Payphones were referred to as ‘Coin Boxes’ well into the 1970’s.
The telephone, patented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell, quickly became an indispensable tool in our country. The first telephone line was constructed in 1878. The first telephone exchange in the United States opened in 1878 in New Haven, Connecticut. Under the Bell Telephone Company in 1885, the first New York to Philadelphia interconnected phone line opened and in 1892 the Chicago to New York line opened. By 1880 over 49,000 phones were connected and between 1894 -1900 six thousand independent telephone companies were developed.
The first public coin-operated telephone was patented in Hartford, Connecticut in 1889 by William Gray under the name Gray Telephone Pay Station Company. It was installed and first used in a local Hartford Connecticut Bank. Prior to this machine, the only public telephones were operated by an attendant from the phone company; pay the attendant a coin which he would drop in the “Coin Box” and then give you monitored access to the telephone. The “coin box” name stuck with the new self-operated payphones. Soon payphones were everywhere: banks, stores, hotels, saloons, restaurants and more. Local calls cost 5 cents and remained that price until 1951, when the price for a call rose to 10 cents; by 2002 the price of a call was 50 cents. In 1885, in the Chicago area, Pan Telephone Company of Missouri developed payphones that would only accept tokens. These brass tokens were sold by local merchants and were inscribed “good for one switch”. These tokens were used until 1944, when they were melted down and used for shell casings during World War 2. Although the token system did not catch on in our country, many other countries still use this system. In 1914, the transcontinental phone line, spanning coast to coast from San Francisco to New York, was established. The price for the first 5 minutes of a call was a steep $9.00.
With the invention, and now common use, of cell phones throughout the United States, payphones have become a thing of The PAST. The PAST Antiques Marketplace is home to a variety of collectible payphones for sale and The Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village has an impressive display showing the development of payphones over the past 120 years. To see our full selection of payphones and telephone technology, visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace and Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut.
Check back next week for another Trivia Tuesday!