Thursday, April 25, 2024

One Ringy Dingy

I'm going to date myself here.  Are you old enough to remember when you did not actually own your telephone, but you only leased it from Ma Bell (American Telephone and Telegraph Company or AT&T, which many years earlier had started as Bell Telephone Company)?

Today is National Telephone Day, and I am old enough to remember that.

In fact, those were the days when in order to be able to get phone service, essentially you had to already have phone service, or you had to have someone personally vouch for you.

My family ran into a problem with that when we returned to the United States in 1973 from Australia, where we had lived for two years as potential immigrants.  My parents had decided not to naturalize as Australian citizens, and my father told me we left two years to the day after we arrived.

But when we returned, we wouldn't have had phone service in the United States for two years, which was going to make it difficult for us to then get new service.

So we had to choose somewhere to live where we would have someone willing to personally vouch for us — for my parents, really.  I will never know exactly how that decision was made, but we ended up going to Niceville, Florida, where my father's father lived, and he must have convinced Ma Bell that my parents were trustworthy, because we got a phone.

But it wasn't our phone.  It belonged to AT&T.  We officially leased it.

Even after I graduated high school and went to college, I didn't own my phone then.  I also leased it from Ma Bell.

This really sounds ridiculous nowadays.  What do you mean, you didn't own your phone?  What was so valuable about that equipment?

I wish I knew.  That tight control over even the telephones themselves may have been part of the reason AT&T was judged to be a monopoly and was broken up into the seven "Baby Bells" after the 1982 United States vs. AT&T antitrust lawsuit.  (Of course, the Baby Bells have been slithering back together over the years, so that wasn't really effective.)

And somewhere I think I still have my old AT&T phone.  It was a teal trimline phone.  I remember I wanted to keep it, because it was actually mine.  I finally owned it.


  1. Niceville, FL has a nice "ring" to it. Enjoyed your post!

    1. Thank you! And Niceville really is the name of the town!

  2. The title made me crack up! Great post.

    1. Another thing you have to be a certain age to remember! Thank you!

  3. Such a fun post! I remember the trimline phone -- my parents event promised they would get me a pink one if I improved my high-school grades. I must not have, because I still have their promissory note but never got the phone.

    1. I'm sorry you didn't get your pink phone! But it reminds me that I was supposed to get a Mustang for high school graduation, and I didn't get that, even though I graduated. :)


All comments on this blog will be previewed by the author to prevent spammers and unkind visitors to the site. The blog is open to everyone, particularly those interested in family history and genealogy.