Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pay Telephones

Updated 3/2017-- all links (except to my own posts) removed as many are no longer active and it was easier than checking each one.

In the local paper this weekend there was an article on the declining use of pay-phones. It seems that Bell System plans to get out of the pay-phone business after 129 years. It included a nice summary of the history of pay-phones. Here is the time line:
1878: The first pay phone has an attendant who takes the caller's money.
1889: The first public coin telephone is installed by inventor William Gray at a bank in Hartford, Connecticut. The phone is a "post-pay" machine where coins are deposited after the call is placed.
1898: The Western Electric No 5 Coin Collector goes into use in Chicago, Illinois. It is the first automatic "prepay" station. Coins are deposited before placing the call.
1902: There are 81,000 pay telephones in the United States.
1905: The first outdoor Bell System coin telephone is installed on a Cincinnati street.
1950s: Glass outdoor telephone booth begin replacing the wooden ones.
1957: Drive-up pay telephones are tested in Mobile, Alabama and Chicago, Illinois.
1960: The Bell System installs its millionth pay telephone.
1966: "Dial tone first" service is introduced in Hartford, Connecticut. Emergency calls could now be made without first depositing coins.
Feb 2, 2001: BellSouth announced that it is getting out of the pay-phone business.
Dec 3, 2007: AT &T Inc announces plans to leave the pay-phone business.
Today: There are about 1 million pay phones, down from 2.1 million in 1998. Local calls on pay phones have also dropped 30% since 1998.
I must admit that I can not recall the last time I used a pay phone. I think it was back in the early 90's prior to getting a cell phone. It seemed I could never find change when I needed to answer my pager, so I quickly got a cell phone. I miss the wooden phone booths you could find in restaurants. There was an elegance to them. The outdoor phone booths reminded my of Superman, so I miss them too.

I can't recall treating anyone from injuries that incurred from use of a phone booth, but I can imagine a few that probably happened. Whenever there is a door, there is a hinge and this means fingertip injuries. The phone booths out in the open are, of course, likely to be hit occasionally by motor vehicles. And as with any land-line phone, it was important not to use the phone during a lightning storm. If you have any to relate, I would love to hear about them.
Telephone injuries associated with lightning:
    • Injuries to persons using telephones or telephone headsets, such as those who take phone orders, are relatively common. The telephone becomes the conduit for the charge to enter or to escape from the structure (and the person). Although the telephone system may be grounded adequately for electrical surge protection, lightning is too fast and strong for typical grounding systems to be effective and reaches the person before the circuit breaker or other protection can be effective.
    • Electrical lightning damage occurs only with use of land-line phones. No lightning danger is inherent to cellular phones. Although many reports of lightning injuries involve people who are using cell phones, these reports represent the ubiquity of cell phone usage and of their users' inattentiveness to weather conditions and have nothing to do with the phones themselves.
    • Older portable phones, seldom used now in the United States, were a rare source of lightning injury to people standing close to the base station or charger. Those injuries were caused by the lightning jumping from the charger to anything close by and have little to do with the phone the person was carrying.
Pay Phones and Phone Booths -- Bell System Memorial
Lightning Injuries by Mary Ann Cooper, MD -- eMedicine Article

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