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 El...
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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Horn: How Dallas-area teen Lester Bell escaped troubled past, gained new ...Dallas Morning News, May 18th
His mother, Janice, who worked at Western Electric in Mesquite, introduced her son to Cedar Crest when he was 9. She'd drop The voice on the other end of the phone said she was an attorney, serving as a child advocate in Collin County. She reported...Read more
John Rehm, 94, lived in RockawayNorthJersey.com, May 14th
He was a contract manager at the Western Electric division of AT&T for 45 years in New York City and Whippany, retiring in 1981. He was a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America. He was a long time parishioner of St. John's R.C. Church. Rehm is...Read more
Oral J. ShenkLimaOhio.com, May 14th
Following his military career, he worked at Western Electric, Chicago, and retired from the United States Postal Service in Gurnee, Ill. He enjoyed sending informational letters to friends and family. Survivors include three siblings, Cretora Alexander...Read more
Death Notices: Edwyna Newman, Norma Jean Collins Orlando, Dennis KolzowPatch.com, May 14th
He retired in 1983 from Hawthorne Works of Western Electric after 33 years. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Read Mr. Kolzow's full obituary on The Chicago Tribune website. Related Topics: Dennis Kolzow, Edwyna Newman, Elmhurst...Read more
Shirley MichelFremont Tribune, May 10th
She retired from Western Electric after 25 years of employment there. Survivors include: a daughter, Jayme “Brenda” (and husband, James) Hughes of Phoenix; two brothers, Ron Michel of Lincoln and Jim Eads of Gravois Mills, Mo.; six sisters, Donna...Read more
George A. SchmutzerNorthJersey.com, May 8th
He was a retired Machinist for Western Electric in Kearny and a member of the New Jersey Bell Telephone Pioneers. Mr. Schmutzer was the son of the late George and Marie Schmutzer; brother of Matilda Luchow; uncle of Marilyn Luchow-Sylvester and her...Read more
NJ vet gets back dog tag he lost in World War IIThe State, May 8th
Willie Wikins returned to Newark and work on the assembly line at Western Electric in nearby Kearny. He was a happy man who He had a nervous breakdown and post-traumatic stress disorder and retired at age 44, Carol Wilkins said. Willie Wilkins...Read more
Sandi SaladinWalla Walla Union-Bulletin, April 30th
He retired from Western Electric, where he worked as a central office installer. Sandi enjoyed traveling with his wife to Ireland to visit family and road trips throughout the western U.S. He enjoyed antique cars, watersports, antiquing, woodworking...Read more