How to dial a telephone (1952)

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What’s my number?
Rotary dial telephones replaced operator-assisted calling, which meant there was a whole new system for people to learn. These basic instructions were printed in a 1952 telephone book, from the San Francisco History Center.


1) Get the correct number from the current telephone directory. If the listing is not found, please call INFORMATION by dialing 411.

2) Lift the receiver and listen for the “hum” of the dial tone. Note: If calling from a coin telephone, coin must be depositied before dial tone will be heard.

3) Dial the first two letters and the numeral of the central office name, then the remaining figures in the number. If the figures are followed by W, J, R or M, dial this letter also.

4) Let the dial return freely after each letter or figure is dialed. Forcing or retarding the return motion may result in a wrong number.

>> Eisenhower & the rotary-dial telephone (1955)

Other dialing suggestions

  • Be careful not to mistake the letter o for the figure “O” (zero); or the letter I for the figure “1” (one).
  • If you realize a mistake in dialing has been made, hang up for a moment. After listening to the dial tone again, redial the complete bnumber.
  • From an extension or party line telephone, if you hear someone else dialing when you life the receiver, tell him you have interfered with his call. Then hang up and make your call later.

Top photo: A vintage 1952 rotary-dial telephone (made by Western Electric for Bell Systems), courtesy bodycode on eBay

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