How-To Geek

Now You Can Dial [Geek History/Video]

If you though explaining email to a confused relative was basic just wait until you see how elaborate of a video was required to teach people to dial a phone number.

In this lengthy and elaborate (it has props!) video from 1954, popular fashion model of the time Susann Shaw walks us through how to use a dial telephone. It seems astounding that people would need this level of instruction but every technology is a new technology at some point and many people were quite put off to have to actually dial a phone number instead of requesting a connection via a live operator.

What we find baffling is the continual reference to the number zero and the letter O both as “O”. If they were so worried about people being confused with these new-fangled self-dialed telephones it seems like it would make sense to refer to the letter as “O” and the numeral as “zero” to avoid annoying long conversations like “No no, dial the numeral O not the letter O, you know the one at the end of the dial not the middle…”

Now You Can Dial [AT&T Tech Channel via BoingBoing]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/7/11

Comments (8)

  1. kell

    :) Giving the number to the operator was fast and easy.(No voice recognition technology so you were easily understood.) Easier than dialing. Easier than punching in the # on my cell phone. Let’s go back to that!

  2. Kerensky97

    I had to explain how to use a rotary phone to a kid. He could use an iPhone but knowing to rotate the numbers to the finger stop confused him. He thought you just put your fingers in the holes of the numbers you need, his specific question was if they needed to be in all at once or if you do it one at a time.

  3. Michael Sammels

    @Kerensky97, that’s actually pretty fun – but it’s also a common problem. Also, I’m not sure if area codes are better than main office codes.

  4. Bryan Schmidt

    It was fun as a kid to record the dialing of a number in a tape recorder, then play it back into the receiver and amaze my friends that I could dial without actually ‘dialing’. Since the central office was just hearing the clicks, it was easy to mimic. That also works with the newer tonal and dual-tone systems. Also, until they fixed it, you could playback the sound a payphone generates when a quarter is fed into the machine, to simulate the same action, and get a free call. This was fixed eventually, but it was fun while it worked.

  5. Daz

    1954 seems very late. I can remember using dial phones as far back as 1944.
    Wonder which market this was aimed at?

    And my grandfather’s generation said “aught” instead of zero – no problems there!

  6. Zina

    Yes, it seems to be a bit dazzling about the o’s :)
    But it is understandable if you think about O as the operator, couse you had to dial just the zero = to get him/her.

  7. Mark

    I remember our dial phone that we had in our house up until 1989. It didn’t look too much different to the one in the video (not the giant prop one).

    The single syllable “oh” is a lot easier and quicker to say that “zero” when reading out a number too, so it makes sense. Do we say Double-Zero-Seven for James Bond? Nope.

    Nice retro video :)

  8. Cynthia Fisher

    The 10th hole represents a zero (0) and an O. They referred to the 10th digit as an O so it would be readily used to call the Operator. She explains this in the tutorial.

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