For much of the company's history, AT&T rented phones to users. But in the 1970s, the company tried a novelty line of phones that customers could actually buy, in stores. For these "Design Line" phones, the users were essentially buying just the housing — the working guts of the phones were still under the Bell System maintenance and ownership contracts.
This film profiles the range of models available in 1979 — both push-button and dial telephones, including the "Snoopy", "early American", "stowaway", "celebrity", "Mediterranean", "candlestick", "chestphone", "antique gold", "Mickey Mouse", "noteworthy", "coquette", "Telstar", and the popular "Exeter", which had interchangeable faceplates, including a crazy rainbow diffraction grating option. You not only get to see the imagined home décor that would have gone with these phones, but who the Bell System imagined was the ideal user for each.
These phones were not cheap — prices in 1976 for these phones ranged from $39.95 for the basic Exeter to a whopping $109.95 for the rococo Antique Gold model. That's about $150 to over $400 today. Not that much more than a smartphone, but, of course, no touchscreen. No ringtones.
These phones were manufactured in Western Electric's Indianapolis Works (for another view of the Works, see the film Draw Me A Telephone. The Bell System kept the Design Line series running for a few more years after this film, introducing only a few new telephone models throughout the 1980s. After the breakup of the Bell System, the Works were closed in 1986. A commemorative Design Line phonewas released to mark the occasion.
Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ