What is a Phone Booth?

Malcolm Tatum

The phone booth is a small enclosed structure that was originally designed to house a pay telephone. Often constructed with the use of heavy duty glass, a metal frame, and occasionally wooden appointments, the phone booth was once a common site on many street corners. The advent of cell phones have greatly diminished the reliance of the general public on pay telephones, resulting in many telephone companies choosing to discontinue offering the service. More commonly today, the pay telephone is attached to a wall in a public building with a small enclosure that helps to muffle background noise.

Phone booths were designed to house a public pay telephone.
Phone booths were designed to house a public pay telephone.

Sometimes referred to as a telephone box, the phone booth has a history that dates back to the early days of telephony. The first examples of the structure were rather elaborate enclosed spaces that were placed on property owned by the phone companies. This allowed patrons to enter the building, locate a pay phone, and place a call while out running errands.

A coin-operated public telephone.
A coin-operated public telephone.

Over time, the concept of an outside booth became more practical. Telephone service providers would contract with local municipalities to strategically place sidewalk phone booths around the city. This proved to be very convenient for persons shopping in the retail and business districts of a city or town, and provided an excellent source of revenue for the phone company. The pay phones would be emptied of excess change on a regular basis by phone company employees charged with the maintenance of each phone booth within a given service area.

During the latter part of the 20th century, the phone booth began to disappear in the United States and the United Kingdom. Costs for maintaining the booths was sometimes cited as the reason for replacing the full booth with pay phones mounted onto the wall of a public building. By the 1990’s, the newer technology of cell phones was so common that the majority of people could afford to carry a personal phone along for shopping and other errands, making the need for public telephones almost obsolete.

Today, telephone companies still tend to maintain a limited number of pay phones in travel terminals and some public buildings. In some countries where the phone booth is still a relatively common sight, the old fashioned booth is also equipped with wireless connectivity to allow users to step into the booth and make use of the Internet with a degree of privacy. A recent innovation has added the capability of sending and receiving a fax using these enhanced phone booths.

Cell phone popularity has greatly diminished the reliance on pay telephones by the general public.
Cell phone popularity has greatly diminished the reliance on pay telephones by the general public.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I had no idea you could use a phone booth these days to send or receive a fax or use the internet. I wonder where these are located because I don't recall seeing a phone booth anywhere around for years now.

This would come in handy for certain situations. Has anyone ever used a phone booth for this purpose? I would also be curious to know where a phone booth like this is located. I imagine most of them are outside the United States where you might see a phone booth more often than you would here.


Times have sure changed, and cell phones have been a big part of that. There used to be a saying that all a girl needed was a dime for a pay phone in a phone booth if she got in trouble and needed to call home.

I don't know if my kids have ever been inside a phone booth. The closest thing I think they have seen to this is at an airport. Some airports still have a phone booth, or something similar to it where you can make a phone call.

I have often wondered how much longer these will be around as I never see them in use because everyone uses their cell phone.

I haven't seen a working phone booth for a very long time. I remember making some phone calls from a phone booth every now and then. You could step inside the phone booth and close the door so you could have a little bit of privacy.

When we were visiting Ireland a few years ago, I took a picture of a red English phone booth that was still standing. I don't even know if this was still a working phone booth or not. I just wanted the picture as a memory -- both of my trip to Ireland and what a pay phone booth on the street used to look like.

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