My fond memories of having a rotary dial telephone at my house in Chicago.

vintage western electric telephone
Here is a photo of a vintage Chicago Prefix Bell System Western Electric rotary dial telephone.

Hello everyone. Today I will be writing about my memories of having a rotary dial telephone in my house while growing up in Chicago. Those types of telephones were very commonplace in the Chicagoland area and all over the world. The telephone consisted of the receiver, rotary dial, and the unmistakably loud ringtone. One of the familiar sounds that I miss was when you started dialing the phone. You can download that sound effect online on your computer or use it for a ringtone on your cellphone.

I have lived in three neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago as a child. In South Shore, We lived in two apartments in the 1960s. My mother doesn’t remember the phone numbers, but I believe it started with the letters SO. Those telephone numbers were called telephone exchange names. They were around for numerous years. I believe they went away during the 1960s. When we moved to Roseland in 1969, we had the first telephone that was mounted on our kitchen wall. I merely used that phone when someone was calling. They were asking for my mother or father. That telephone number was area code 312-468-7925. The area code in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs was 312 for many years until 1990 when more area codes added.

When we moved to Ashburn in September 1974, we had two telephones installed. The one mounted on the kitchen wall was yellow. The beige one was mounted on the basement wall. Our phone number was area code 312-582-2126. The ringtones on the phones were set on loud because my parents didn’t have a telephone in their bedroom. They put one in a few years later. My favorite memory living there at the time was when the phone would ring in the middle of the night and would be one of my relatives from Greece calling. They didn’t understand the time difference and long-distance calls were relativity expensive at the time. When the phone rang, my mother would get out of bed and raced to the kitchen to answer it. That would wake up everyone in the house.

Those telephones typically had long cords attached to them, and they were very stretchable. Whenever the phone rang, one of us would run to answer it by yelling, “I’ll get it!”. We didn’t have an answering machine in the 1970s. If no one was home, someone would call and the phone would ring and ring. Every so often if someone contacts us if we were home, they would tell us they called and no one answered. The same thing would happen if the line was busy, they will call back and tell us. Today, landline phones are equipped with voicemail. My mother, nevertheless, has her old address books from the 1960s. One day, I was looking at them and was fascinated by the people I recognized. It listed their names, addresses, and telephone numbers with the old-fashioned exchange names.

When we moved to Oak Lawn in the mid-1990s, the rotary dial telephones disappeared. We still have landline phones at our house. The one in the basement is a cordless telephone. The telephone is the kitchen for years was an old-fashioned Trimline phone. I loved that phone until it wasn’t working anymore. I will purchase one again someday when I replace it with the phone we have now. I have a cellphone presently. I like it for its mobility and convenience. According to the comments from my Vanished Chicagoland Facebook page, some people nonetheless still have their rotary dial telephones with their original published telephone numbers. I think that is absolutely amazing. I am not getting rid of my landline telephone anytime soon. My mother refuses to buy a cellphone. I don’t really blame her. I like the landline because of its clarity, Sometimes if I receive a call on my cellphone, it sounds terrible. It would take forever to dial a telephone number using your finger or a pencil. Also, if you would make a mistake, you would hang up the receiver and start all over again. I miss the rotary dial. Those were the good old days. Thank you. Pete Kastanes. Admin for Vanished Chicagoland Facebook Page.

2 thoughts on “My fond memories of having a rotary dial telephone at my house in Chicago.

  1. The exchanges were the actual names of central offices that served the 10,000 numbers (0000-9999) allocated to them. In Rogers Park, we had a bunch: Ambassador 2, Briargate 4, Sheldrake 3, Rogers Park 4 and Rogers Park 1, etc. When you called out of your exchange, your call went to your central office, which would then pass the call along to the central office for the person you were calling, who would then connect the call. That’s why, if you called different parts of the city, the busy signal and ringing signal sounded different, and why you had to wait longer based on where you were calling. A lot of the local exchange central offices were physically located in the same building, which is why when I called from my RO4 number to my friend with an AM2 number it went through so quickly. It was an interesting time…

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