“It’s little! It’s lovely! It lights!” went the slogan for Bell System’s Princess telephone. Targeted specifically to women, the pastel-colored Princess telephone was the Bell company’s first foray into consumer marketing. During the economic boom of the 1950s, the designs of all sorts of utilitarian products were enhanced to reflect changing consumer moods and lifestyles. The Princess arrived toward the end of this wave, debuting in 1959 after Bell finally recognized that its plain black models were inhibiting customer excitement for its products rather than fueling consumer demand.
Designed by Henry Dreyfuss and manufactured by Western Electric, Princess phones came in white, pink, blue, beige, and turquoise. Their oval shape was similar to the company’s 202 set from 1930, except it was more compact. When the handset was lifted, a small light would illuminate the Princess’ rotary dial, which could also be set as a night-light.
The Princess was the first phone since the “Gilliland” set of the 1880s to be given a formal name, chosen from around 300 different suggestions and vetted by four customer surveys. Marketing for the Princess emphasized the phone’s “graceful styling” and “lovely lines,” giving this common household object a new level of visual appeal. Other ads included pitches like “To each her own Princess,” depicting women of all ages and lifestyles using phones that matched the decor in their homes.
Bell hoped these pretty little phones would inspire customers to lease additional extension phones for bedrooms, kitchens, and parlors, where standard 500 sets might look too bulky and awkward. The Princess phone's small size, lighted dial, and absence of a ringer made it particularly popular in bedrooms.
Because of their diminutive size and limited hardware, Princess sets were three pounds lighter than the typical 500 model. In fact, at first they were too light—early incarnations of the phone tended to slide around when the user turned the rotary dial. After the original sets were installed in homes, Western Electric retrofitted many of them with a small counterweight to prevent this problem. In 1963, a ringer was added, whose weight further stabilized the phones. That same year, a black Princess model was introduced, rumored to have been requested by First Lady Jackie Kennedy. And then, in 1964, the Princess was updated with the latest technology of the day, a push-button dial.
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