Timeline of the Landline: Past to Present

For many, the landline is in the not too distant past, with memories and experiences woven right into its curly cord. Now, to celebrate its history, we journey through time to revisit the landlines we just can’t forget.

Picture this: you desperately need to get in touch with a classmate. Maybe for legitimate homework reasons, but most likely because you’re crushing hard. The only form of communication? A device that literally anyone on the other end could pick up: their mom or dad, or their cool older sister.

Do you do it? Do you dial?
For many of us, the agony of that decision is all too real and all too recent. This was what it was like in the days of the landline.

This device kept us connected for decades. Throughout its long history, it had many different incarnations and SaskTel has been there for nearly every one.

Beginning in the 1800s, as the telephone made its way into the homes and hearts of people around the globe, it experienced a series of makeovers.

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One of the first was a wall-mounted unit called a Magneto wall set. This beast looked more like a character from a Dr. Seuss book than a communication device, but its convenience far outweighed its goofy appearance. With the simple crank of the lever, you could summon the operator and call your neighbour down the line.

The next embodiment of the landline was an upright standing phone. Something about these two-part telephones gives off major Sherlock Holmes vibes. Like you should be solving a murder at a country estate or something. These phones, dubbed the Candlestick phone, were in use from the 1890s all the way to the 1940s and, unlike their predecessors, had a dial to call directly. Elementary now, my dear Watson, but at the time – amazing!

Fun Fact: Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) favoured the use of “Ahoy” as a telephone greeting. Thankfully for us (and Adele), “hello” won out.

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Flash forward to the 40s brought colours like avocado green and harvest gold to our wall mounted telephones. With a length of cord that could nearly circumnavigate the globe, the wall phone was a staple of the modern home. Usually located in the kitchen, and usually with a pad to scribble on or a stool to perch on while you talked, the wall phone kept phone calls central (for privacy, you’d have to stretch the cord and lock yourself in the pantry).One hand calling was necessary because you needed mental and physical fortitude to deal with the painstaking task of dialing the rotary dial.

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Hello Angels. In the 50s, the speaker phone was introduced. Suddenly you had your hands free to feather your hair, or do some international espionage. The downside? It sort of sounded like you had fallen down a well.

Finally, after years of the whirl of the rotary, the push button dial was introduced. Friends, family, work, and more were available with a few taps on the keypad. You just had to remember their numbers by heart.

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As homes were built with more than one central phone jack, the type of phones being offered expanded. This was the beginning of the novelty phone! Telephone technology was incorporated into nearly every design: a football, Mickey Mouse, a pair of red lips, each design more outrageous than the last.

The cordless. It was the size of a brick, weighed five pounds, and could only hold a 30-minute charge, yet the cordless was still a welcomed innovation. Finally, the phone calls that dictated our lives could be untethered – and you could move around, make some popcorn, and maybe run for your life, all while talking on the phone.

If you were a fan of 90s-era film and television, there was only one phone that exemplified the hopes, dreams, and ideals of the zany teenager archetype. One device that was fun and zany enough to handle teenage antics and still run your babysitting business. That phone was the see-through phone.

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The hub. Command central. Mission control. With caller id, voicemail, and call waiting being added to telephone services, you needed a machine with enough bells and whistles to manage the task at hand. Phones like the Nortel Vista 350 could handle it all. With a speaker phone, a hold button, and a feature called speed dial, you could literally rank those important to you in a nice hierarchy.

You’d think the dawn of the cell phone era put an end to the landline, but the past year has taught us that, just as it has throughout history, the landline keeps adapting. The video call – that thing that kept us engaged and informed and connected since the pandemic started – is just it’s latest incarnation. By using wifi or bandwidth to make your call, you are in essence using the latest landline. Pretty neat, hey?

Do you have a landline? Or remember the number? Hit by the nostalgia of an old favourite? Hit us up in the comments!

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