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"Plan for Telephones," admonished this 1949 Jacksonville display from Southern Bell. The round picture on the stand showed a middle-age couple using a rotary phone. The signs also alluded to "wires leading to convenient outlets" and "peace of mind all through the night." This exhibit appears to have been set up on an indoor basketball court.

Rotary Phones

YOUR FINGERS DO THE WALKING — During the early 1950s, some of Jacksonville’s phonebooks dealt with the real ABCs of rotary phones. They gave detailed instructions for dialing & using such a device. Here’s an excerpt from page 3 of the 1950 directory:

How to Use the Dial Telephone in Jacksonville, Baldwin, Green Cove Springs… When you hear the dial tone, dial each figure in the telephone number you wish to call as follows — Place you finger in the opening over the first figure of the number, turn the dial around until your finger strikes the finger stop, then remove your finger and without touching the dial, allow it to return to its normal position. Proceed in the same way to dial the other figures in the number.”  The directory also included a helpful illustration.

During the Fifties, Bell Telephone even produced a public service film entitled “Now You Can Dial!” It featured a pretty actress standing next to a five foot model of a telephone dial. She cheerfully explained how the letters & numbers worked and how to listen for a dial tone, among other ABCs of phone use.

These fundamental directions really come as no surprise. Many American households could not boast of a phone until after the end of World War II in 1945. Then the US got wired: Between 1946 and 1950, the number of Jacksonville telephones increased by 50%.

NO MORE MAYBERRY CALLS — Not only did the number of phones increase, but service also got better. In November 1950, Jacksonville lost a “Mayberry-like” quality when the last of its telephone switchboards was fazed out. No longer did a live operator have to make a connection for a caller. Such questions as “Number please?” had once been familiar to many Jacksonville residents after picking up a receiver to place a call. They could now dial for themselves.

Complete dial service became effective for Jacksonville and adjacent cities in 1950. At the same time, Southern Bell eliminated most toll calls between Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra, Mandarin, and Orange Park. Calling between these places was no longer similar to phoning long distance.

New telephone books were published in 1950, and the phone company urged patrons to discard the old volumes. Many Jacksonville phones gained new numbers under the rotary dial system. All telephones in the outlying cities also switched to new numbers.

By the mid 1980s, technology had changed to the extent that AT&T stopped manufacturing rotary phones, which had mostly given way to touchtone models. And of course, cellphones and smart phones are now replacing both phone types in many local households. Rotary phones still live, though, in the hearts & households of some callers.

~written by Glenn Emery


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