How to use a rotary phone

The telephone & how we use it

The booklet included these sections:

  • The telephone and its uses
  • Kinds of telephones
  • How to talk on the telephone
  • How to use a dial telephone
  • How to use a telephone without a dial
  • Coin telephones
  • Allow time for answering
  • How to use a telephone book
  • How to get help in making calls
  • Telephone manners
  • Be a good telephone neighbor
  • Suggested activities
  • Personal telephone list

Vintage dial phone instruction book (1951)

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)


The telephone was invented in 1876 by a young man named Alexander Graham Bell. Since then, the number of telephones has grown and grown, and today there are millions of telephones in America. The United States has more telephones than all the rest of the world.

There are telephones everywhere. They make it easy to talk with people a long way off or only across the street.

How to use a rotary-dial telephone: Top tips from the '50s


When using the telephone, hold the receiver close to your ear. Talk directly into the mouthpiece. Speak in a natural, clear voice. You do not have to shout. Speak as though the other person were in the same room.

How to use a rotary-dial telephone: Top tips from the '50s


In some places, the dials have only numbers like this. There are also some other types of dials, but all dials work the same way and are easy to use.

Now let’s call John Smith, whose telephone number is COlumbus 6-7790. Notice that the first two letters of COlumbus are in capitals. To call a number on a dial telephone you use only the letters in capitals, followed by the figures.

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)

So when you call John on a dial telephone, you just dial C-0-6-7-7-9-0.

Here is how you dial: First, pick up the telephone. Listen for the dial tone at steady humming sound. If you dial before you hear it, you may get a wrong number or no number at all.

When you hear the dial tone, place your finger in the hole on the dial where “C” is seen. Turn the dial to the right until your finger hits the finger stop.

Next, place your finger in the hole where the letter “O” is seen and turn the dial until your finger hits the finger stop. Remove your finger and let the dial click back again. Now dial the numbers 6-7-7-9-0 in the same way.

Of course, when a telephone number has no letters all you have to dial are the numbers. When you finish dialing, wait a moment and you will hear a brrr brrr sound. This means that the telephone you have called is ringing.

Be sure and let the telephone ring long enough to give John time to answer. Then, as soon as John comes to the telephone, you can start talking with him.

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)


When using 8. telephone without a dial, you tell the number you are calling to a telephone operator, instead of turning a dial. Let’s call Jane Murray, whose telephone number is COlumbus 6-8722.

Here is the way to do ít. Hold the receiver to your ear and you will hear the operator say, “Number, please.” You then say, “COlumbus 6-8722.” Notice that you say the Whole word “COlumbus,” not just the first two letters “CO” which were used on the dial telephone.

At a switchboard, the operator connects your telephone line With Jane’s. When Jane answers her telephone you can start talking with her.

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)


If the person you are calling does not answer right away, let the telephone ring at least a minute. He or she may be in another part of the house or outdoors. If there is no answer after a minute or so, probably no one is at home; so hang up and try again later.

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)


When you are calling someone, you may hear a buzz-buzz-buzz sound. This is the busy signal, which means that the line you are calling is being used. When you hear this sound, hang up right away and wait for several minutes before calling again.


There are certain numbers which we call quite often, such as those of our friends and relatives. Also, there are numbers we should call in cases of emergency, such as those of our doctor, the drug store, the police and fire departments.

It is helpful to keep a list of these numbers near the telephone so that we can look them up quickly and easily before calling.


When in doubt about a telephone number, always look it up in the phone directory.

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)


If you have looked in the directory and cannot find the number of the person you want to call, you can get his number from the information operator.

If your telephone has a dial, the number to dial to reach the information operator is listed in the front part of the directory. If your telephone does not have a dial, ask the operator for “information.”

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)


If you need any other kind of help in making a call, ask the operator. On a dial telephone, she can be reached by dialing the number “0”. Of course, when a telephone has no dial, the Operator answers when you pick up the telephone.


If you need help in case of an emergency, call the operator. She will be glad to help you. When making an emergency call, be sure to give the address where help is needed. Be calm and talk slowly so you can be understood.


When you telephone, the other person cannot see you. He judges you by your voice. Be natural and polite when using the telephone and you will make a good impression. If you call the wrong number, apologize to the person who answers. Be polite if someone calls your number by mistake.

If you answer a call for some other member of your family, say, “Just a minute please,” or use a similar polite expression, If the person called is not home, offer to be of help.

After finishing a call, hang up the receiver. Also, be sure that it is firmly in place. If one end of it is held up by a book or other object, no one will be able to call you.

The Telephone & How We Use It (from 1951)

How to use a rotary-dial telephone

What’s my number? (1952)


1) Get the correct number from the current telephone directory. If the listing is not found, please call INFORMATION by dialing 411.

2) Lift the receiver and listen for the “hum” of the dial tone. Note: If calling from a coin telephone, coin must be depositied before dial tone will be heard.

3) Dial the first two letters and the numeral of the central office name, then the remaining figures in the number. If the figures are followed by W, J, R or M, dial this letter also.

4) Let the dial return freely after each letter or figure is dialed. Forcing or retarding the return motion may result in a wrong number.

how dial telephone

Other dialing suggestions

  • Be careful not to mistake the letter o for the figure “O” (zero); or the letter I for the figure “1” (one).
  • If you realize a mistake in dialing has been made, hang up for a moment. After listening to the dial tone again, redial the complete number.
  • From an extension or party line telephone, if you hear someone else dialing when you lift the receiver, tell him you have interfered with his call. Then hang up and make your call later.

What it takes to dial a phone - 1961

Poised for the new rotary phone system (1957)

From the Las Vegas Daily Optic (East Las Vegas, New Mexico) December 14, 1957

Complex equipment operates new telephone dial system – Customers start job when placing calls

The electrical brain which will be completing your calls when you start using the dial telephone tomorrow is described by Eugene Akin, Service Foreman of the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company plant, as one of the most complex machines ever designed for general use.

LIFE Sep 19, 1960 Red telephone
Old rotary phone

“You see, the equipment here is actually operated entirely by our customers whenever they dial a number. It sets up connections between any two telephones – a total of about 18 million possible connections. It rings distant telephones and rings back to the calling party what it is doing — ringing a telephone, encountering a ‘busy’ or ‘no such number.’

“It is housed in a room with neat rows of equipment extending from floor to ceiling. The heart of the equipment is the dial switch. There are thousands of them and hundreds of other pieces of equipment all connected together by thousands and thousands of tiny insulated wires with groups neatly soldered to each piece of equipment.

“The dial switches are of several different types, each doing different jobs. One type is to search, by means of electrical fingers, for your telephone line, when you lift the receiver,” says Akin.

All the parts of a dial telephone from 1963

“As soon as it finds the right line it attaches itself and sends out the hum-m-m which it the machines’ way of saying ‘Number, please.’ As you call, letting the dial rotate back to its original position, there is a click for each unit of the number dialed — three clicks for a 3, four clicks for a 4, etc.

“With each click, a pulse of current passed through some electromagnet and in turn a dial switch mechanism jumps three steps or four, corresponding to the number dialed, and electrical fingers made a connection to another piece of equipment.

“The series of dial pulses causes a train of five dial switches to be connected together establishing a path through the equipment to the line of the called telephone. All told, as many as 1,100 separate electrical contacts are made or tested in completing a single call through the dial mechanism.

“The power to ring the distant telephone, the dial tone, busy tone and other service signals, are all produced by a ringing machine in the basement and introduced into the telephone line at the proper time by the dial mechanism.”

Boy looking at a vintage dial telephone - Western Electric ad from 1962

One minute needed on dial conversion

At the stroke of 12, Saturday night, the telephone system in Las Vegas will be converted from its present manual to dial operation. Within about one minute, telephone cables will be cut, switches will be placed in operation, and the entire new Telephone Building will become alive as Las Vegas residents test the new equipment.

This will be the culminating moment toward which many months of planning and nearly $1-1/2 million have been spent to accomplish, inaugurating a dial system is not like buying an automobile off the dealer’s floor. It is more like designing, and then building an automobile for a particular customer. It is a long, tedious and expensive operation.

MORE: President Eisenhower & the rotary phone (1955)

JD Richardson, Manager of The Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Co here said that the decision to convert to dial operation in Las Vegas was made several years ago, and although it was postponed temporarily, the final decision was made in 1954.

At that time, engineers began making plans for the kind of building that was needed, the size of the building, the kind and amount of equipment, the number of switchboard positions that would be needed, as well as many other phases.

Fancy old dial telephones - Vintage tech

After this, the equipment was ordered and manufactured by the Western Electric Company. Meantime, the building was started in January of 1957, and when it was completed in July, the equipment which had been ordered was ready to be installed.

Since then, as many as 60 highly skilled Western Electric installers worked around the clock to get the equipment in readiness for the cutover Saturday night. Each subscriber’s telephone has been tested to assure that it is in perfect operating condition, and most subscribers in town have been contacted personally, and shown how to dial a number properly.

At the present time, there are really two telephone systems in Las Vegas, but only the manual system is working. At midnight Saturday, and in logical and rapid-fire sequence, workmen who have been installing and testing the equipment, as well as officials of The Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co will render the manual service inoperative by cutting the cables now connecting the telephones to the old switchboard and a fraction of a second thereafter, will remove the insulating material which now keeps the dial equipment from operating.

And thus, in a matter of a minute or perhaps a little longer, Las Vegas will begin using the most modern telephone system in the world.

“This is a great moment for we in the telephone business, and for the City of Las Vegas. It is something we have been wanting, and the city has been needing, for quite some time. While dialing is not difficult, it does require some concentration, but after everyone gets accustomed to it. I am sure they will find a great deal of pleasure in calling their friends direct,” Richardson said.

The telephone way to a happier day

The rotary phone: Ready to work perfectly whenever you twirl your dial

LIFE Aug 24, 1959 - Vintage dial telephone

For your protection…

Our employees carry this card

How to use a vintage rotary dial telephone: Top tips for callers from 1957

All telephone company employees carry an official identification card like this. They all understand you don’t care to let unidentified people enter you home, so they’ll gladly show you their card before coming in. Just ask to see this wallet-size card if you have the slightest doubt about anyone who calls “from the telephone company.”

Check the picture on this official card to see that it resembles the bearer. You may also look for the Illinois Bell seal.

Recorded telephone conversations (“Beep” tone)

If you hear a “beep” tone at fifteen-second intervals, your telephone conversation is being recorded by the person you are talking to. This signal is transmitted automatically whenever a recording machine is connected to the line. It is for your protection.

If you do not want a record made of what you are saying, ask the person with whom you’re talking to disconnect the recording machine. The “beep” signal will stop when the recorder is disconnected. Use of a recorder without this signal is unlawful.

How to use a vintage rotary dial telephone

Free personal telephone directories

They’re called “Blue Books,” and they’re handy for keeping a list of the local and long-distance telephone numbers you call regularly. Your Service Representative will be glad to send you your Blue Book free. Or, drop into the Business Office personally and we’ll be glad to give you one or as many as you need.LIFE Feb 17, 1958 Telephones

You may telephone telegrams

Your telephone may be used to send telegrams [yes, you can still do that], radiograms and cablegrams. By arrangement with Western Union, charges for such messages will be added to your regular telephone bill. (From coin phones, the “Operator” will ask that you deposit the required amount of money.)

dial telephone service 1957

Dial phone service starts Sunday, July 21

And when your new dial system goes to work, all telephone numbers change. New numbers start with the prefixes NAtional 2 and NIagara 4. We’re mailing you a folder explaining the improvements in your telephone service.

Here’s how to make the best use of your new telephone service

1. Look up the new numbers in your new directory before you call.

2. Jot down the new number so you don’t forget it while you dial.

3. Dial the complete number — the first two letters and the numeral of the prefix, then the four other figures. For example, to call NAtional 2-3104, first dial N-A-2… then 3-1-0-4.

Direct Distance Dialing starts for NAtional 2 customers with 1- or 2-party service.

Starting Sunday, July 21, if you’re a NAtional 2 customer with one- or two-party service, you can dial most of your own long distance calls. You’ll find it’s thrilling to dial places like Sacramento, San Francisco, New York and Chicago. And it’s easy as calling your next-door neighbor. Your Direct Distance Dialing booklet tells you how to do it. You’ll want to keep the booklet for reference when you dial long distance calls.

For “Time-of-Day” just dial ROchester 7-8900 – Pacific Telephone

Rotary phone: The mounted version

Belle of the wall… from Western Electric

Extension wall phones made by Western Electric not only save you steps. They’re pretty in the bargain.

Wall-mounted white kitchen telephone from 1960

Your new dial phone comes to life tonight (1949)

The Eugene Guard Sat Jun 18 1949

Your new dial phone is now at your service (1952)

Here are six important things to remember when you use your dial phone…

Your new dial telephone service Daily Independent Journal May 19 1952
Rotary phone system announcement and tips from 1952

You knew your child was bright… (1968)

but did you know he could operate the most complex machine in the world?

Western Electric helped build this machine — the nationwide Bell telephone network — so anyone can use it simply, easily.

You turn on this machine by lifting the handset. You dial, and millions of complex parts seek out the one number you want — out of more than 100,000,000 telephones.

Our job in the Bell System is to build it well, so that it responds to your fingertips. Or even your child’s.

Simple, isn’t it?

Bell telephone bright child 1968
Western Electric rotary phone ad from 1968