Telephones beat plastics into the marketplace by 31 years, but plastics have been making up for lost time ever since.
Just a few years after its introduction, Bakelite began replacing painted brass on handsets and receivers. By the 1920s, Bakelite was a standard material for most telephones, said Greg Russell, a telephone collector and former employee for Illinois Bell who operates the Web site www.telephonymuseum.com. Picture Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, when Sam Spade calls the police to have them come and arrest his partner's killer — Bogart is handling Bakelite.
Plastic telephones really took off, though, immediately after World War II, with a wide color palette offered as well to match the decor in hundreds of thousands of new homes with the onset of suburbia. While those phones seemed like a leap forward in style, there were still limits. Until the 1980s, telephones in the United States were rented by the phone company, with only a limited selection of styles.
With the breakup of the AT&T monopoly, telephone customers could buy their own phones, anywhere, leading to a wide selection of sizes, styles and colors.
The change brought mixed results, Russell said July 9 by telephone.
“We have cooler phones now, but they don't last as long,” he said.
The creation of mobile telephones has led to another revolution in technology, beginning in 1983 when Motorola Inc. introduced the DynaTAC cell phone. It was big and clunky — measuring in at 13 inches long and 3½ inches wide — but marked the first time phone users could really roam, though a battery life only allowed 30 minutes of talk time before an eight-hour recharge.