Classic American Dial Phone Gets A GSM Makeover

For sturdy utilitarianism, there were few designs better than the Western Electric Model 500 desk phone. The 500 did one thing and did it well, and remained essentially unchanged from the mid-1940s until Touch Tone phones started appearing in the early 70s. That doesn’t mean it can’t have a place in the modern phone system, though, as long as you’re willing to convert it into a cellphone.

Luckily for [bicapitate], the Model 500 has plenty of room inside the case once the network interface is removed, because the new electronics take up a fair bit of space. There’s no build log per se, but the photo album makes it clear what’s going on. An Arduino reads the hook switch and dial pulses, while a Fona GSM module takes care of the cellular side of things. It looks like a small electret mic and a speaker replace the original transmitter and receiver. As a nice touch, the original ringer is used, but instead of trying to drive it electrically, [bicapitate] came up with a simple cam mechanism on a small motor. Driven at the right speed, the cam hooks the clapper arm, rings one bell, then releases it to let the clapper spring back to hit the other bell. Everything is powered by a LiPo, so it could be taken to the local coffee shop for some hipster hijinks.

We’ve seen similar retro-mods like this before using phones from all over the world; here’s a British take and one from Belgium, both using phones with equally classic lines.

[via r/arduino]

14 thoughts on “Classic American Dial Phone Gets A GSM Makeover

  1. I had one of the Sparkfun rotary cellphones. It was incredibly well built and designed. They had the full build instructions on the site for a while (they might still have them). That’s how I discovered them too.

    The best part was taking it to work. It was sitting on my desk not connected to anything and it rang. People really thought it was amazing.

  2. I also found out about SparkFun from their Port-O-Rotary product. Long since discontinued, and sadly I never got the money together before stock ran out for the last time. I would LOVE to have one of those things.

  3. In the days when 2-way radios were big so they tended to be remote and controlled by little boxes, some of the companies offered such telephones, with a branded plate where the dial was. A friend had one from RCA, but Motorola had them too. Kind of like Batphones.

    But in the seventies, someone wrote in a ham magazine about taking one of those pones and putting a two way radio inside. It helped at that point that hand held radios had become small, and surplus boards were available. So he in essence put a walkie talkie inside the phone. The phone function could be had, by using a phone patch at a repeater. You’d need a touchtone pad to make the call though..


      1. A bit telegraphic, but I’m pretty sure [echodelta] is suggesting replacing the modern form factor of a Google Home with that of an old-fashioned candlestick phone and using “Operator?” instead of “OK, Google” to trigger the voice assistant. This would mimic the operation of early phones, which had no dial; the user would simply pick up the receiver and ask the switchboard operator to connect the call to the desired party.

      2. “Candlestick phone” refers to one of the upright phones where you picked up the microphone, and listened into the stationary speaker, I suspect. Not sure about the “i-spy Google mic” – Google home, perhaps?
        And then “Operator? Do this” refers to the ancient practice of speaking to the phone operator to request a connection.

        1. I hate to say this as it tends to show my age, but I remember doing this at my grandpaws’ house in 1960’s Louisiana. We could pick up up the candlestick earpiece, depress the hookswitch several times, and then say “CENTRAL, CENTRAL…” to get her attention. Then we had to give her the telephone number. Grandpaw was a little behind the times as the more affluent local people had touch-tone direct-dial phones and color TV. He even had a vintage WORKING Model-T he would do errands in.We had to drive by more modern automobiles though.They would blow saying “hi old-timer”. It was fun.

          Up in Ohio, my uncle, a farmer, had a party line phone connected to a modern AT&T 500-set. I found that quite annoying as you had to wait your turn to make phone calls.And don’t get caught monitoring the neighbors’ phone calls! :-)

          Switch to the 21st century: How about wiring up an Amazon Echo-Dot to a candlestick phone. Wire the hookswitch to the activate button (SPST) and just say “CALL…” and the number? Or you could change the ALEXA trigger word to the word “Operator”.

  4. How about a Western Electric 1500D or 2500 with the whole button panel replaced with a touch screen? Then it could run Android and simulate the original button interface or rotary dial, and run apps, do texting etc.

  5. I love that the 500 is used as the basis for icons. Talk about “iconic”.

    And images of floppies are still often used as icons for storage.

    Funny how history renders skeuomorphic designs into symbols that arenunderstood, but understand as linguistic abstractions, rather than as simplified representations of familiar objects.

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