Telephone Styles and Locations: Roaring Twenties

Deciding where to put the telephone in my fictional house in my novel proved unexpectedly troublesome. Where did people put telephones during the Roaring Twenties? Bedrooms? Living rooms? Kitchens? No one wrote about such commonplace things. “Dear Diary, Today I answered the telephone, which sits on a table beside my bed, and talked with Joe for half an hour.” It just didn’t happen.

I asked two people in their nineties (the only 2 people I know in their nineties) if they could remember where the telephone was located when they were children. Both said “the hall.” Not a very scientific survey, but I was stumped. A hall phone would not be very private, then again, who linked telephones with privacy back then, when party lines almost ensured that someone was listening in? And it makes sense. The hall is central, with easy to access for servants or family alike.

Since then, I’ve stumbled on a couple references that support this idea: one is Bill Bryson’s new book, AT HOME, where he says that initially, most houses had their single phone at the foot of the stairs in the first-floor hall. So I’ve located the telephone in my novel in the hall, but put it in the back, below the stairs.

Next question: what did the telephones look like?


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Not directly relevant, but my parents got their phone in the 1940s where it was positioned between a photo of William Gladstone and a stuffed parrot. Answering the phone was always an imaginative experience.
    So, twenty years later than your time period, but this was Liverpool and probably followed the pattern of what ever America does, the rest of the world will do sometime later (True in those days at least)

  2. As a child I lived in a home built in 1925. ALthough the furniture changed over the years and the walls were painted again and again, the phone remained the same. We had a 1930’s early rotary desk top phone leased by AT&T. There was only one phone outlet and it was hard wired in the hallway. It sat on a little table against the wall. My parents said that the phone was there when they moved in and was part of the phone service. Many years have passed, but I checked on the house about five years ago and I asked the owner if the phone was still in the hallway. He said that it was and that it still worked just fine, although he and his wife used cell phones for most of their calls. Even though we live in America, where everything is always changing so quickly, it is comforting to know that the telephone in my old home is over 80 years old and still doing its job.

    I llive in a rural area in the Southern United States and I recall that the house phone was always located in the main hallway or the foyer, beside the staircase. However, I have seen a photograph of my grandmothers dining room from 1905. In the picture you can see the phone on the wall in the dining room near the hall entrance. My grandmother said that her father had it put in there because the door facing could be removed to allow for the placement of the wire, (phones were permanently wired back then), and because it was a large wooden box phone called a coffin-style phone.

    • Oh, this is very helpful! Just the sort of thing I need to confirm my belief that most people had telephones in the downstairs hall back then. Thanks a bunch.

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