored payphones, 1971

On the Vintage Ads LJ group, Uptown Girl has assembled a collection of AT&T ads spanning 80 years, including this wonderful, boasting 2-page spread from 1971 that's all about how bad-ass the new payphone designs are.

AT&T brings you fairy magic and the future (1913-1993)


  1. Sounds like they are throwing down a challenge to me. I don’t know if I would have worded it quite that way. Although they did hold up well; I only recall seeing a couple with the steel cable cut throughout the years.

    1.  A friend of mine in HS (late 90’s) had to get a NYC payphone handset for a Halloween scavenger hunt. He said it took a hacksaw, a set of shears, and way more time than he was comfortable faking a phone call to get through the damn cable.

  2. They lived up the challenge I know a few guys who were dumb enough to think they could get into one.   You could do it but it would a days work and $20 worth acetylene to get a hand full of nickles. 

    Ever see that scene in Donnie Brasco where Pachino is trying to break open parking meters.

  3. That steel makes teh cable hard to cut, but by yanking on it hard enough you can still separate it from the body of the phone. So I’ve heard. I personally wouldn’t know anything about that.

    1. I have also heard that one could twist the cable by the receiver until the wires inside are no longer whole, perhaps in an act of pointless anger at an indifferent world.


  4. I think this explains why the last existing pay phone that I know of, at the edge of a drugstore parking lot, is still there. I doubt it’s functional, or that anyone uses it even if it is, but I suspect it’s still there because no one has any interest in moving it, and the darn thing is just too difficult to move.

  5. I got so fed up by losing  money in inoperable payphones back in the 90s, I resorted to carrying a triangular tapered file in my car and would remove the handset of any offending phone. It took less than 30 seconds to cut through the armored sheathing with the edge of the file.

    1. The only Fortress Phone handset I ever acquired was easy to get, because someone else had ripped the armored sheathing out of the phone and it was dangling by the naked black cable.

    2. That’s so much better than a tool (like an indelible marker) that writes “Out of Order Don’t Insert Money”, and the handset removal makes it easier to fix!

      (And I don’t think your collection of handsets has appreciated in value that much.)

  6. Those phones designed in the 1960s were called Fortress Phones by Western Electric, who made them.  The ones I saw in Manhattan in the 1990s had extra fortress stuff added to them to make them Manhattan-proof.

  7. The real cause of the demise of the armoured phone was the advent of gunpowder.  While a Welsh longbowman could penetrate a charging phone at a hundred yards, it required a lifetime of training to be able to use a longbow competently – not to mention the discipline required for a group of peasants to face down a charging line of lance-armed phones.  But the use of the arquebus could be taught in a few short months, and wile never as effective as the clothyard arrow, the fate of chivalry and the armoured phone was sealed.

    1. I don’t have a cell phone, so I end up using a payphone every couple of years when I have a dead battery or a flat tire.

  8. Armored payphones?  Cyberpunk 2020 screamsheet terminals anyone? I think they provided the best cover next to a APC.

    Edit: btw, was there not some talk about bringing back the payphone as some kind of video and web terminal with touch screen and everything?

  9. I used to work where they designed such things. They gave a summer student the job of trying to defeat the coin chute.  The spec for these phones was interesting – had to survive so many minutes of pounding with a two pound hammer without giving up its cash. Handset cable had to withstand x pounds of pull, etc. Canadian pay phones were a bright orange steel box inside a plastic shell, to make them more obvious when vandals bust the shell off. GIS Centurion payphone.

  10. There is a simpler more elegant solution to public payphones, both falling out of use and the problem of vandalism which would go hand in hand with better design.

    Public ownership.

    If it’s yours, you’reless likely to break it and you’re more likely to take the responsibility of stewardship upon yourself.

    How so?

    It’s an idea I’ve tried to give away a number of times but so far no big company has taken on this business model for good reasons. There’s less profit and it threatens business as usual, but it’s a better business model.

    The idea goes like this:

    Users get to make free phone calls for a limited period to any geographic location. Once you have asked for the number you’d like to call there is an initial advertisement and then the caller is asked to answer a multiple choice question based upon the advert to prove they have listened to it. The advertisers know their advert has been listened to, the caller gets to make a free call, and the ad men get 100 percent targeted advertising, their
    holy grail.

    After a given time the caller can repeat the process to make another call.

    And it’s all based on consent and benefit for the user instead of stealing their data which is the current paradigm.

    How it works in detail.

    Optionally, users can agree to anonymous profiling via a unique user ID, with strict and transparent controls on how all data is managed and used. This isn’t necessary to use a public phone, just for enhanced service and profit share. The telecoms company can sell advertising which their advertisers know is reaching their target market 100 percent. In return for this customers get free services and a share of profits, a small percentage of each payment to the telecoms company goes back to the customer when they use the service which over time adds up to a reasonable amount in their account which they can redeem for services and or money.

    This can be extended to landlines, mobile and internet services along the same lines.

    To be successful it would require complete accounting and data usage transparency from the telecoms company and a smaller profit share.

    In return the telecoms service provider would get a more loyal customer base, self policing of public payphone networks and lower overheads due to criminal damage, 100 percent targeted advertising, and as customers pay more for services there would be a sliding scale rolling back the advertising up the level where full paying customers need give none of their data away if they wish.

    The beautiful thing about this is that it undercuts the current all or nothing nature of modern communications, if you can’t afford them, you can’t have them and in addition it gives customers the option to buy their way out of needing ad supported services over time while funding a good comprehensive free public phone network. Users could also be trained and employed locally to look after and service their own phones giving even better service and more cost effective maintenance.

    Well, why would advertisers be interested in poorer customers anyway?

    Because we still need plumbers and fridges, we buy bread and sausages, vegetables, milk, newspapers and razors. All of our income is more likely spent on goods and services rather than invested so we are a core group for some advertisers.

    Any company who were bold enough to take this forward would quickly find themselves in a very good position if they take the idea all the way, with complete transparency of data use and accounts. By treating their customers as valued partners who get good services and a share of profits for their trouble, I can’t imagine a more loyal customer base, less likely to tolerate someone smashing up their local valued call box.

  11. What are these strange devices?
    Why, they’re terrorist detection centers, anyone wanting to make an anonymous call OR using untrackable cash might possibly be a bad guy, but when anonymity AND cash are involved, then they’re definitely guilty!
    (I call the patent on the trapdoor cage/hidden drone transport directly to Gitmo.)

Comments are closed.