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Icons: The Dial Telephone

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Love it or hate it? Let us understand the intent behind this design and what made it popular until the 1970s

John Berger once said “we never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves”. Product design is about relooking at the way we use everyday objects and what purpose they serve. Ultimately it is about bridging form and function in a cleaner, smarter and more efficient way. How can a specific task be performed using less effort while exuding more joy? What characteristics define the design experience of each product? Is it the materials, the shape, the construction or the way we interact with the object?

In 1892, Almon Brown Strowger designed the first dial phone. His goal was to reimagine and modernize communication. He wanted to push the boundaries on what had been developed thus far. From tabletop to wall models, Strowger kept reinventing his designs to create something better. The introduction of the dial phone was monumental as it allowed automatic exchange versus using an operator. Far more people were able to communicate more efficiently.

One of the most famous dial phones is called the Candlestick because of the shape of the mouthpiece. In 1896, another famous model was designed called the Rotary phone, as you literally had to rotate your fingers in the discs to dial the digits. I remember using a beautiful one at my grandmothers’ home, which still has a nostalgic quality around it. Although I love my smart phone, I wish these vintage beauties had a more prominent role even today.

Dial phones have a certain opulent quality about lost times. They can add historical character to the décor of almost any room. There have been many mentionable ones from the Circa 1931 model designed by Jean Heiberg & Johan Christian Bjerkne to the Cobra, designed in the late 1940s. My all-time favorite was the gilded model by Ericsson. Phones have always served more than just a functional purpose, however, this was only noticed with the introduction of the Princess model. Designed purely from a marketing perspective it still remains as one of the most loved dial phones of all time.

Fundamentally design isn’t just a way of thinking; it is a way of living.  Today it is rare to see a dial phone however, there is a distinct charm and beauty that comes with having one on display. A true iconic, vintage piece like the gilded model adds immense character to any home and can spark meaningful conversations.

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