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.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Old Telephones as Entertainment

Old Telephones as Entertainment

For those who want highly detailed information on specific Western Electric antique and vintage telephone models su… [read review or visit site]

The Telephone Archive

The Telephone Archive

If you're into old phones, check out this 600-page repository of images and historical information. Includes an ext… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Old Antique Western Electric 7 Digit Numbered Bell Telephone Transmitter Vintage Western Electric Rose Pink Rotary Telephone Mint In Box- Phone-rare 1963Rare Western Electric Picturephone Video Telephone Phone Display Mediterranean Blue Western Electric Model 500 Rotary Telephone Dated 12 /55 Vintage Lot Of Old Telephone Parts Repair Kellogg Western Electric Rotary PhonesWorking Rare 1955 Mahogany Brown Western Electric 500 Rotary Dial Telephone DeskWestern Electric 302 Vintage Art Deco Telephone 9/51 Old Antique Western Electric And Kellogg Telephone ReceiversWestern Electric Candlestick Telephone W/2aa DialVintage Western Electric D1 Base Art Deco Telephone E1 Handset 534a Ringer ComboWestern Electric Candlestick/bell Telephone/297w Transmitter 1913/1901 ReceiverWestern Electric 354 Vintage Art Deco Wall Telephone 9/53 Western Electric Telephone Model B1 For PartsBeautiful Western Electric Dial Candlestick Telephone, Restored & Working PhoneAntique Vintage Western Electric Cradle Telephone - 1930s Antique Western Electric Oak Wall Telephone 1800'sVintage Western Electric 302 Bell System Phone Antique Art Deco Telephone Western Electric 302 Blue Desk Phone ! L@@k !!Working Rotary Western Electric Pink Wall Telephone 554 RetroWestern Electric Steel Wall Phone Antique Vintage Black Telephone1950s Western Electric 233g 3slot Coin Payphone Telephone Excellent ConditionWorks Great!!! Western Electric 653 Wall Telephone. 1904 Western Electric 20sc Scissors Gate Candlestick Style TelephoneVintage Deco Western Electric 302 Rotary Desk Phone1970 Western Electric Black Princess Rotary Dial Desk TelephoneWestern Electric Walnut 295-a Subset Nice Old 1965 Western Electric Bell System Princess Phone Touquoise VintageWestern Electric Black 3 Slot Rotary Dial Payphone ***works***Vtg Telephone Western Electric E1 Handset Bakelite Rotary Dial Spit CupVintage Western Electric American Bell Telephone Co. Type 101e Bell Box, L@@kWestern Electric Candle Stick Telephone Reciever #143w ExcellentVintage Western Electric Wall Phone 354 Wall Phone1954 Western Electric Wooden Phone BoothAntique Oval Western Electric Vtg Phone & Bellbox Subset 634 A Estate* Old Metal & Bakelite Phone Western Electric 302e/g TelephoneAntique Western Electric Phone HandsetAntique Vintage Western Electric Phone Iv 34-555 ? ~ 534a Subset Vintage Western Electric Company D1 Usa Rotary PhoneVintage 9/63 Western Electric C D 500 Rotary Desk Telephone Blue/aqua , WorkingWestern Electric 1941 Metal Model 302 Desk Telephone Antique Western Electric Hand Crank Wall Phone. Model 317. Very NiceArt Deco Vtg 40's Western Electric 302 Telephone ~ Antique Rotary Phone ~ Works!Western Electric Round Base 102 Telephone W/ 4h DialWestern Electric Model E1 /557b Phone With Ringer Box1973 Western Electric / Bell System Model 554 Rotary Dial Wall PhoneVintage Western Electric Rotary Dial Bell Telephone Old Art Deco Desk Phone 1947Western Electric 531a Subset, Ringer BoxVintage Western Electric Space Saver Telephone F1 Handset PhoneBeautiful Art Deco Western Electric B1 102 Telephone, Restored And Working PhoneArt Deco Western Electric Wall Telephone, Restored And Working, *kitchen* PhoneCirca 1938 Western Electric Black Rotary Metal Dial Desk Phone Md: 302Vintage Western Electric Bell Systems Ks 19594 L1 Phone SystemNos 2514 Western Electric Telephone Rare Headset TelephoneVintage 1975 Western Electric Black Candlestick Rotary Telephone Working Vintage Bell System Western Electric Unusual Telephone Rotary DialBell System Western Electric (lot 0f 6) 551 Signal Keys & (2) 77a Brackets1952 Western Electric J/k 500 Desk Set, Original BlackWestern Electric 634-a SubsetWestern Electric Phone 1964Western Electric Dial,magneto,handset,carbon Microphones, Cords

Recent News: Western Electric Telephones

Source: Google News

Former Western Electric plant in Burlington closer to historic recognition
myfox8.com, February 11th

BURLINGTON, N.C. -- The site of a former electric plant is one step closer to being officially recognized as a part of history. The former home of Western Electric is now being considered for the National Register of Historic Places. On Thursday, the...Read more

SHELDON, Julian Eugene
Marietta Daily Journal, February 10th

In 1985, he retired from AT&T having spent most of his 33 year career with Western Electric, later becoming Lucent Technologies. After retirement, he began a telephone central office engineering and installation company, Mintel, with two other former...Read more

Allen Joseph Hebert
Amador Ledger-Dispatch, February 10th

He worked as a lineman with Western Electric/Pacific Bell for 30 years. He and his wife retired to Lake Havasu, AZ, in 1981, from which they enjoyed traveling throughout the US. In 2009, Allen moved back to California, settling in Amador County, where...Read more

electronic switching system
Hackaday, February 9th

In this short but intense classic of corporate cinematography, we get to watch as the Pacific Bell central office in Glendale, California is converted to electronic switching in a 47-second frenzy of cable cutting in 1984. In the 1970s and 1980s...Read more

James G. Varner Jr.
Brown County Democrat, February 8th

James was retired from Western Electric in Indianapolis as a screw machine operator and was a 50-year member of the Union Village Masonic Lodge No. 545 in Johnson County. He enjoyed golfing with his friends and woodworking and was an avid reader ...Read more

US Layoffs Begin Hitting Outside of the Oil Patch
Town Hall, February 5th

Thanks to our adaptation of a unique kind of statistical analysis that was originally developed by Bell Telephone's Walter Shewhart over 90 years ago to improve the quality of both manufactured goods and the processes used to produce them, we are able...Read more

Hate haggling to buy a car? You'v got options
Chicago Sun-Times, February 4th

Seeking a job with better pay and benefits, she applied at the old Western Electric plant in Cicero. She learned .... He taught at Howard University and worked for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company...Read more

Uniquely Omaha: Metro Building Blocks
Omaha World-Herald, January 30th

Millard was a tiny burg southwest of the city that grew fast after construction of a big Western Electric plant nearby in the late 1950s. As the town's population sped toward 10,000, Omaha leaders said their city's growth to the southwest would be cut...Read more