Amazing luck–I happened to see a small notice in the newspaper about the Verizon building in Richmond, Va., opening it’s private telephone museum to the public for a few hours that same afternoon. I jumped in the car and headed downtown to a corporate display of old telephones and related equipment. Several retired telephone workers were there to explain the intricacies of early technology, how telephone operators worked, and what sort of promotional advertisements played along with the decades. Fascinating. Several rooms of stuff dating from the 1800s to the present. This private museum (which I had never heard of, even though I’ve lived in this city for 34 years) is opened by Verizon on request or on rare occasions, like that afternoon. I learned a lot.
I had never been satisfied that I understood state-of-the-art telephone equipment of 1925, when my novel takes place. Now I do. Now I can write about it with confidence. (Yes, it’s a very minor part of my story, but historians are compulsive about getting the details right.)
Here are some pictures I took of three telephones from the Roaring Twenties. And I now know how they worked! My main character’s house has the wall version, below, that you cranked (the handle on the right) to talk to the operator (into the mouthpiece, center) and then asked for the number you wanted. She (operators were all female) plugged it in to make the connection and the other line rang a bell. You put the left hand apparatus to your ear.