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Who remembers crank wall phones?

Telephones have improved like few other technologies during last two centuries

"Hello Central, connect me to Sadie Johnson."

You may think requests like this are ancient history, but Utah had operator-controlled telephones — complete with side crank wall phones on party line ring systems — until the 1980s.

Phones like these were wall-mounted. When you received a call, you would hear two long rings and one short ring. If you heard three long rings, that was your neighbor's call. If you were on your phone, your neighbor who you shared the line with could listen in on your conversation — and neither of you could make a call when the other was on the line.

I remember that type of phone in my grandfather's home in rural Minnesota. I can't think of my kids putting up with a similar phone for a minute.

Telephones have progressed like few other 19th century technologies; they have gone though many changes to keep up with the demands of users. It reminds me of a line from the movie "Back to the Future," "Roads, who needs roads" as the car flies off into the air. The same will soon be true for telephone lines into homes and then businesses as technologies progress, "Lines, who needs lines." Wireless technology is quickly replacing landlines.

Additional photos from the Deseret News archives can be seen in the gallery on this report that show the progression of phone technology in the 135 years since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876.

The first phone service came to Salt Lake in April 1881. Small local phone companies still serve some communities within the state, but the large carrier was the Mountain Bell Co., which later became US West and now Qwest.

In 1984 a federal court, under Judge Harold Greene, broke up the Bell Company, which included AT&T. In 1995 US West ended its monopoly in Utah and smaller companies like Electric Lightwave were allowed to compete.

We have seen the phone go from an oak box with a crank, to a rotary dial phone of the 1930s to 60s, to the popular slim line or princess phone of the early 70s to touch-tones phones. Then technology moved on to the car phone and the hand held cell phone. (Remember the "brick?" mobile phone? It was called that due to its large battery.)

Today's phones are small and thin and don't seem to last very long. I remember when we had phones at home made by Western Electric — they would last forever. Now it seems like we replaced phones every few years, we have moved into the world of disposable products.

Now with the Apple I-phone or a Droid, and many other smart phones, you can text, check your stocks or bank account, update your blog, read the Deseret News or sometimes even use it to call somebody on the phone.

e-mail: UtahHistoryPhotos@gmail.com