If you have ever seen the 1959 film “Pillow Talk,” you will remember how Jan, played by Doris Day, kept trying to use the phone only to find that Brad, played by Rock Hudson, was constantly on their party line. A party line consists of multiple telephone subscribers connected to the same land line.
An incoming call would ring in all the homes connected to the party line, but a different ring would indicate the call was for your household. To make an outgoing call, you had to pick up the receiver and listen to see if someone else was on the line. If you heard someone talking, you could try again later.
According to the AT& T Archives at techchannel.att.com, 63 percent of residential Bell System customers in 1930 had party lines. Most of these customers lived in rural and suburban areas. That number increased to 75 percent by 1950, due partially to a need to catch up with the need for private lines following World War II. By 1965, only 27 percent of customers were still using party lines.
Richard Titus describes how a party line was the only option in his book “Dunwoody Isn’t Bucolic Anymore: Vignettes, Anecdotes and Miscellaneous Ramblings of the 1950s and 1960s.” The Titus family moved to a home along Roberts Drive in Dunwoody in 1950. The home still stands on Glenrich Drive and is identified as the Larkin Martin Home circa 1840.
When the Titus family moved into the home, they had a four-party line with a Roswell exchange. Sometimes it was possible to have a private line for an additional fee, but this was the only phone service available to their home. If the family made a call to anywhere other than Roswell it was considered long distance.
Later, their service improved when it changed over to a two-party line and the second party happened to be one of their friendly neighbors. Then the family telephone service switched from a Roswell exchange to a Chamblee exchange. They paid extra to call Atlanta and they paid a mileage charge for calls to Chamblee.
One of the issues of a party line was the possibility of the line being busy in the case of an emergency. It was also a problem that people occasionally pretended they had an emergency just to get the other party to hang up the line.
In 1946, the Bell System produced a film titled “Party Lines” to demonstrate proper etiquette for party line customers. Customers are encouraged to not monopolize the telephone line and not speak rudely when asking others to get off the line. The film featured the marionettes of Bill Baird, the same puppeteer who did the marionette performance in the movie “The Sound of Music.”
Perhaps you grew up with a party line, or someone you knew had one. My grandparents had a party line in their farmhouse on Covington Highway in the 1960s. If you have memories of growing up with a party line in the home, send me an email at email@example.com.
You can visit Valerie’s website at pasttensega.com.