Was the hotline between Washington and Moscow a phone line?

One often sees in movies concerning the period the US President using the hotline to speak directly to the Soviet Premier, but I recall hearing somewhere that the real hotline wasn’t a telephone line at all.

Checking the net, I find one site that says it was:

“In 1963, one particular hotline became hot news. In the aftermath of the previous year’s Cuban missile crisis, when miscommunication between the United States and the Soviet Union nearly led to war, the two sides established a telephone and teletype “hot line” between the White House and the Kremlin so the leaders of the two nations could talk at a moment’s notice. That line was opened August 30, 1963.”

And another that says it wasn’t:

“An annex setting out the technical details of the agreement was prepared, which allowed for a two-way telegraphic link that spanned through Washington, London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Moscow. A stand-by radio communication was also implemented between Washington and Moscow. Both communication systems were made effective and open 24 hours a day.”

So could a US President have picked up the red phone and spoken to a Soviet Premier, or would he have had to cable him or communicate via radio?

Why couldn’t it be a radio link that is set up like a direct dial telephone? I don’t know how it works but I can imagine the end user interface was designed to be simple. There may have been multiple communications that it checked as a fallback plan.

The original hotline was a teletype. The reason was to provide a hard copy, just in case there was a misunderstanding or mistranslation. You wouldn’t want WWIII to start because JFK said “I want to visit Moscow” and have it translated as “I want to bomb Moscow.”

I don’t know about the original one, but the current one is a satellite link. It’s located at Fort Detrick in Frederick, MD. I’ve been inside it once a few years ago and they told us that they have a Russian keyboard so that there are no missunderstandings. They said the Russians used a US keyboard on their end for the same reason. Not a very big place but interesting to see.

The hotline has been operated and maintained by Bendix Field Engineering Corp., now called Honeywell Technology Solutions Inc., since 1981. AFAIK, it’s always been a teleprinter communications link.


[Mock seriousness]
I can’t see getting the two mixed up
Я хочу посетить Москву.

Я хочу бомбить Москву.

Imagine spilling coffee on that memo :smack:

That recalls the not-quite-hilarious speech that the late Ronald Reagan made. “Russia has been declared illegal-the bombing starts in five minutes”. Boy that shook up a few people-is humor/jokes EVER allowed on the hotline?