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    

Original Vintage 1920s Western Electric 349 Candlestick Telephone - WorksAntique Western Electric Company #70 Ost Telephone ReceiverOld Antique Western Electric Ost Telephone ReceiverOld Antique Western Electric 7 Digit Numbered Bell Telephone Transmitter Western Electric Telephone Dial Celluloid Plate 149-a, Iv-35, Candlestick RotaryVintage Western Electric Rose Pink Rotary Telephone Mint In Box- Phone-rare 19631930s Western Electric C Type Space Saver TelephoneVintage Western Electric Please Answer Promptly Telephone Dial PartOld Antique Western Electric Ost Telephone ReceiverWestern Electric - Gray Telephone Pay Station Pay Telephone F1 Handset HookWestern Electric 4h DialOld Antique Western Electric And Kellogg Telephone ReceiversWestern Electric Model 202 Desk SetWestern Electric Receiver Candlestick 706a1970 Western Electric Black Princess Rotary Dial Desk TelephoneWestern Electric? Telephone Candlestick Transmitter Receivers LotAntique Western Electric Rotary Telephone *14 Day No Questions Asked Returns* Vintage 1915 Pat. Western Electric Telephone W/ All Original PartsAntique Western Electric Candlestick Telephone Jan 26 1915Western Electric Dial Candlestick Telephone For Parts Or Restoration.Antique Western Electric Space Saver Style Telephone Phone With Sub SetVintage Mint Green Western Electric Wall Mounted TelephoneWestern Electric Telephone Model B1 For PartsJz4526 Antique Western Electric Candlestick American Bell Telephone Model 40alVintage 1940s Western Electric Bell System Rotary Telephone Western Electric 302 Vintage Art Deco Telephone 9/51 Two Western Electric Vintage 685 Payphone Subset PartsWestern Electric 354 Vintage Art Deco Wall Telephone 9/53 * Vintage Bright Red Rotary Dial Western Electric Multi Line Office Telephone...Vintage Western Electric 302 Telephone Western Electric Vintage 1500 Telephone Base PartsVintage Western Electric Company D1 Usa Rotary PhoneAntique Western Electric Phone HandsetAntique Western Electric Telephone For Parts Or Repair ~ Rough ShapeVintage Red Western Electric Rotary Dial Telephone Code 64 Works!1954 Western Electric Wooden Phone BoothRare Vintage Explosion Proof 320 Bell System Western Electric TelephoneVintage Western Electric Telephone Ringer Box Black Metal Antique Vintage 1975 Western Electric Black Candlestick Rotary Telephone Working Bell System Western Electric At&t Touch Tone Blue Trimline Cs2223a Desk Phone Vintage Western Electric Bell System Pink Telephone Receiver, Cord & Rotary DialOld Antique Western Electric Telephone Magneto GeneratorLot Of 14 Telephone Western Electric Parts Volume Contol Handsets Spring Cords We 102 Round Base Desk Set With 2hb Dial. Beautiful! (see Added Note In Text)Antique Wood Wall Phone, Brass Bells And Mouth Piece, Western ElectricLot Of Western Electric Antique Phone PartsHello, It's For You! 1915 Western Electric Hand Set/ringerVtg Telephone Western Electric E1 Handset Bakelite Rotary Dial Spit CupVintage 1930s Bell System Western Electric 302 Deco Telephone F1 Handset1960's Bell System Western Electric Red Rotary Dial Desk Phone Cd 500Early Western Electric Telephone Handset, Hand Set, For PartsVintage Rotary Metal Dial Western Electric Telephone Vtg At&t Western Electric Bell Payphone Refurbished Home Use Nebraska HuskersWhite Western Electric 10 Button 1554 Phone - Works!Western Electric Candle Stick Telephone Reciever #143w ExcellentVtg 1970's/80's Western Electric Classic Orange Push Button Trimline Telephone1973 Western Electric / Bell System Model 554 Rotary Dial Wall PhoneLot Of Western Electric 500 Type Telephone DialsWorks Great!!! Western Electric 653 Wall Telephone. Original Early Western Electric 2 Conductor Wool Thick Telephone Receiver Cord B

Recent News: Western Electric Telephones

Source: Google News

US Layoffs Begin Hitting Outside Of The Oil Patch
Seeking Alpha, 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

A. Donald Stratton
Eatonton Messenger, February 4th

Mr. Stratton entered the business world in 1957 as a staff trainee at Western Electric in Kearny, N.J. He served in various management positions throughout the U.S. until 1988, when he joined StorageTek in Louisville, Colo. as vice president and chief...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

How a 96-Year-Old Limerick Master Became a New York Times Top Commenter
Forward, February 4th

A fellow worker whispered to him once, “There goes one of those Jews,” as someone walked by. Eisenberg snapped back, “I'm one of those Jews!” His time at Western Electric was short, as he tried again in 1945 to apply for the Army. This time, the eye ...Read more

Western Electric site to possibly join National Register
Burlington Times News, February 1st

City leaders could know as early as next week whether the Western Electric Industrial site has been selected to join the National Register of Historic Places. The Burlington City Council was briefed on the ... If placed on the register, the Western...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

Switchboard from Hotel Tupelo starts “Hidden Treasures”
Leecountycourier, January 27th

The first example is a telephone switchboard which was in operation at the Hotel Tupelo (1920-1973). The switchboard was manufactured by Western Electric and is probably a model 552. It was the attendant console used with a private branch exchange ...Read more

Robert Nawa
Bureau County Republican, January 21st

He worked with a group of retired Western Electric employees repairing tape players for the Talking Book Program. He enjoyed hunting, fishing and fixing anything that broke. He was skilled in photography, having his own darkroom since the early 1930s...Read more