Although Alexander Graham Bell is credited with the invention of the telephone, the "telephon" (made from a hollowed out beer barrel, a sausage skin, and a knitting needle) was an original prototype being researched in 1860 by Philipp Reis. The mechanism of the phone was uncovered in 1874 and focused on musical reproduction, but the actual resolution of electricity and voice transmission was actually invented in 1876 by Bell.
The early telephone booths were manufactured from wood with ornate trim and design. A heavy solid wood door allowed the attendants to lock the customer into the booth until the completion of the phone call. This prevented the customer from leaving the premises without making payment. The earlier model slowly evolved into the coin-operated phones of today.
It may be of little surprise that the telephone booth has been around for more than 100 years. Inventor William Gray invented the booth after realizing the difficulty of placing a phone call from outside the home. Early wooden telephone booths were primarily located in railroad stations, fancy hotels, or banks. They were located in heavy traffic areas to ensure that the attendant's salary could be paid by the earnings of the booth.
Gray was encouraged that a coin-operated phone booth without the need of an attendant would be more of a convenience then the more costly attended booths. The Hartford Bank in Connecticut became the site of the first coin-operated telephone booth. In the days where Western Electric manufactured thousand of these telephone booths, a phone call was only a nickel.
The original telephone booths were constructed from hard woods such as mahogany and had plush carpets on the floors. The floor disappeared over the years evolving from reinforced steel or metal to just disappearing altogether. The current enclosures of hard plastic or 14 gauge steel have aluminum anodized or powder coat to protect against corrosion.
The traditional wooden phone booth is still available but typically as a touch of nostalgia in restaurants or private offices. Telephone booths historically have had accordion doors but as these limit handicap access recent designs are usually partial enclosures with phones attached at lower heights to accommodate users in wheelchairs. Telephone enclosures designed for institutional use such as prisons, universities, or other high traffic areas subject to abuse and vandalism are constructed from heavy duty (14 gauge) steel housing.
There are many different mounting arrangements for modern telephone booths, depending on whether the user will be sitting, standing, or placing a phone call from their automobile. In the manufacturing process these methods strive to be as standardized as possible to keep the numbers of parts required to a minimum.
- The steel arrives at the manufacturing plant in thick sheets. Its is loaded onto a conveyor belt and cut to the desired length and width.
- Side panels are die cast. Molten steel is poured into the die and left to harden. When cooled, the frame panels are removed.
- The framework is then taken into a room and sprayed with an aluminum anodized coat to protect them from wear and corrosion.
- The framework is then welded to the frame. Each framework is molded to hold several panels inserted at a later stage in the assembly process.
- Panels can be made from wood, particle board, plastic, or any other material that can be formed into sheets. The panels may be customized to reflect the business establishment providing the public phone access. Many are constructed from vacuum formed plastic and bearing the logo of the business. Display panels can also be made of white translucent butyrate.
- The panels are manufactured with grooves along each of the outer surfaces. Correspondingly, moldings are provided with projections extending along at least a portion of the molding.
- The panels are secured by moldings allowing the housing to be manufactured and assembled without nuts and bolts. The moldings are made of rubber, plastic, or similar materials and are manufactured by an extrusion process.
- The phone is then fitted to the finished booth.
- The booths are transported either to a dealer or directly to the customer. They are then manually installed.
Through the entire process, the quality of the materials is checked. Any defective molds, steel, or panels are discarded. The frame is checked for stability strength. The projections on the molding must be of equal or less than the depth of the grooves to be received securely. Design and Engineering manufacturing uses AutoCAD and VersaCAD computerized technology that constantly provides feedback and analysis of the manufacturing process providing a consistent and uniform product.
The steel and/or aluminum from the manufacturing process can be retrieved and recycled. Waste is kept to a minimum as the manufacturing tools run on compressed air keeping the work area free of debris.
It will be interesting to see where the telephone booth finds itself in the future. The full length booths have been replaced by smaller modular models and the convenience of cellular technology seems to leave fewer and fewer of us scrambling for spare change. Kiosk systems are being developed that provide a multitude of communication options. Coinless phone options such as Internet capabilities and phone and fax services are all rendered possible from one multi-use communication enclosure.
Where to Learn More
PBG, Telephone Enclosures Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.PBGinc.com>.
Redy Ref Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.redyref.com>.