Like all the folks of my generation (that is, “Generation Jones” — see With Which Generation do you Identify Yourself?), I grew up with rotary dial telephones that were hard-wired to the wall. I and my Generation Jones compatriots remember living through the evolution to cordless and pushbutton house phones, and eventually to pushbutton cell phones followed by touch screen smartphones.

Generation chart from “With Which Generation do you Identify Yourself?” (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Max Maxfield)

Younger people of today simply cannot wrap their heads around the concept of a rotary dial phone, as is amply demonstrated by this video of two 17-year-olds trying to use one to dial a number.

Actually, to be fair, everyone found it hard to understand the concept of direct-dialing numbers in the early days — prior to that, they simply picked up the phone and asked the operator to connect them.

In 1954, just three years before I was born, Bell Systems was moved to release a short film titled Now You Can Dial that provides a look back to the time when the phone system was converting from an operator model to a “rotary-dial-it-yourself” approach.

I love YouTube. There’s always something new (often of something old) to see. For example, I just ran across this video depicting the life of a telephone operator in 1969.

As an aside, and as I’ve mentioned before, following WWII, two of my dad’s sisters got married and emigrated to Canada. When I was a kid in the 1960s living in Sheffield, England, as Christmas started to approach, my aunt Barbara who lived up the road from us would come to our house, then she and my mom would commence the process of calling one of my aunts in Canada.

First, they would dial the local operator in Sheffield and say they wanted to call Canada. The local operator would connect them to the international operator in London, who would connect them to the international operator in Canada, who would connect them to the local operator in Edmonton, Alberta, who would attempt to contact the aunt in question.

If my aunt was out, that was it for the day because there wasn’t such a thing as voicemail, and we’d have to reconvene later. Even if my aunt was in, this wasn’t “The Call” — this was just the preliminary round in establishing a day and time closer to Christmas when we would have a gathering of the clans. At the appointed time, my uncle, aunt, and cousins would come to our house and we would make “The Call” to my aunt’s in Canada where both their families were gathered in antici…

…pation! It wasn’t until around 1971 that it became possible for people to direct dial from the USA and Canada to the UK and vice versa. Nowadays, people don’t think anything of dialing around the globe 24/7 with their smartphones (this is certainly true of my mom who tends to forget that she’s six hours ahead of me and thinks that calling at 9:00 a.m. her time on a Saturday morning has provided me with more than enough of a lie-in).

But I fear we’ve wandered off into the weeds. The reason for my current wafflings is that, a couple of months ago, I wrote a column about an Ubercool Handheld Rotary Dial Telephone. Well, my chum Rick Curl just emailed me with a link to this 50+ minute video that provides a step-by-step walkthrough of the design and build.


The creator of this little scamp and the star of the video is Space Engineer Justine Haupt, who spent three years creating this old-school retro device that fits into her pocket with a battery that lasts up to 30 hours.

Just to be contrary, Justine asks people to not subscribe to her on YouTube, but just like the commenter who said, “You can’t tell me what to do!” I subscribed anyway. I also liked another comment that said, “This was one of the most clearly explained technical videos I’ve ever seen. Very well done! My favorite part was the sewing machine next to the laptop and soldering station.”

All I can say is that this bodacious beauty (the phone) is awesome to behold. If I took one of these to an embedded systems conference, I would be the toast of the town. I so want a 4G version!