Trivia

Hard

The First Payphone Was Located In?

Washington, D.C.
New York, New York
Los Angeles, California
Hartford, Connecticut

Answer: Hartford, Connecticut

Connecticut was home to not one, but two early telephone innovations. Long before payphones existed, the first “pay stations” were established by The Connecticut Telephone Company. As early as the 1880s, they had stations set up where you could make a phone call and pay the attendant at the station for the pleasure of using the telephone.

Later, in 1889, the Southern New England Telephone Company installed the first payphone at the Hartford Bank in Hartford, Connecticut. While the general premise wasn’t far removed from modern payphones, the main design feature would be quite a curiosity to a modern person: the phones were “post-pay”. The design, created by William Gray, hinged quite a bit on the user’s honesty. You made the phone call and then, after a successful call and a chat with your call recipient, you deposited coins into the machine to pay for the experience. Perhaps folks back then were a bit more ethical (or perhaps the location of the phone inside a bank made people more inclined to follow the rules).

At any rate, the post-pay model didn’t last very long and by 1891, William Gray had invented and received a patent for a replacement model that (more sensibly, if you ask us) required the user to deposit their coins first to engage the phone and make their call. The design rang bells as the coins were deposited, signaling to the operator that the customer had paid and the call should be completed (the first “pre-pay” model debuted in Chicago in 1898).

Although phone technology would improve over time and payphones went from a few dozen in number to ubiquitous features of the 20th century urban landscape, the core design—deposited coins create a signal sent to the telephone switchboard—was merely refined, but never changed.

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