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Throwback Thursday: Rotary Dial Phones


A new series of posts I'll be featuring will include a nod each Thursday (a la Throwback Thursday) to the technology of years past. The iPhone, Galaxy, and other smartphones have come a long way from what past generations had to rely on for communication. Now, we won't be talking about the Pony Express today. But instead, we'll highlight the Rotary Dial Phone.


It was in the late 1800s when the rotary dial phone was invented. People did not have the ease of today to just press on a screen to call a family member or friend - it was much more difficult and time-consuming.


To use a rotary dial phone, the user would pick up the phone's receiver, crank a handle, and a light would flash on the operator's panel. The operator would answer, ask for the destination of the call, and 'patch' them through. In other words, the caller would have to dial into an operator, wait to connect with said-operator, before being patched over through who the caller actually wanted to call. During the war, military and emergency services always had priority of this network. This meant civilians might have to wait as much as two hours to be connected.


Below is a step-by-step guide from Interesting Engineering on how to dial a rotary dial phone:

  1. The user inserts their finger into the number required. The deal would then be rotated around until they hit the finger stopper and would hear a soft clicking noise.

  2. After removing their finger, the dial would return to its starting position ready for the next number's input under spring action. (In most cases, dialing zero took the longest time to complete as it was usually the furthest from the finger stopper.)

  3. Repeat until the number is dialed.

Unlike more modern phones, rotary phones did not have a redial function. The user would need to enter the entire phone number each time the phone was used.

Check out this video of teenagers as they try to figure out a rotary dial phone:


Clearly, a more effective method of communication was needed - and that is why we love the technological advances of communication!

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