In the dustbin of our cultural history

Thanks. I remember that sort of set up. And when phone message machines came into play you’d check for message first thing on entering your home. That’s one of the reasons phones were often (though not always) located close to entryways.

And a standard craft project for kids was to make a ceramic ashtray for your dad.

My parents got this knight in armor lighter as a wedding present. When you popped his helmet open, a flame would emerge. I still have it. The lighter doesn’t work, but it still plays Always (which I always thought was a peculiar thing for a knight to play.)

Those I have definitely seen. In fact, I have a little table that was very likely designed for that purpose.

During most of my childhood, however, the phones of most people I knew hung on the wall. The kind you put on a table also existed; but IME, or at least in my memory, was less common, though not unusual enough to startle anybody.

And to make it clear for the younger people here, for a long time in most houses, there was one phone line and one phone, usually in the center hallway or in the kitchen in the case of my parents’ house. So when it rang, you had to go to it to answer the phone. (And when my brother’s kids were little, my mother amused them by showing them the dial phone she has in the basement for when the landline rings and she’s doing laundry. She demonstrated how to dial a phone, which was completely new to them.)

The phone belonged to the phone company, and getting a second phone meant getting a second line, and you had to pay for each line – even for an extension line that used the same number. It wasn’t considered necessary enough to be worth it. Only rich people had more than one phone.

My father was a doctor, and we had only one phone. Nobody in our house could spend more than a few minutes on the phone, because we had to keep the line open in case my father got an emergency call.

You couldn’t own the phone yourself until, I think, the late 60’s or so. Because the phone company (THE phone company at that point, Ma Bell) owned the phone, they were responsible for fixing it if needed; phones from that era were built to last nearly forever.

Switching away from landline phones, here’s another current thread on a specific all-but dead bit of cultural history:

I had forgotten about that little feature. The call wouldn’t go to “voice mail” and there was no indication you had missed a call. Calling someone and repeatedly getting a busy signal was just something we had to live with.

The break-up of AT&T brought private ownership of phones by my childhood in the '80s. Our family was most definitely not rich but we had a second phone in the basement by the laundry room as Dewey_Finn mentioned. Both phones were touchtone wall phones, and I recall an extra charge ($1 or so per month?) for touchtone service that was gone before I went to college in the late '80s.

In the 1970s, my mother worked for Western Electric in the local office. At some point in my childhood I wanted a toy phone but not a toy. So she was able to wheedle the guys in the back to give us an actual phone but we had to promise not to ever connect it to the network and they disabled the ringer in it. Eventually we did connect the phone. And once they allowed you to own extension phones, they had ones everywhere in the house, including the bathroom. There was a time when the phones didn’t even ring properly because they were just pulling more voltage than the line could supply.

Not exactly.

You could have multiple phones on one number = one “line”. That cost a little extra per month. Like a couple of bucks per phone.

Or you could have additional phone(s) on a second number = second “line”. That cost significantly more. Like $20 or more. At which point you could have multiple simultaneous conversations, one on each line.

It became common in the early 1970s among comfortable suburbanites to spring for a second line for the tween/teen kids to use. That stopped the parents from running around the house only to serve as an answering machine for their phone-addicted teens.

At which point it became common to see white pages listings like this:

Smith, John & Mary … … … … 555-1234
   123 Main St., Anytown
        Teen phone … … … … … 555-4567

More importantly, it prevented the main line from being tied up.

Speaking of phones: when I was in college, each room had a phone. Not each person - each room. So if you were in a two, or three (or heaven-forbid, a four-person room), there was one phone for all of you. At the end of each month, the bill came, and the roommates got the fun of figuring out who made which calls. Since producing the bill took time, a few days before the end of the year, you could no longer use the phone for non-local calls (since you’d be gone before they could get you the bill)

Our college dorms had no phones. (1979-1983) Not in the rooms and not in the dorm common areas. We had to go to a different building and use a pay phone. It was a pain, but in retrospect, it was nice to be completely unreachable.

A couple of years ago my nephew, who was 13 or 14 at the time, had to borrow my phone to make a call. A moment later he handed it back to me, saying “uncle L, I think I broke your phone! I’m so sorry!” I put the phone to my ear and yep, busy signal. I let my son (same age) and my other son (10yo) listen. Neither knew what the sound meant.

So I think busy signals have mostly gone the way of the dodo as well.

My sister got her own line when she was a teenager. Didn’t last long.

Mostly, yes. I still call my parents on their land line (in part because, while my 87-year-old dad does have a mobile phone, they don’t have great reception in their house), and they don’t have call waiting or voicemail on the land line. So, sometimes, when I call them, I do get a busy signal; it’s probably the only busy signal I’ve heard in years.

I want to point out that landlines still serve useful purposes:

Better 911 reaction time, they come straight to your address rather than a blue dot on a map- in a a area with twisty little streets, that can add 15 minutes to arrival time.

When there is a disaster, the cell towers often go ‘down’ ie so many calls they cant take any more.

You now have a valid # to give people and businesses you dont want calling you on your cell.

If you get your landline from some companies you can add a lot of features, including blocking all incoming calls, or add several spam blockers to get rid of 90% of spam callers.

Depends on the parents.

We had a large house, a bunch of kids, one main phone, and very few calls for the 'rents. So our teen-phone was entirely about it being our responsibility to run across the house to answer that one, not about keeping the main phone free for calls that almost never came.

Why did it not last long? Sounds like a good story you’re assuming we can intuit.

I’ve got the opposite problem.

My aged MIL has a VOIP phone bundle with her cable TV and internet. Which phone line comes with call waiting and voicemail. Neither of which she can operate, and neither of which I can get the supplier to turn off. You can’t not have call waiting & voicemail with them.

So I recorded the “greeting” on her voicemail: it’s me snarling an instruction to not leave a message because it’ll never be listened to. Which doesn’t stop people (and especially robo-callers) from doing just that.

Once a month I clean out that voicemail bilge just to grab the two or three legit calls from doctors’ offices or whatever. Idjits!

I can’t even just wait for it to fill up like VM did 10+ years ago; the capacity is thousands of messages, not just 10 or 20 like the Golden Olden Dayes of, say, 2005.

I wish like heck I could surprise these folks with a good old fashioned busy signal.

When I was a freshman in college, I lived in a rooming house with about 10 students. We had one phone, and it was a pay phone on the wall. I remember always calling my parents “collect”. That’s another thing kids today don’t get.

Find a good recording of a busy signal and use that – just the busy signal audio – as your “greeting.”