History--old MIT dial-up directory [telecom]

Bitsavers has posted an old telephone directory from MIT for terminal users to reach various computers. The front end instructions include warnings about using the correct number for the unit, such as a TTY or



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(The same site has numerous old MIT computer center publicatons.)

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the dial-up computer terminals I saw always were on dedicated outside lines and did not go through the organization's PBX. Our high school had one line for its one Teletype terminal, but there were jacks* for that line set up in several classrooms, and the Teletype had wheels and a handle so it could be moved around.

*The old style 4 prong jack. It had a more modern appearance, both jack and plug being white and round. In a few years it would be replaced by the mini jack (1977?) still used today.
Reply to
Lisa or Jeff
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Actually, a square four-prong jack with two "ears" and rounded corners predated that by many years. The rounded plug with the rounded jack to match only came ca. 1970 or so. The "pinch plug" and modular jack started to show up ca. 1975 IIRC. My thinking is that the Bell System knew their time was up being the only provider of CPE and they developed the pinch plug and "RJ" series jacks partly for that reason.

Reply to
Joseph Singer

It was sometime around mid-to-late 1970s that the RJ11 replaced the big

4-prong jack. The RJ11 came into existence once Ma Bell realized she had lost her specious customer premises equipment argument.

Prior to that the old jacks were available for quite a few years as an option in residential service for, of course, a monthly fee. And, at least one telephone set had to be hard wired.

"Ernestine" in Kansas City explained to me why one instrument had to be hard wired and it could not have a ringer cut-off. "If too many people have all the bells in their house turned off, then the unanswered calls would pile up and overload our carefully engineered system."

I suspect she had a written script for that one.

Reply to
Sam Spade

Some books suggest the old Bell System realized it was costing them more to have men and trucks ready 24/7 to fix any problem than they made in revenue from renting extensions.

Note as well that back then state PUCs _liked_ charging extra for extensions because the profits from that cross-subsidized universal service, a long time goal. Don't forget that a basic phone service package included the telephone set and maintenance and was pretty cheap. Today we still have cross subsidized low budget service, but now one must qualify for it.

In Pennsylvania, we were not charged for the jacks, only telephone sets beyond the first one. Also, there did not have to a phone that was hard wired, but their had to be a ringer on the line. In the old days a bell box was used, later on, an extension ringer. I suspect the ringer requirement was more for testing reasons; I knew a family that had all jacks and the extension ringer was mounted in the basement where no one would hear it.

Reply to
Lisa or Jeff

While we're on this topic, I just now had to untangle and re-route the jungle of phone cords and computer cables under my desk, and encountered once again the long-familiar problem:

Any time you try to pull an RJ11 (or RJ45, or RJ...) cable out of a tangled mess of other cords and cables, you discover that the little plastic locking tab on its connectors is perfectly designed to get caught on another cord or cable, or on any structural edge it encounters, so as to totally frustrate pulling it free.

And if you yank hard enough, this tab is perfectly designed to bend back and snap off, rendering the whole cord useless.

I've always had the impression that Bell Labs geniuses designed every every component of the pre-breakup phone system so as to make each component close to perfect in every detail. So, what genius designed the RJ11 connector?

***** Moderator's Note *****

It was designed by a committee.

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to

On Sat, 09 Oct 2010 13:28:16 -0700, AES wrote: ...........

It was probably more than adequate for the original (I assume) purpose of connecting a phone to a wall socket, but when it became "popular" and started to get used for all sorts of things then - as they say - all bets are off....

Even the hoods on data connectors to cover these tabs and prevent the snagging problem have their own issues, some RJ-45 sockets are in such tight spots that a hooded connector just won't fit and you have to pull the hood back along the cable to get the plug inserted correctly.

In my job I still come across people who have put up with dodgy LAN connections for significant periods to sometimes find that the locking tab is missing and only friction is holding their RJ-45 in the socket, so any time they kick/move the cable they start swearing at their network/computer!

-- Regards, David.

David Clayton Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Knowledge is a measure of how many answers you have, intelligence is a measure of how many questions you have.

Reply to
David Clayton

I have lots of phone cords where said tab is broken and the cord is taped into the phone or wall jack. Heavy users buy a crimping tool and a package plugs which they attach to cords. I don't know if Radio Shack still sells that sort of thing.

Good question.

I have a Bell System engineering textbook from the 1970s and the book makes it clear that the old ways will be changing. What the Bell System executives exactly knew before formal divesture I don't know, but they obviously knew big changes were coming; some of which they sought themselves in recognition of changing technology and times, like charging for things once free.

Anyway, I'm only speculating, but I suspect that because the end was coming, the once vaunted design standards were put aside. After all, one big change was that the Bell System would no longer own and be responsible for the cord and plug--it would be the customer's problem.

A similar situation was with the design of the PRR Metroliner high speed train sets in the 1960s. Historically, the Pennsylvania RR was like the Bell System in seeking perfection in their equipment with intensive research and prototypes. But the Metroliner self propelled train sets were rushed into the service without that and suffered many bugs as a result. (Eventually the unreliable propulsion equipment was stripped off and the trains operated as dead coaches, which they do to this day; other equipment offered the "Metroliner" service. It has since been replaced by Acela.)

As an aside, the Metroliners had radio train phones on board which had direct dial outward service and were a prototype of future cellular service. Trains passed off a call from one wayside tower to another seamlessly as it rode along. Ironically, today we have to have Quiet Cars since everyone yaks loudly on their cell phone.

Reply to
Lisa or Jeff

Didn't need any quiet cars on the Metroliner, since the pay phone was in a phone booth, like God intended.

R's, John

Reply to
John Levine

Not true in NW Bell territory (Iowa.) Until the mid 1960s, we never had a hard-wired phone in the house, only pluggable ones. And there was only a one-time fee for a jack install. As part of a major remodeling we did in 1964, we ended up with a "sort-of" hard-wired phone. an early 'panel phone' (dial variety, not touch-tone), built into the wall of the kitchen. 'Inside the box' in the wall that the phone mounted in, there was a standard 4-prong jack, and a plug on a wire going to the 'innards'. It was easier for the telco to swap out, that way, if/when repair was needed. At the time it was put in, it was the _only_ residential installation of that variety of phone in the entire state, if not all of NW Bell. For 10 years, it was the only one of it's type anywhere in the metro area. Then a new motel went up (1974-5), just out of downtown, and used the same kind of instrument in, at least, all their public spaces. (Handy design, the handset cord was on a retractor/reel inside the wall, so no dangling cord to get in the way of anything.)

We did_ have a loud ring-only device (mounted on the outside of the house) that was hard-wired. Maybe that 'counted' as fulfilling the requirement. Beyond that, we had a all of _two_ phones. But being 'pluggable', and with several jacks, (living room, master bedroom, dining-room (opposite end of the house from the LR), and basement, the phone just 'migrated' to where the people were.

All our instruments, including the outside ringer, had full cut-off. There was a detent at 'minimum volume', to discourage turning it completely off, but they did go off, with only a little persuasion.

Reply to
Robert Bonomi

I very distinctly remember that my grandmother's apartment had one and only one telephone set, a rotary black 500, and two four-prong jacks, one in the bedroom and the other in the dining area.

Yes, it was very possible to have no live sets and no ringers on the line. She did this occasionally when she did not want to be bothered. This would have been ca. late 1950s, genuine Ma Bell installation.

Yeah, right !!

No different than a ring-no-answer situation when nobody is around to answer it.

Reply to

Forgot about panel phones. Apparently they weren't a very popular option; I think far more people went for Trimline or Princess sets.

Were there any other residential options that weren't too successful?

At a worksite they had the Bell Chime, set on doorbell, to ring for emergency calls. I don't think too many residences got the Bell Chime. Some people did get the outdoor loud extension ringer. I know of someone who still has one in service that they'd like to get rid of, but the ringer isn't in an easily accessible spot (mounted high up). Neighbors don't like it.

A local shopping mall had payphones behind a panel that looked very modern (1965). But I found out there were just conventional three slot payphones jerry-rigged to be flush with the panel. Later said mall had one Touch Tone 3-slot pay phone, located in an out of the way place. As an aside, that was an early covered mall but has since been "opened" and converted into a plain strip shopping center.

By the way, at the Fort Washington Interchange of the Penna Tpk there are still pay phones in booths off to the side of the toll gates.

Reply to
Lisa or Jeff

I *KNOW* they were uncommon. When we put it in, it was the only such unit in the entire state, and, I believe, all of NW Bell territory. In either commercial or residential service. The _second_ installation in the state was nearly 10 years later -- a budget business-class hotel put in a bunch of them as the 'house phone' in all the public areas. Made sense for that use -- didn't have to have any furniture near it, just a piece of the wall; no cord to get tangled, etc. Not sure what they used in the rooms themselves,

I'm sure lots more people went for trimline/princess sets.

The panel phone was one of a handful of 'specialty' telephone sets that Bell offered -- ones where you shelled out a bunch of money to 'buy' the phone (actually just the housing), and then paid a recurring monthly for 'renting' the actual phone mechanism innards. What, a decade later, was marketed as the (greatly expanded) 'design-line'.

If I'm remembering right (some 45 years later) the 'purchase' price for that phone was something like $120. Including the installation. Which was a significant chunk of money in 1964 dollars.

Reply to
Robert Bonomi

I remember seeing the panel phone in leaflets and in displays.

The "design line" phones were more popular, quite a few people had them. I've seen candle sticks, wooden boxes, country junction wall set, circle banana set, french phone. Rotary models showed up at yard sales. There was a flap later on when people thought they had bought the entire phone when all they bought was the housing. But I recall the terms being made quite clear when the phones first came out.

Anyway, as divesture approached Bell sold its phones to subscribers for a very low price--and allowed subscribers to exchange an old set for a new one before making the purchase at the used price. So, it wasn't a bad deal. Further, one was buying a real Western Electric built-to-withstand-a-nuclear-attack phone which would last in service far longer than any replacements offered by other companies down the road.

That is a high price. I thought it was rented like most everything else.

In our area Trimlines and Princesses went for an extra $1 a month, which wasn't that cheap in 1970 dollars. The early models required a little plug in transformer to power the dial light; later models used LCDs powered by the phone line. The prior occupants of our house had Trimlines all over, so they were wired with a central transformer in the basement and used the yellow/black wires for light power. We didn't use Trimlines so the transformer was unplugged. When I got my own line, they used the yellow/black for that.

Actually, I don't particularly care for Trimlines. Today I have to use the tone pad for many calls to businesses, and it is cumbersome to do that on a Trimline with the pad in the handset. But their ringer was nicer sounding than a 500/2500 set.

Reply to
Lisa or Jeff

As I recall the phones became the property of the Bell operating companies which may have done what you said. AT&T was much disturbed by this because they wanted the revenue from the phone set sale.

Wes Leatherock snipped-for-privacy@aol.com snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com

Reply to
Wes Leatherock

I worked for AT&T at the time of divestiture. Employees were given at no cost up to 2 Western Electric phones currently in their homes. I received stickers to put on the bottoms of my phones to denote that they were now my property. I don't know if the offer included all employees, or just management and engineers (I was one of the latter).


Reply to

GTE did the same for its employees as deregulation cut in.

Reply to

Thanks for the historical insight.

The old Bell System gave its employees discounts on phone service*. I don't know if the baby Bells or LD carriers do so. It's all different with employees in the wireless division under very different employment policies.

As to Western Electric, there's a big historical irony. Activists for years sought to force AT&T to divest itself of Western Electric, claiming Western's prices were artificially too high, but AT&T always resisted this, including at the final settlement of Divesture. Yet it turned out Western Electric, as it evolved into Lucent, didn't do that well. At Divesture, AT&T probably could've dumped Western Electric and kept the operating companies as an alternative position and been better off. I don't think too many people expected equipment costs and long distance costs to drop as radically as they did thanks to new technology.

  • Today that would probably be seen as a scandal. Employees of transit agencies (bus, train, and subway operators, etc) always got a free pass as part of their job. Today such passes are under attack as "unfair". Of course, not mentioned is that employees need their pass often to do their basic jobs, and setting up a system to distinguish between personal and official use would cost more than saved..
Reply to
Lisa or Jeff

My recollection is: Before divestiture, AT&T gave free long distance (inter-operating company) to employees of the AT&T mother company and Long lines. The operating companies (New England Tel, etc.) gave free local service and toll calls handled entirely within their territory to their employees and retirees.* I didn't get any discount because I worked for Bell Labs and Bell Labs was not an operating company.

After divestiture, I got the following discount off my AT&T phone bill: first $25 free, plus 50% off the remainer up to $100 bill (max discount $67.50). After I retired in 1990, I still got the discount. Later, AT&T spun off Western Electric to Lucent. Because I had worked at the Merrimack Valley, MA labs doing design for manufacture, my pension and health coverage was assigned to Lucent. Lucent, not being an operating company, could not give me a discount on phone service. But they did increase my pension by $25/month to compensate. It appears on my pension stub as a separate item "Special Benefit."

  • For example, my aunt was retired from NE Tel and lived in Massachusetts. She could make free toll calls to me in New Hampshire, because it was all NE Tel territory.


***** Moderator's Note *****

That's long gone in New England: as a Verizon retiree, I get a ~$20 credit for my phone bill each month, but it doesn't cover _any_ calls outside my LATA, and the credit is limited and can't be applied to any of the "discount" plans that would include a wider calling area.

I had the line restricted to my _contiguous_ calling area, and I use Google Voice for everything that Verizontal would usually charge me for.

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to

My grandparents had the panel phone in their home that was built in the late 1960's. Always kind of an odd set, the cord was fairly short so you couldn't go too far with it.

When the Bell System broke up my grandparents gave back the pannel phone and opted for a 2554 with a 25 foot cord.

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