We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Rotary Phone?

Malcolm Tatum
By
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At EasyTechJunkie, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Once considered the standard for telephone communications, the rotary telephone provided a simple process for customers to use a round dial to access a network and enter a series of numbers in order to reach another subscriber. Developed in the late 19th century, the rotary phone was the single most popular dialing style until the 1970s, when the push button technology of the previous 20 years was coupled with a newer and more secure telephone signaling process. Retro rotary phones are still available, although they are relatively uncommon.

The origins of the rotary dial are traced back to Almon Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker. Convinced that the telephone operators were deliberately misrouting calls to his business, he developed an automated switch that allowed subscribers to connect directly, without going through the operator. He was granted a patent in 1891, and set up his own telephone exchange.

The automatic switch was the first step, but the system required to tap out another subscriber's number was not very efficient. In 1896, the first patent for a rotary device that would allow subscriber level dialing was filed. Granted in 1898, the patent was obtained by John and Charles Erickson, along with A.E. Keith. Designed to work with the slowly developing numbering system that provided an access number sequence for each subscriber, the original rotary phone dial featured lugs that were used to turn the dial.

By 1904, the design for rotary dial phones had been altered to feature holes on the dialing plate, rather than lugs for the fingers to grip. Most phones of the period, however, still worked on the principal of a subscriber connecting with an operator, who would handle the actual connection of two subscribers. It was only around 1919 that the rotary dial phone became popular in metropolitan areas. Over the next two decades, use of the rotary phone filtered into small towns and rural areas. By the 1950s, the rotary phone was the industry standard.

A rotary phone operated with the use of technology that was known as pulse. The pulse signal was the means of initiating a dialing action that created interruptions in the flow of electrical current. By using the dial to enter each number in sequence, it was possible to send a message to telephone signaling equipment that would automatically transfer the caller to the right subscriber location. Pulse signaling worked fine for the execution of point to point telephone calls, but did not allow much else.

By the late 1960s, a new signaling technology referred to as touch tone was beginning to replace the rotary phone with a dialing pad that featured keys rather than a round dial. The tones emitted by the digitized touch tone service allowed for faster switching, and also opened the door for additional consumer activated communication services that the older pulse and rotary technology could not provide. During the 1970s and 1980s, the rotary phone began to fall out favor. Businesses were the first to discard rotary phones and move on to touch tone services, with residential consumers shifting to the newer technology in large numbers after the deregulation of the telephone industry in 1984.

Today, many phone systems no longer provide the option of pulse service for subscribers. Several manufacturers offer replica editions of the rotary phone that utilize the full duplex signaling found with touch tone service, however. In any case, the legacy of the rotary phone lives on in US culture, where just about everyone continues to refer to the process of using a telephone to contact another location as "dialing."

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By Logicfest — On Feb 07, 2014

Stick a rotary phone in front of someone who didn't grow up with one and they will be somewhat amused at the fact it seems to take so long to dial a number. Regardless, those old rotary phones were tanks -- the things seemed to last forever.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum

Writer

Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

EasyTechJunkie, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.