A dime let you make a phone call, in private, in a phone booth. Even with almost everyone having their own mobile device today, there are still nearly about a half million coin operated phones in the USA, although I must confess that I don’t know where one of them is. I fear that this piece of technology will eventually follow the eight track tape into oblivion.
America’s first “pay phone” was reportedly in the Hartford Bank in Hartford, Connecticut in 1889. In the early 1900s, they started popping up all over America. Sources differ as to whether the number of these devices peaked in 1995 with 2.6 million or 2002 with 2.2 million. In either case, there are a lot fewer of them now.
For the most part, those phones were in booths, initially indoors and made of wood, and then moved outside to street corners and made of glass.
Superman frequently used a phone booth to switch from his Clark Kent persona. Others who regularly used the booths included traveling salesmen and people who got caught outside in the rain.
Kiosks supplemented the phone booths, and many of the kiosks were located near service stations. When I traveled for business, I memorized where the kiosks with the longest cords were so I could actually sit in my car, after filling up, to make phone calls.
In 1959, a South African fad, “telephone cramming,” or the “telephone box squash” spread to California and then to college campuses across the country. The world cramming record was set at the Durban, South Africa YMCA in 1959. Twenty-five males, who ranged in height from five feet four inches to six feet two inches, claimed that honor. America was able to get to only twenty-two people in a phone booth, but managed to get thirty-one into a VW Beetle.
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