Touch Tone at 1964 World's Fair [telecom]

Touch-Tone telephone dialing (commonly called push-button dialing)
made its major public debut at the New York World's Fair in 1964,
located in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. The Bell System provided
about 7,000 pay phones for the fair grounds of new Touch Tone
telephones in futuristic swirl phone booths. (The booths were
spacious and had thick dividers for good acoustics. However, they
were open at the top. A simple canopy gave some rain protection, but
not as much as the traditional phone booth did.)
I believe direct distance dialing (via TSP) was also available from
fair coin telephones.
Unlike many other enterprises involved with the fair, New York
Telephone charged its normal rates. Local calls from the fair were a
dime, like everywhere else.
Part of the publicity was providing the fair president, Robert Moses,
with a Touch Tone phone for his desk*.
This debut followed successful trials and offerings of service in the
towns of Carnegie and Greensburg, Pennsylvania in November of 1963.
In April 1964, residents of Queens, New York, where the fair was held,
could order Touch Tone for their homes. The rate was $1.90 per
residential line per month. (Pennsylvania subscribers could get it
for $1.50 per month).
Everything didn't go smoothly. In April 1964, before the fair opened,
there were problems with pilferage from exhibits. Bell Telephone
claimed 3,500 of its 6,500 phones were vandalized even though "the
phones won't work anywhere else". The newspaper report on this wasn't
too clear, but I find it hard to believe that 3,500 pay phones were
stolen or even vandalized. But behind the scenes, things weren't
going well at the Fair; a great deal of dissention.
I wonder how much extra switching capacity and trunking had to be
installed in the Corona-Flushing Central Office to accomodate all the
World's Fair traffic from both exhibitors and patrons. Obviously TT
converters were necessary, but they'd need more capacity overall, plus
long distance trunking and operator services for all the toll calls,
even with TSP.
If anyone attended the 1964-65 fair and visited the Bell Telephone
pavilion, perhaps you could share your experiences. One popular
demonstration at the fair was Picturephone, which is one prediction of
the future that never came to be.
Western Union had an exhibit where one could send a telegram home for
Ref: "The End of Innocence, The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair" by
Lawrence R. Samuel, 2007.
As an aside, do they still have World's Fairs? I never hear of them.
Moses was a very busy and powerful man, holding numerous
governmental positions, building parks, highways, dams and power
stations, and housing projects. His personal office telephone system
was very simple. He also refused to have a mobile telephone in his
car, preferring to use that time for uninterupted work.
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I went to the fair a couple of times in the Spring of 1964. I recall it was very clean and seemed to be well run.
I certainly visited the Bell pavilion, and vividly remember the Picturephone. The Picturephone became "operational" later on with a booth in Grand Central Station.
I believe there was were corresponding facilities in a few locations in other major citites that could connect with Grand Central Station.
As to the pay stations, I recall them but DTMF meant nothing to me then. I suspect they were served by a No 5XBAR, which was very fast with DTMF.
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Sam Spade
My 10 year-old self attended the 1964 World's Fair. My mother and I rode a bus from Southern New Jersey to go to the fair.
I remember playing with the touch-tone demonstration in the Bell Labs exhibit. I could dial a phone pretty fast and needed convincing that a push button phone would really be quicker. I dialed my home phone number (the exhibit suggested using 555-5555) and found that even having to find the numbers it was much quicker. The video phone stuff I remember as being very crowded and hard to get to play with. As New Jersey residents we got touch-tone availability and DDD pretty early on. I can't be sure if it was before or after the fair, but certainly before 1965 when we moved to Northern NJ.
I know the Ford Mustang was introduced at that World's Fair, but I have no personal memory of that. My mother later bought a 1967 Mustang, and some years after I learned to drive in it, but I don't remember it at the fair. Possibly we didn't go to the Ford exhibit.
I do remember the Corning Glass exhibit and their glass fiber. I think I remember seeing a Telstar satellite.
And, of course, "It's a Small World" was introduced at the Disney exhibit . . . much as I'd like, I can't forget that.
Bill Ranck Blacksburg, Va.
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When you think about it we do have picturephone services, just not from the incumbent carriers. For example if you use Skype you can tie your digital camera into it and have full duplex audio/video.
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Yes, but the 1964 Picturephone was black and white and required a whole bunch of voice channels to transmit the video. It was not unlike what the television networks used to transmit live broadcasts at the time.
The first live coast-to-coast television broadwast was around 1951. Edward R. Murrow's Sunday "See It Now" comes to mind.
***** Moderator's Note *****
IIRC, PicturePhone relied on a T1 line for transmission. I don't know what 1.536 Mbps translates to in terms of resolution, but it was quite an achievement at the time.
Intercity TV transmission was by means of coaxial cable: the same cables that carried L5 carrier were used for TV. The TeleVision Operating Center was at 185 Broadway in NYC, and almost all video from and to anywhere went through it.
Most TV goes on DS3 links now.
Bill Horne Temporary Moderator
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Sam Spade
In later years this shifted to the terrestrial microwave network, and of course now satellite.
Most TV runs on either private microwave or private fiber, although in some markets telco OC-3 is probably used. Except, of course, in those places where it's all waveguide.
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Garrett Wollman
I seem to recall that "they" made a big deal out of the fact that live coast-to-coast television was made possible in 1951 by the completion of a series of analog microwave towers between NY and LA, spaced approximately 40 miles apart.
Note to moderator: I knew very little about the technical aspects of the Picturephone but I suspect the early live transmissions of broadcast quality television (1951) used more bandwidth than T1. In fact, since it was analog microwave (if I recall correctly) could it even be equated to digital transmission, such as T1?
The Picturephone came along over 10 years later.
***** Moderator's Note *****
Yes, microwave played a big part in the early national networks, and many of the links were provided by non-AT&T carriers. The point I was making is that PicturePhone used _only_ a T1 for its connection, so it _had_ to be lower bandwidth than regular TV.
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Sam Spade
The Bell System spent a great deal of money developing Picturephone and associated sub-systems (switching and various terminal equipment, too). It hardly got off the ground. Certain public video- teleconferencing services were set up, but I don't think their Picturephone individual units ever made it out of experimental or demonstration services. I believe one demo was at the White House, don't know how that worked out.
Indeed, with webcams today it's probably easy to set up, but I stll don't think there's much demand for it. We like talking to each other, but not looking at each other. Oddly, email is actually a throwback to the old telegram, written communications.
There was a second generation of Picturephone that came out a few years later, the sets were more image sensitive in a more squared box instead of the original oval, a bigger picture, and a macro lens to view drawings and objects closeup.
I got to try it out at a trade fair; it was fun to use.
At that time No 5 crossbar was the crown jewel switch of the Bell System and probably was installed to handle the Fair. No.5 xbar was designed from the start for Touch Tone, though the original 1949 reed tone-generators was changed. The rest of NYC at that time was probably handled by panel, some of it as old as 1922, though updated with new features. New panel switches in NYC was installed as late as 1950.
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I found a series of articles from 1964 in Time Magazine. Interesting stuff.
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Broadcast quality television requires 4 MHz of usable bandwidth in order to transmit it. For a B&W image that is kind of smeary, you might be able to get away with a channel that starts drooping down at 2.5 MHz but that won't meet telco specs.
Now, back in the days when this stuff was being done, there wasn't any digital audio transmission. Telephone trunk circuits were created with frequency division multiplexing of 4 KHz audio channels. I don't recall the various Telpak channel designations or the exact channel spacing and guard bands any more, but figure that you can put more than 500 but no more than 1000 4 KHz channels onto a 4 MHz pipe. I bet a google search on 'telpak carriers' gets you something a bit better.
A T-1 circuit transmits 1.54 Mbps, which in a perfect world with zero channel noise requires 1.54 MHz bandwidth to transmit. In reality it's happy with a bit more bandwidth. --scott
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Scott Dorsey
What were the reed tone-generators?
And, do you have any idea how long the circa 1950 panel installations remained in service?
I never did understand how the panel switch worked. I guess it was a form of common control unlike SxS.
How did panel adapted to DTMF orignation dialing?
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Sam Spade
In 1949 in a new pioneer No. 5 crossbar installation in the town of Media, Pennsylvania, Bell tried a push-button telephone experiment. A 302 set was outfitted with two rows of five buttons. When the buttons were pressed, they plucked a reed underneath which generated the tone. Apparently it did not work out that well and the experiment ended. The later Touch Tones were designed to avoid any natural interference. Trial installations of the modern Touch Tone were done in the early 1960s
I remember years ago a big thing promised with that was that one could do grocery shopping by entering codes. Ironically, of all the things we can do (or are forced to do) by phone today, that one never materialized.
I think it was only one installation, in New York City, in 1950. Probably done to be compatible with existing gear. I think it remained in service until the mid 1970s.
Yes, the Panel Switch was common control. It was developed originally for big city switching in about 1920, tried out, then deployed in large scale about 1922 in New York City. It was developed because it was clear the 10x10 limitation of the Strowger switch simply was too small for the traffic volume and flexibility needed in a big city. There may be copies of technical descriptions of panel (its senders and all that) out on the web, possibly in the Telecom archives. In essence, the desired number was translated into a non-decimal form, then contacts would go up or down on long verticals 'panels' to make the contact. For 1922, panel was an enormous technical leap forward. It was front page news for days in the New York Times when it was rolled out.
A big feature of panel was a good interface with manual exchanges, since cities would contain both until converted to dial. From dial to manual the panel switch would drive signal lights on a "B" operator's switchboard so she could plug into the right line. From manual to dial "B" operators would enter the number via a keypad.
Panel also had internal diagnostic checks to alert craftsmen of problems.
As an aside, in big cities two operators were required to complete a call. The "A" operator answered it from the subscriber and took the request. She then plugged into an exchange trunk, even if it was for her own exchange. A "B" operator of the desired exchange answered the trunk (terminated in her cord). The A operator gave the number and the B operator plugged into the desired line.
For example, to call Main 1234, the A operator plugged into the Main trunk. The B operator (through automatic position routing) got a signal. The A operator said '1234' and the B operator plugged into line 1234. Ringing was automatic.
Panel also had message rate meters per line.
Panel supported party lines and gave each line its own number instead of a letter suffix.
In big cities after WW I it was hard to find enough operators to handle the volume at an affordable wage rate. Also, operators need cafeteria and breakroom space. However, the advantage of operators was that during offpeak hours few were required; while automatic equipment was always there and had to be paid for whether in use or not. The capital cost of maching switching was far, far higher than the cost of a manual switchboard position.
I'm not sure if it did because Panel was on its way out by the time Touch Tone got widespread. I think panel lasted in service longer than expected.
The Bell System developed Touch Tone converters of various grades for its switches. SxS had converters.
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I don't believe Panel made it to Los Angeles. Thus, Pacific Telephone had to deploy No. 5 XBAR as rapidly as possible to be the host of all those SxS switches for the implemenation of DDD.
Panel made have been used in San Francisco. I think I recall hearing that, but am uncertain.
As did General Tel.
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Sam Spade
The later Touch Tones were designed to avoid any natural
I recall the early Touch Tone sets had 10 buttons and the * and # came along later.
And, then there was the Autovon issue with another row of tone buttons (if I recall correctly).
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Sam Spade
I believe there might have been a few panel switches in Los Angeles, I took a tour of the Grand building while I was in high school in 1961, I remember seeing SXS; later having worked for GTE, but I saw some other kind of switch and I know that is was not 5XBAR having seen them on another part of the tour
General had 2 types of TC converters that we installed, one was made by compan that made telephones like the chest phone, another was made by a company in Orange county. Some where in my stuff I have a couple of each along with the cables, I always planned on installing them on my test train rack that I pulled out of an office years also, but all that stuff is boxed up right now. For a few years I used it to show students and my daughter's school what the old type of switch looked like and they could see how a call went through the CO.
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Steven Lichter
No, panel didn't make there. Los Angeles was a special case, apparently from a mixture of companies, and was step-by-step. I don't know the history, but I believe some efforts at a 'poor man's common control' was applied to their SxS.
Oddly, LA SxS was an early applicator of ANI and call recording. Back in the 1940s they had printing tapes automatically tracking short- distance dialed toll calls. But I think the ANI they used was cumbersome and expensive.
I think the real desire to get rid of SxS was to have more efficient routing and trunking flexibility and efficiency than SxS could do, but is needed in a city like L.A. The Bell System history (Switch 1925-75) explains all of this in detail.
You don't need #5 xbar to get DDD. You could wire SxS so that upon the prefix (eg 1) the call is switched to a dedicated or fast responding trunk at a tandem switch so that the subsequent dial pulls are recorded and processed by the tandem switch. That was a common way to provide DDD in SxS areas.
The common control portion of a switch is extremely expensive. It took a long time for common control to be made cost effective for small volume exchanges and PBXs to justify crossbar service and ESS. Until then, SxS was the most cost effective in small areas.
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Yes, that is correct. When our household got TT around 1970, one set was 10 button and one set was 12 button. I understand a 10 button set is a collector's item.
I believe Picturephone sets had 11 buttons, the 11th for picture control. (???)
Yes, they had a fourth column. I believe that was for priority calls in case circuits were busy. Those sets are also collector's items.
But Autovon handled dial sets too, not everyone had one of the fancy sets.
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I believe that Autovon sets had an extra row; 12 keys, don't remember what they were used for, much lie the KPU sets on the test boards, I worked on projects at March AF base.
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Steven Lichter
I visited the Pasadena, California main CO in the late 1970s when a Pacific Telephone ESS engineer friend. The office was still mostly SxS then, with one prefix serving a large customer on a little ESS 100 (sort of a CO PBX). They also had two prefixes just cut to a 1 ESS. My friend showed me a name plate on the SxS equipment that showed it was installed for Home Telephone Company at the time. I suppose Home Telephone had parts of downtown LA, too.
The Bell System history (Switch
I can see the 1875-1925 edition on my bookshelf. I think I got the 1925-1975 somewhere.
You could wire SxS so that upon
Was that what was known as overlap outpulsing? I recall that the El Monte, CA 1975 No 1ESS did that type of direct dial-pulse trunking to nearby General Telephone SxS CO. Or, so I was told.
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Sam Spade
This is far from the best video of the fair. But, it's mine. ;-)
I shot it in Super 8 as my co-workers and I were in a van going into Manhattan from Kennedy Airport.
Because of the context of my movies, I know this was the Summer of 1965.
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