When the telephone was invented in 1876, it was at first a service available only to the relatively wealthy, at least when it came to private use. In 1889, the first public coin telephone was installed by inventor William Gray at a bank in Hartford, CT. Gray was inspired to create a public phone when he was unable to locate a phone to call a doctor for his ailing wife.
His innovation allowed everyday people who couldn’t afford their own phones to make business and personal calls. The difference between Gray’s model and its successors is that callers could wait to pay until after the completion of the call. In 1898, Western Electric changed this system and implemented the prepay system still used today. By 1902, pay telephones had reached such popularity that there were 81,000 installed in the United States. In 1905, the first outdoor model had a wooden structure and was installed in Cincinnati. Glass booths weren’t implemented until the 1950s.
By 1995 there were as many as 2.6 million in the U.S. However, At the end of 2012, the FCC reported the number of payphones dropped to 243,487. With 95% of Americans currently owning cell phones, the need for pay phones has diminished. According to the FCC, there are only about 100,000 phone booths left in the United States and about a fifth of those are in New York.
If you would like to see a vintage wooden phone booth with a working payphone, stop by our museum! Come visit us at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville.