August 29, 2014 Posted by: David R. Daly
A model 20AL phone manufactured by Western Electric in the early 20th century.
In the first floor hallway on a small table is a telephone.  This 20AL model phone was manufactured by Western Electric between 1915 and about 1920.  It is one of two telephones in the house, the other being located in the second floor master bedroom.

This type of phone is called a candlestick phone, so named because of the overall shape reminiscent of a candlestick.  A caller would hold the "candlestick" part to their mouth to speak into, and hold the receiver up to an ear to listen to the other party.  The lack of any dialing mechanism meant that in order to place a call, the caller would have to speak to a switchboard operator who would then make the connection to the desired number.  Also noticeable is the lack of an obvious bell; the bell was located on a junction box affixed to the wall nearby.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 1917 when John F. Kennedy was born there were roughly 1.3 million telephones in Massachusetts, giving a ratio of one phone for every three people in the state.  The growth in the number of phones and miles of phone lines exploded in the U.S. between 1910 and 1920, and the Kennedy family made sure to have phone service in their Beals Street home for communication with friends and family and for Mr. Kennedy's business purposes.  During their years at Beals Street Mr. Kennedy worked as a bank president and an assistant general manager at a shipyard, and having a phone right next to his bed at home would have facilitated the running of both businesses.


Last updated: August 29, 2014

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