In 1899, the first pay phone in Alberta was introduced in
Edmonton. A simple metal box was attached to the top of the
telephone, and a nickel was deposited into it through a thin slot.
It was the operator’s job to listen closely on the other end of the
line for a faint sound resembling a nickel dropping into a box.
Should any question arise regarding the authenticity of the sound,
the customer was always right. The first payphones appeared in
stores and other public places. The Edmonton version was located in
K.W. McKenzie’s bookstore.
The pay phones were situated in booths because callers had to
speak loudly to be heard through the early equipment. The tradition
of placing public phones in booths has lived on to this day.
Businesses with a pay phone on the premises had to guarantee $5
in revenue for the telephone company. If there was a shortfall, the
business had to make up the difference. If the pay phones did not
attract enough business, they were removed.
The first phones capable of functioning in the cold of an Alberta
winter arrived in 1950. At that time, few stores and public offices
were open late at night, so pay phones were not accessible after
closing time. Emergency call boxes, which had no dials to freeze up,
allowed people to contact the fire and police departments in the
event of an emergency.
In the 1960s, half the pay phones were in outdoor booths. Rotary
dials were never trouble-free in outdoor locations; during the
winter, the mechanical components would freeze up. The touch-button
telephones that replaced them contained circuit boards, which worked
in all temperatures.
When the 911 emergency number was introduced in 1969, callers
could ring for help on a pay phone without needing a coin. Prior to
that, a coin was required to place the call, and the coin was then
refunded. Without change in your pocket, you could not call for
Pay phones that could be used with phone cards or credit cards
were introduced in the 1990s. The older models requiring coins can
still be found in some locations today.
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Heritage Community Foundation and
Telephone Historical Centre All Rights Reserved