Western Electric Products- The Bell Telephone Story Posters
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The Bell System
Telephone Story Poster


The Western Electric Telephone Story Poster - The AT&T Telephone Story Poster
The Bell System Telephone Story Poster - The AT&T Telephone Story (1990/1993)



Courtesy of Todd Bernstein


This 24" by 20" poster was distributed in 1976 to Bell System customers for free to those responding to ads placed in consumer magazines. This 1976 poster's red-white-and-blue color scheme along with the stars at the top are symbolic of the United States' 200th year anniversary and the telephone's 100th year anniversary. This poster is very rare and I haven't found a supplier for it.

In order to be able to read the descriptions that appear under each of the thirty photo images in this poster, I scanned the poster in six sections (that's all that would fit on the scanner at one time!) at 600 dots per inch. I then "spliced" the six cropped sectional scans together and created a HUGE file (about 2 Megabytes).

You can view a close-up of each phone shown in the poster below simply move your mouse over the one you want to view and click! You can also "zoom" in on the Bell System description of the poster by clicking on the poster title area.

The Bell System Telephone Story


Picture Descriptions:

Left to Right - First row:

1876 - LIQUID TELEPHONE - "Mr. Watson, come here; I want you!" It was the night of March 10. These first historic words, uttered by Alexander Graham Bell when he spilled some sulphuric acid he had been using in his tests, climaxed two years of extensive experimentation.

1876 - BELL'S CENTENNIAL MODEL - Progressing rapidly, Bell demonstrated his invention at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. A typical reaction was that of Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil; "My God! It talks!" One judge called Bell's invention "the most wonderful thing in America."

1877 - FIRST COMMERCIAL TELEPHONE - The camera-like opening served as both transmitter and receiver, making mouth-to-ear shifts necessary. Developed by Bell in 1876, it went into service in 1877 when a banker leased two instruments and a line to connect his Boston office and his home in Somerville.

1878 - BUTTERSTAMP - Bell's first set with a combined receiver-transmitter that could be held in the hand, looked like a butterstamp - hence its name. Designed in 1877, it was in service when the world's first switchboard opened in New Haven in 1878. The pushbutton signaled the operator.

1878 - WALL SET - Switching the same instrument from mouth to ear proved confusing for some people, so a second wooden transmitter-receiver was added. Either could be used for talking or listening. Turning the crank generated power to signal the operator.

1880 - BLAKE - United States population was now 50 million, and the improved voice clarity of the Blake carbon transmitter greatly aided the fledging telephone service. It was invented by Francis Blake, Jr., based on work by Thomas Edison. Here, it is used in a primitive desk set.


Left to Right - Second row:

1882 - MAGNETO WALL SET - This handsome, oak-encased instrument, the first telephone built for the Bell System by Western Electric, used Bell's hand receiver and Blakes' transmitter. It was the standard for many years and one of the first to place the crank more conveniently on the side.

1886 - LONG DISTANCE TRANSMITTER - In the year that the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York harbor, the search for improved long distance transmission took a major step forward with this model, whose platinum diaphragm improved clarity. The instrument shown was actually used by Bell.

1892 - DESK SET - More compact and decorative are the features of this Gay Nineties souvenir. The carbon transmitter is less unwieldy, the receiver, called a "watch case," much smaller, and the ornate base reflects the era's taste. 1892 also saw New York-to-Chicago service begin.

1897 - DESK SET - America was on the verge of its great transformation from a rural to an urban nation, and the telephone was beginning to take the shape that would be familiar during that change. This early desk set, make of cast brass, was a refinement of previous models.

1900 - COMMON BATTERY - Improving telephone service is a constant goal. The earliest sets were voice-powered. Next came the wet battery, which occasionally leaked on the rug; then the dry battery. This model, a major advance, received its power from the telephone exchange, hence its name.

1907 - MAGNETO WALL SET - Here is an improved version of the set with a built-in generator to provide current for signaling the operator; almost exactly similar telephones were in general use from the late 1890's through the 1930's. Note enclosed receiver terminals, an improvement of 1907.


Left to Right - Third row:

1913 - WALL SET - The wall telephone was becoming more compact. Instruments like this, forerunners of today's home intercom systems, were in general service. They were advertised by Western Electric as "the greatest little step-savers that ever helped a housewife."

1919 - DIAL TELEPHONE - Coast-to-coast phone service had begun in 1915, and the United States had topped 100 million in population. Dial service was coming in strongly. Invented in 1892, it was many years before the complex equipment had been sufficiently developed for use in larger cities.

1928 - DESK SET - The Roaring Twenties gave America a new look in telephones when the combined receiver-transmitter idea, used by linemen since 1878, was sufficiently improved for general service. A streamlined version of European sets, it was nicknamed "the French phone."

1937 - "300" TYPE DESK SET - A major innovation that offered added convenience to telephone subscribers placed the bell in the base, previously housed in a separate box. The "300" served throughout World War II while the energies of most telephone people were devoted to defense work.

1938 - TELEPHONE KEY SET - The "300" also offered added convenience for business users. It incorporated within the set one "hold" button and five others for calling, signaling or access to other extensions. Early models had metal housings, but plastic was substituted in the early 1940's.

1949 - "500" TYPE DESK SET - After catching up with the immense backlog of work caused by the war, the Bell System brought out this new model with improved talking and hearing qualities and an adjustable volume control for the bell. Rugged and functional, it is constantly being improved.


Left to Right - Fourth row:

1954 - "500" TYPE COLOR DESK SET - The Korean War was over, and the Bell System expanded its "500" line to include color, making the telephone a decorative household item. Although some color telephones were available earlier, they had not gained widespread popularity.

1956 - WALL TELEPHONE - The telephone returns to the wall in this companion piece to the "500" desk set. The wall set is most often used in businesses and homes where counter and desk space is at a premium. It is popular in such home areas as basements and kitchens.

1958 - SPEAKERPHONE SET - Hands-free telephoning arrived with the introduction of the Speakerphone, which also permits conference calls between groups at different locations. [Shown] is the "4A" model, introduced in 1974, which has improved sound qualities and an omnidirectional microphone.

1958 - CALL DIRECTOR TELEPHONE - Keeping pace with the increasingly complex communications needs of its business customers, the Bell System introduced this set designed to handle several incoming, outgoing, and inter-office calls simultaneously. It is available in both 18 and 30-button models.

1959 - PRINCESS TELEPHONE - The desk set received a smart, new look. Compactness, attractive styling and illuminated dial (it lights up when you lift the handset or you can keep it on as a night light) contribute to the all-around usefulness of the Princess set. It also comes with a Touch-Tone dial.

1964 - TOUCH-TONE TELEPHONE - As America neared the 200 million mark in population, the Bell System heralded a new era in telephoning services with push-button calling. Combined with electronic central offices, Touch-Tone service will expand the uses of the telephone many-fold.

Left to Right - Fifth row:

1968 - TRIMLINE TELEPHONE - The 12-button Touch-Tone Trimline set combines the handset and "dial" in one lightweight, attractive unit. Although only ten buttons are needed for today's [1976] telephone need, the two "extra" buttons prepare these sets for future communications services.

1969 - PICTUREPHONE SET - Men walked on the moon and a new model of telephone that make it possible to see the person to whom you're talking was market-tested. The Mod II set has a feature for individual or group viewing. Major use is for visual conferencing between different cities.

1973 - TOUCH-A-MATIC TELEPHONE - The Touch-A-Matic set is the first telephone with a solid state memory. At the touch of a single button, it can automatically dial any of 31 pre-recorded numbers. It is one of many communications advances that derive from the invention of the transistor by Bell Labs.

1974 - DESIGN LINE TELEPHONE - To continue to meet its customers' widening preference, the Bell System introduced a series of ten antique and modern phones created to fit any decor. The Celebrity (left) and the Candlestick. Other sets use rich woods, leathers and fabrics.

1975 - COM KEY 416 TELEPHONE - This is the primary unit of a compact office communications system with many new features not found in a conventional system. Solid state circuitry in the telephone units enable the system to operate without extra switching cabinets.

1976 - TRANSACTION TELEPHONE - As the telephone marks its 100th birthday, the Bell System offers a phone to make shopping more convenient. The Transaction telephone links with a bank's or credit bureau's computer to verify balances or transfer funds. It can also perform inventory control jobs.


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