Nov. 18: Push-button touch-tone phones debuted 50 years ago today


On Nov. 18, 1963, customers got their first chance to buy electronic push-button telephones with touch-tone dialing. As more people grew accustomed to calling many-digit numbers with area codes and even country codes, the rotary dial was increasingly impractical. (Remember waiting for that zero to cycle back to its resting spot? And woe to you if you had to dial a number that ended with -9000!)

At first those phones had only 10 push buttons, for each numeral. But five years later, in 1968, phones added the asterisk key and pound key (which you probably know better as a hash mark).

Nowadays, many young people have never even heard a dial tone, let alone used a rotary dial. If you've used one, you might be surprised to learn that kids don't find the rotary dial particularly intuitive: "One 10-year-old boy who was trying to dial a three put his finger in the zero dial hole, brought it to three, and then released it," vintage phone collector Rick Walsh told the New York Times back in 1999. "You'd have to see it to believe it."

Click here or on a photo to go to a slideshow with some great vintage ads and phone designs.

On This Day, previously:

Oct. 25: The first home microwaves
Oct. 18: Crazy toasters you can buy (one cooks eggs and costs $40)
Oct. 11: How to pour ketchup, what the 57 stands for, and more on Heinz's birthday
Sept. 26: Touring the 'Brady Bunch' house, room by room
Sept. 10: Happy birthday to the Swanson's TV dinner! Vintage ads to whet your appetite

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