The Rotary Dial Phone

Woman talking on rotary dial phone
Rotary dial phones were popular until the 60s when "Touch-Tone" phones became the standard for most Baby Boomers
Photo of pay phone
Before and for years after cell phones were introduced in 1973, Baby Boomers used pay phones when they traveled. Every salesperson knew where every pay phone in their sales territory was located.

Modern phones have touch-sensitive dial pads that require no effort at all to press when you make a call. It wasn’t always this way. Back then, there were rotary dial phones, which is why we still refer to entering the phone number as “dialing the phone.”

The rotary dial is a crucial element of a telephone switchboard or a telephone, which carries through the pulse dialing signaling technology. This dial is used while starting a phone call. It gradually transmits the goal phone number to a known telephone exchange. A rotary dial has digits laid out in a circular pattern.

Each number is somewhat encased by a circle in which a finger could fit. The finger could then rotate each number from its original position to a ceasing point, which prevents the wheel dial from rotating any further. The rotary dial phone was all that we had available back in the day when the baby boomers used the phone.

The moment the finger releases the number at the stop, the wheel goes back to its original position at the speed facilitated by the governor device. During this time, the dial stops the electrical current of the phone line a certain number of times based on the number. The electrical pulses generated are decoded by the telephone exchange into every dialed number.

It took us ages to dial that phone but we thought we were SO lucky to have it.

Push-button dialing became widely adopted in the 1980s with “Touch-Tone” technology that was introduced at the World’s Fair in 1962.

How to dial a phone, 1954 – Bell Systems

Teens attempt to use a rotary phone

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