In an age when people are dumping landlines to rely on a single mobile phone or smartphone, it’s easy to forget that being able to talk on the phone from various rooms in the home was once a luxury. In fact, a single phone was considered a luxury until after WWII. During the war many people postponed service, and utilities were not expanded until the post-war boom.
In the 1950s the idea of living well shifted from accepting the standards to having choices. For home telephones, that meant designer colors and features, as well as convenience. Like having a telephone in the kitchen so you could talk while you cooked, and one in the bedroom so you could chat with friends while folding laundry or making the bed. Teenagers might lounge in the living room talking dirt with a friend.
The popular trend of multiple phone extensions in the home was pushed heavily by Bell Telephone System. As manual operation declined, marketing dollars were spent to convince customers to dial numbers themselves. This created a great convenience, and people were making more and more calls as a result. As the call for convenience increased, so did the desire to be able to dial from multiple places.
Extension phones meant big money for telephone companies. It generated more revenue for the equipment rental and the installed extension. And plenty of people were happy to pay for it. In the mid-50s Bell System also recommended buying someone else a phone extension as a holiday gift.
Marketing for phone extensions was long-lived. Bell System designed scores of ads that ran into the 1970s. After the breakup of the Bell System in 1984, many households dropped one or more additional extensions due to increased costs. Even when telephone companies stopped charging additional monthly fees, the installation costs for additional jacks was considered pricey.
Here’s a gallery of 26 candid vintage color photographs that capture women talking on the telephone from between the 1950s and 1980s.