Western Electric, the equipment division of the Bell System, was the major manufacturer of telephones and telephone-related equipment in the United States for almost a century. Incorporated in 1872  by Elisha Gray and Enos M. Barton (who got their start together in 1869 in Cleveland), the Chicago-based company manufactured a wide range of electrical hardware, including telegraph equipment, bells, signal boxes, and fire alarms. In 1877, the firm shifted gears to produce telephone equipment for Western Union, but that alliance lasted only two years, halted by a patent-infringement lawsuit filed by the Bell Company. Western Electric tried to get back into the telephone business though the majority purchase of a Bell manufacturer called Gilliland Electric Co., but by 1882, the Bell Company itself had become the majority owner of Western Electric, which, in 1925, spun off all its non-telephone hardware products as Graybar, named in honor of Gray and Barton.

While Western Electric supplied Bell with a variety of wooden wall phones and candlestick styles from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th centuries, its first major innovation was the model A1, introduced in 1925. The A1 had a round brass base, an aluminum-alloy cradle and plunger, and a handset made partly of Bakelite and featuring both an earpiece and voice transmitter. Although this type of handset technology had been around since the turn of the century and was particularly popular in Europe, the A1 was the first major U.S. cradle phone to incorporate it. In 1927, the company introduced an improved version of its cradle phone called the B1, which was produced in a 102 version (a sidetone handset, in which both the caller's voice and the recipient's voice was routed into the earpiece) and a 202 version (an anti-sidetone phone with more sophisticated circuitry).

In 1930, the company introduced its oval-base D1 model, which is usually referred to as the 202 since the anti-sidetone version of the phone was so common. The 202 was Western Electric's workhorse telephone throughout the 1930s, and many families relied on them through World War II due to limitations on new consumer products (manufacturers like Western Electric retooled to support the war effort). For those customers, Western Electric frequently swapped out the old E1 model handsets on their 202 phones for newer F1 handsets, which were designed by Henry Dreyfuss in 1936 for an entirely new telephone model, the 302.

Initially produced in heavy pot metal and painted black, the 302 was the first widely available telephone to feature a ringer and anti-sidetone hardware housed within the phone’s central mechanism. In 1941, Western Electric switched from pot metal to a lighter thermoplastic body due to metal shortages caused by the war, and in 1942 production of 302 was suspended altogether. After the war, production of plastic phones in ivory, green, pink, red, and blue (the rarest color) resumed until 1954.

The 302 was updated by Henry Dreyfuss in 1949 to create the sleeker 500 model, which was the first phone to incorporate a coiled handset cord, a development possibly adapted from cords used in airplane cockpits. In another breakthrough, the 500 also allowed the user to control the volume of the ringer. As with the 302, the 500 was originally sold only in black but was eventually produced in a range of hues, from ivory to golden yellow to pink, with ads that read “Pick a phone from this garden of colors!” Due to parent company AT&T’s near telephone monopoly, the 500 became the standard American telephone for the next 30 years, when more than 100 variations of its design were made. In 1951, Western Electric was forced to license the model's design to other companies, further extending the phone’s ubiquity in American households.

Western Electric launched its line of Princess phones in 1959, which featured a smaller oval-shape, lighted dials, and a pastel-hued body designed to appeal to female customers. Its Trimline phone debuted in 1965, and imitated the popular Princess model with its slender body, lighted dial, and series of bright colors. However, the Trimline's dial was mounted on the center portion of the handset, a move that further simplified the act of making a call.

In 1984, Western Electric was divided into various components of AT&T. In 1995, the parent company dropped the Western Electric brand entirely.

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Tudor Jones Jr.
Rome News-Tribune, October 8th

Upon completion of his tour of duty in Europe he returned to Georgia and worked for Western Electric Company. He met his beloved Mary while working in Columbus, ... Bunk worked as an equipment engineer with the Southern Bell Telephone Company for many...Read more

Tudor "Bunk" Jones Jr., 96: Stormed Utah Beach on D-Day
Patch.com, October 6th

Upon completion of his tour of duty in Europe he returned to Georgia and worked for Western Electric Company. He met his beloved Mary while working in Columbus, Georgia. They made their home in Atlanta where they had all four children. Bunk worked as...Read more

Burlington City Council approves rezoning for East Burlington development
Burlington Times News, October 6th

The Burlington City Council voted to rezone property for a proposed gas station and grocery store at the former Western Electric parking lot Tuesday night. Now with council's blessing, the 10 acres at the northeast intersection of North Graham-Hopedale...Read more

Disappointing: Osgood Solar's plan leaves officials frustrated
Wicked Local North Andover, October 5th

And given that the site was once home to a legendary business – Western electric, then Lucent – a lot is expected of it still. “The board is going to be ... I often tell people, 14,000 people worked around the clock at that plant. Those days are gone...Read more

Stanley's Fall River power plant saved
Loveland Reporter-Herald, October 2nd

The original hydroelectric plant had one room to house a water wheel that was connected to a 200-kilowatt Western Electric generator. Adjacent to the plant was the cottage for the operator. The operator was necessary to adjust the speed of the water...Read more

Rich Warren: Google doesn't fall far from Apple tree
Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette, October 1st

Just choose a good ol' black Bakelite desk phone from Western Electric. Of course it doesn't work in the car and you'll be disenfranchised from Facebook. While phone sales remain hot, TV sales are tanking. Sales are the lowest since we started climbing...Read more

Utah Inventions: Harvey Fletcher, the father of stereophonic sound
KSL.com, September 30th

In 1916, he accepted a job offer from the Western Electric Company, which later became Bell Telephone Laboratories. Fletcher made the hearing aid at the behest of industrialist Alfred duPont, who was seeking a way to improve his hearing during business ...Read more

Frightening sights ahead: Zombie Scarefest is the newest Halloween attraction ...
Burlington Times News, September 27th

In the time he has spent in the large, empty buildings that make up the old Western Electric plant during the past couple years, Donnie Neuenberger has heard noises that could only be attributed to ghosts. Or at least animals that have wandered in. The...Read more