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    

Western Electric Payphone Old Phone Telephone 50g & L Bracket Was 50a UpperWestern Electric Model 2554bmp Red Touch Tone Wall Telephone Restored, WorksVintage Western Electric Type 293 A Wood Wall PhoneAntique Western Electric Model E1 / D1 Black Rotary Dial Telephone With Handset1937 Western Electric 302 Excellent Seamless F1, Matching NumbersGreen Western Electric Model 500 Rotary Telephone With Grey CordVintage 1945 Blue Pearl Western Electric 302 Rotary PhoneAntique Vintage Western Electric Co Candlestick Telephone Oak Ringer BoxWestern Electric 202 Ivory Desk Telephone With E1 Handset & #4 Dial Dated 1937Western Electric 302 Vintage Art Deco Telephone 9/47 Art Deco Working Western Electric 653a Metal Hotel/home Dial Wall Telephone SetWestern Electric Black 3 Slot Rotary Dial Payphone ***works***Antique Brass Western Electric Candlestick Phone Made In Usa WorksAntique Western Electric Dial Telephone1937 Western Electric 1st Year 302 Vintage Telephone - Works GoodArt Deco 1930’s (d1) Western Electric 202 Desk Telephone With Fancy E1 ReceiverPink Rotary Dial Telephone Phone Bell System By Western ElectricVtg 1962 Bell System Western Electric Black 685a Telephone Subset Ringer SystemMid Century Eames Knoll Danish Era Desk Telephone Western Electric Stowaway Nr Western Electric Card DialerVintage 1930's Western Electric E1 202 Rotary Phone W / Ringer BoxWestern Electric Oak Telephone Ringer Box Type 315 A Cowbell Style BellsAntique Western Electric Oak Dovetailed Telephone Ringer Box 43fBell / British Western Electric "swing Arm" 1895 Old Timber Desk Phone Retro Pink Rotary Telephone 1955 Cool Phone! Bell System Western Electric 500Att Bell System Western Electric White Rotary Dial Wall Telephone 228a Restored Carlson Yellow Rotary Desk Phone By Western Electric Beautiful Art Deco Western Electric D1 202 Telephone, Restored And Working PhoneWorking Art Deco 1940 Pre Wwii Metal Western Electric 302 Dial Desk Set W/ F11930’s Western Electric 202 Telephone & E1 Receiver Box Factory Restored Artdeco1940's Western Electric Bell System H1 Black Desk Rotary Telephone F1 HandsetNice Western Electric Dial Candlestick Telephone, Restored & Working PhoneWestern Electric Oak Hand Crank Wall Telephone Early 1900s Modified W/ GeneratorVintage Western Electric Bell System Dial Phone 1950's AntiqueWestern Electric Antique Rare Ringer Box 334a With Wiring Diagram 1912-1917Red Western Electric Model 500 Rotary TelephoneVintage Western Electric Model 20al Candlestick Telephone Parts-nrVintage Western Electric Transformer Ret 206a From 1952Vintage Western Electric Telephone Office Ak2 Wire Spring Relays Lot Of (4)Western Electric Brass Candlestick Telephone Rotary Dial Model 51 AlVintage Western Electric Bell F1 Wall Phone Telephone Rotary 1952Vintage Western Electric Central Telephone Trans. Units N-1 Lot Of (9)3 Western Electric Dial Plates 1977 Western Electric Trimline Dial Rotary Desk Phone Teal Blue New Old StockWestern Electric Telephone D1 Base E1 HandsetVintage Western Electric Telephone Rotary Dial Phone Usa-fiw Black DeskVintage Dial Telephone - Black At & T / Western Electric Wall MountWestern Electric Fiddleback Wooden Wall Phone "new"Rare Vtg 1969 Pink Western Electric Bell Trimline Rotary Desk Phone (working)Vintage 1960s Western Electric Black C/d 500 4-61 Rotary Dial Desktop TelephoneWestern Electric Desk Rotary Dial Telephone Black Phone D L Usa Antique Western Electric Ringer C-1, D-1 Crank Type Wall Mount Telephone-vintageVintage Western Electric 531a Ringer/subset BoxWestern Electric Telephone PartsVintage Bell Systems Property Western Electric G6 Handset Black Volume ControlVintage 1960s Western Electric Black C/d 500 12-69 Rotary Desktop TelephoneWestern Electric Howler (loud Speaker)Vtg Feb 1960 Black Rotary Dial Western Electric 500 Telephone Restored Works!Vtg Western Electric 500 Pair Dated 1952 Black 1970 Green Rotary Telephone PhoneOriginal Western Electric Telephone Dial Mechanism - Complete W/ Old Center Card