Rare Antique Telephones and Where to See Them

Trips Into History wishes to take you on a tour to the several excellent telephone museums spread around the country with their large collections of antique telephones and telephone equipment.

telephone swithchboard 1940

1940’s era telephone switchboard

In this day of instant messaging and mobile phones, antique telephones take us back to the period when communication in the U.S. and the world was in it’s infancy.

Walk through a museum with impressive collections of old telephone equipment and you’re transported back in time. Take a look at some of the earliest experimental equipment and you might find it difficult to recognize it as a communication tool.

There was a time when simple telephone communications represented cutting edge technology. After all, some in 1910 were still arguing that the horse was more reliable than the automobile. Arguably, communication technology continues to move forward with our IPhones and Androids.

magneto wall pay station

Magneto Wall Pay Station

Below are interesting historical examples of what people used to communicate with many, many years ago.

Magneto Wall Pay Station

This telephone apparatus dates back to the year 1900 and was manufactured by Stromberg Carlson-Gray.

Magneto meant that the power to talk was supplied by two dry cell batteries. Customers created signaling power by turning a hand crank on the telephone box. The operators were alerted to a call when a metal hook holding a drop in place retracted and released the drop. The buzzing sound signaled someone wanted to make a call. The difference with using a common battery was that all power was generated from the central telephone office including power for the customer’s phone. This phone was used for coin telephone communications.

gallows frame telephone

Gallows Frame telephone

Gallows Frame Telephone

This particular telephone was designed and manufactured by Alexander Graham Bell and is thought to be one of only two left in existence. It is on display at the Fort Concho Museum in San Angelo Texas.

The Gallows Frame Telephone dates back to 1876, the same year as Custer’s Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.

This apparatus takes you back to the invention and early development of the telephone. This device was not good enough to distinguish intelligible speech, but it was a significant breakthrough in the development of the telephone.

Bell was able to send not just a single tone beep, but actual sounds between one room and another. This was accomplished using an electromagnetic signal which was picked up by a metal reed. The metal reed vibrated against a cloth diaphragm. The unit was considered  experimental.

The other Gallows Frame Telephone is one of the exhibits at the Science Museum’s new gallery called Information Age in London, England.

See our Trips Into History articles on the links below. Articles also describe fun venues to visit regarding both subjects.

Crossing the Atlantic With Marconi’s Wireless

Laying of the Trans-Atlantic Cable

bell centennial telephone

Bell’s Centennial Telephone

Bell’s Centennial Telephone 1876

This type early telephone was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia by Alexander Graham Bell.  “My word! It talks!” exclaimed Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil on June 25, 1876, when he listened to the receiver of Bell’s telephone at the Centennial Exposition. The voice he heard was coming from 100 yards away and this type of publicity helped make Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone the talk of the international scientific community. Prior to all this publicity generated by Emperor Dom Pedro it was said that the Centennial judges were pretty much ignoring Bell’s telephone.

Another interesting fact is that the first U.S. President to have one of Bell’s telephones in the White House was Rutherford B. Hayes. The phone was installed in 1878 and Hayes’ first call was made to Bell. It was reported that Hayes’ first words were said to have been, “Please speak more slowly.”

alexander graham bell postage stampAn interesting venue to see Bell’s Centennial Telephone and other rare antique models is the JKL Museum of Telephony. John K. La Rue’s Museum of Telephony, part of the American Museum of Telephony, is dedicated to preserving telephone history. The museum contains telephones and related items from the dawn of telephony (late 1800s) to the present day. One of the telephone museum’s goals is to have working telephones from all eras.


This museum is located near San Andreas, California. For more information and directions see website…www.jklmuseum.com

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos of Gallows Frame and Magneto Wall Pay Station from Trips Into History Collection. Bell’s Centennial Telephone and postage stamp image from the public domain)



Vintage Camera

Similar to all technology, the camera kept evolving and improving with years. Trips Into History visited several exhibits of vintage cameras that we found quite interesting.

Cameras have a history beginning with the direct positive made in the camera on a silver copper plate. This was called a daguerreotype. This was the first commercial photographic process. Today of course we have the highly advanced digital process.

vintage studio camera

Late 1800s studio camera

Many different cameras and processes were introduced through the decades and we wanted to present just a few of them. Below are several vintage and classic cameras we found particularly interesting.

The Blair Stereo Weno

The Blair Tourograph Company was founded in Connecticut in 1878 by an immigrant from Nova Scotia. The tourograph camera was based on the wet plate system. The collodion process (wet plate)  produced a negative image on glass. The developing of this process usually had to be done within fifteen minutes which meant that it wasn’t great for field work photography unless you carried a portable dark room along. The reason the process had to be done so quickly was that the wet plate still needed to be wet. If the plate dried you were out of luck. It’s advantages were it’s excellent photographic detail. It’s disadvantages were the time constraints mentioned above plus some trouble with chemical staining.

blair stereo weno camera

Blair Stereo Weno

The Blair Tourograph Company like several other early camera companies were bought out by Eastman Kodak. In the case of Blair’s this occurred in 1899. The first of the Blair Stereo Weno cameras came on the market in 1901 after Eastman had acquired the company. Although the company was owned by Eastman Kodak, the Blair cameras still carried the Blair name for several years.

The stereo camera like the one shown above is a stereo camera because it has two lenses. The spacing between the two lens is about the same as with a human’s two eyes. Some stereo cameras were built with more than two lenses. Because the camera essentially operates similar to a human’s vision, it’s able to capture three-dimensional images. The camera lenses folded up into a case which made it very easy to carry.

1934 kodak brownie junior camera

Brownie Junior

1934 Eastman Kodak Brownie Junior

George Eastman introduced the  first simple camera to the public in 1888. Eastman’s original camera came preloaded with a 100-exposure roll of flexible film. After finishing the roll, the camera’s owner mailed the camera back to the factory to have the prints made.

Over the next century Kodak cameras made taking pictures affordable and simple. The Kodak cameras were low cost and put a good camera into the hands of non-professionals.

The first Brownie camera was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1900. The camera itself cost one dollar. It was manufactured in a black leatherette covered box.

The film included with the camera price was six exposure. When you purchased more film the cost was only 15 cents per roll. Eastman produced many different cameras through the 1900’s and many varieties of film. The camera shown in this article is the 1934 Brownie Junior.

The Kodak Brownie models had a long run and more than anything they introduced the public to low cost photography. The Brownie was meant for taking snapshots. It was immensely popular. The Kodak Brownie cameras were simple to use. The Kodak slogan was…”You Press the Button, We do the rest“.

1951 rolleiflex camera

1951 Rolleiflex

1951 Rolleiflex Twin Lens

The Rolleiflex twin lens is a high end camera. Their first camera was introduced in 1929 as the first medium format film roll camera. The camera shown here is a vintage 1951 Rolleiflex Automat 6X6 K4A twin lens reflex camera made by Franke & Heidecke of Germany. It’s a very popular collector’s camera. The Rolleiflex camera was noted for bright accurate reflex viewing and smooth focusing. The reflex camera uses both a reflected image from the camera’s lens and a viewfinder image. In the twin lens camera, one lens is used for actually taking the picture while the other lens is used for the viewfinder.

You will also enjoy our Trips Into History article on the Norden Bombsight that was crucial during World War Two.

See Vintage Cameras

There are a number of interesting museums around the United States that exhibit vintage and classic cameras. You may want to add some of these to your next road trip planner. Many vintage and classic cameras are in private collections and when you have an opportunity to visit a public camera museum it can be a rare adventure.

The Camera Heritage Museum– Located in Staunton Virginia, this museum houses a unique collection of antique cameras dating from the 19th century to modern times.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History– Located in Washington D.C., the museum collects and preserves more than 3 million artifacts of American history. Here you’ll find some of the first Kodak cameras manufactured by George Eastman.

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center– Located in Oklahoma City Oklahoma, this very large museum shows everything cowboy and western. Included in the museum is a frontier exhibit with a photographers shop of the era. There you will also find a good collection of classic and vintage cameras.

UCR/ California Museum of Photography– This museum is part of the University of California Riverside “Artsblock.” Located in downtown Riverside California,  ARTSblock is composed of the California Museum of Photography, the Sweeney Art Gallery, and the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts. A large collection of classic and vintage cameras are on display.

(Photos from author’s collection)