Eisenhower & the rotary-dial telephone (1955)

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Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, and was in office 1953-1961. Before his time as President, he was a five-star general in the Army, and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. But despite all that military expertise,  President Eisenhower still didn’t know how to do one simple thing that millions of other people could: Dial a phone.

The newfangled telephones

Prior to moving into his Gettysburg home, President Eisenhower wasn’t familiar with rotary phones. In the White House, his phones were dial-less. He need only lift the receiver and he was immediately connected to his personal switchboard operator.

The President’s very first attempt at using a rotary phone was witnessed by a Secret Service agent. Upon lifting the receiver and being confronted with a dial tone, the President began to repeatedly press the dial tone button. When that achieved no results, he hung up and began turning the dial as though the phone were a safe. He finally gave up and turned to the agent for assistance.

>> How to dial a telephone (1952)

The agent recalled that the President spent the next hour happily calling all his friends, enjoying the phone as though he were playing with a brand new toy.


This information and the photo of three rotary-dial telephones (c1955) courtesy of the Eisenhower National Historic Site. They note, “Gold phones were not made so this one was custom-painted, likely done by request of Elizabeth Draper, Inc. so phone would match the color scheme of the house.”

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