April 15, 2016
If you are over 50, you probably remember these ubiquitous glass and aluminum structures that were found on urban sidewalks, inside transportation terminals, outside restaurants and service stations, sometimes along the highway. They were also all over Metropolis so Superman had somewhere to become Clark Kent after saving the world. They all contained a coin-operated telephone, or pay phone in common parlance, where you could reach out and touch someone if you had the right coins.
The glass and aluminum Airlight Telephone Booth of our youth was introduced in 1954. The booth featured tip-up directories that folded into a box to protect them. Sort of. Telephone books tended to disappear or have pages ripped out by users without a pen. There was a shelf for your stuff or to write info if you were smart enough to carry a pen.
Prior to 1954, phone booths were made from wood. One such wooden booth is extant and on the NRHP as a component of the Chandelier Ballroom in Hartford, Wisconsin.
A wooden phone booth at
the Schwartz Ballroom, now the
Chandelier Ballroom, in
Cell phones have pretty much killed the pay phone industry, although phone booths have all but disappeared over the decades. Now more of a curiosity than a necessity, pay phones and telephone booths are quaint reminders of days gone by. A world famous phone booth in the middle of the Mojave Desert was removed about 20 years ago. (Yes, Mojave Desert. Do a google search.)
To get home from the football game, and to save money, we would call home, let it ring twice and hang up. We got our dime back for an uncompleted call and Dad knew to come to school and pick us up.
One remaining Airlight Telephone Booth in Prairie Grove, Arkansas has been placed on the NRHP. It is a survivor, the last remaining phone booth of the small telephone company that has been family owned since 1888. The booth was flattened in 2014 by the driver of an SUV who had fallen asleep. It was restored and is back on the job, creating a revenue stream of less than five bucks a year. It will always remain here as a quaint reminder of what life was like so many years ago.
"Deposit ten cents, plea-uz."