The telephone was introduced by Alexander Graham Bell at a world's fair, the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The first commercial telephone followed shortly thereafter in 1877. Resembling a wood box camera, these camera or box phones, as they were variously called, lacked separate receivers and transmitters.

In fact, Bell’s failure to develop a powerful enough transmitter for his telephone allowed others to gain a toehold in this burgeoning market, which is why many late-19th-century wood telephones bear multiple patent numbers and names, including Emile Berliner, who would go on to invent the gramophone in 1887, and Thomas Edison, who was hired by Bell competitor Western Union.

Wood wall-mounted “coffin” telephones were the first phones put into wide circulation. Typically tall and bulky, they needed several compartments to hold the batteries and magneto (a hand cranked generator to signal an operator who actually placed the call). The earliest and most valuable wood phones were made by Charles Williams, Jr. of Boston. Williams had been an early telegraph manufacturer, and also made hardware for Edison and Bell. Coffin phones from the late 1870s produced by Williams for Bell were frequently made of mahogany and sometimes featured Blake transmitters and Roosevelt automatic switch hooks.

Another type of wood wall phone was the three-box telephone, which featured a receiver and bells on the top box, a transmitter in the middle box, and a battery box at the bottom, with a flat or inclined horizontal surface for jotting down notes. One of Bell’s former suppliers, Western Electric, made wood wall phones. Later, in 1882, Bell took over the company and turned it into its manufacturing division.

By the end of the 1880s, handsome hardwoods such as walnut and cherry were used to manufacture the housings for wood phones, but in the 1890s, phones were being mass-produced of oak. New shapes such as the fiddleback were also gaining popularity as a more stylish alternative to the boxy coffin. But as technology improved, wall phones were pushed aside by newer, more compact candlestick telephones, although wood phones continued to be manufactured until World War II.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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    

Vintage Western Electric Marked Hand Crank Wall Mount Wooden TelephoneVintage Stromberg-carlson Marked Wall Mount Wooden Bell Box & Candlestick PhoneClassic Canadian C.1920 Northern Electric Co. Oak Wall Crank Telephone Magneto Antique Telephone Early 20th Century Western Electric Oak Box Wall Mount As IsAntique Telephone Early 20th Century Western Electric Oak Box Table Top ModelAntique Kellogg Western Electric? Hand Crank Oak Wall Telephone 1901 ChicagoEarly Walnut Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Compact Wall TelephoneAntique Wood Dovetailed Telephone 5 Bell Sets Ringer Kellog Original Earphone Receiver For Oak Wall Phone Or Candlestick. Excellent!Vintage Western Electric Telephone Company Attendant’s Cabinet Switchboard Wood Antique Kellogg Telephone Phone Wooden Hand Crank Ringer Box Hot! 5 Bar MagnetoAntique Telephone Early 20th Century Kellogg Company Oak Box Wall Mount As IsAntique Vintage Stromberg-carlson Wooden Phone Ringer Box Hot! 5 Bar Magneto1913 Julius Andrae Tiger Oak Wall Telephone Folding Shelf & Picture Frame FrontAntique Telephone Early 20th Century Western Electric Oak Box Wall Mount As IsWestern Electric Original Mouthpiece For Oak Wall Phone Or Candlestick.Antique 1915 Western Electric 293 A Oak Wall Telephone Ringer Box Parts Vintage Western Electric Marked Hand Crank Wall Mount Wooden Telephone Bell BoxAntique Original Candle Stick Telephone Rotary Dial, Brass, Dated W/ Oak ShelfAntique Western Electric Oak Case Crank Style TelephoneVintage Automatic Electric Telephone Company Operator Switchboard Wood Cabinet Antique Crank Tiger Oak Case Wall Telephone Made By The Dean Electric Co.Antique Oak Telephone Buttons Good Cond. Rare Casino?Antique Wall Telephone Hand Crank Wood Box (restoration)Beautiful Oak Western Telephone Manufacturing Co. Wall Telephone - Picture FrameWood Wall Phone Country Style Vintage Stromberg Carlson Wood Wall Telephone Parts-nr Western Electric Telephone Wood Backboard 172a -3 Vintage Kellogg Marked Hand Crank Wall Mount Wooden Telephone Bell BoxKellogg Oak Wood Rotary Crank Phone Antique Patent 1901-1907 F2859h Collectible Vintage Working Ringer For Wood Wall Telephone-nr Western Electric 5 Bar Magneto 300 K Oak Ringer Box Working. Loud Bells. Great!Vintage Style Wood Rotary PhoneWood Roll Up Desk Phone - Gte Working Tan Push Button Analog Phone With Hold