The Telephone and the Housewife

vintage photo housewife holding turquoiuse telephone
It’s a very mobile Christmas.

Imagine the old days of being tied to a desktop computer to do shopping. It’s so 2006.

As we swipe our ways through the holidays on our smart phones, it’s hard to remember a time when we were once tethered to a solitary phone in the house.

Vintage illustrationwoman sitting at desk talking on the phone

Vintage illustration from Planning For Home Telephones 1948

Though it might seem inconceivable to millennials, once upon a time phones were stationary, grim black objects found in only one room of the house. But this Brothers Grimm – like fairy tale had a happy mid-century ending when home phone extensions were introduced in the mid 1950’s.

Thus it was that a prelude pink kitchen wall phone extension appear on every mid-century homemakers wish list for Christmas …or anytime.

Dial Up Convenience

vintage illustration 1950s housewife talking on the phone in the kitchen

Vintage ad from Bell telephone 1955 explaining the benefits of extension phones in the home

A telephone has always been a busy gals best friend so when home extensions became widely available they promised unparalleled ease of living to the housewife.

Home telephone extensions were the original mother of multitasking. Call the plumber, watch the kids and bake your brownies without the risk of burning…all from the convenience of your Formica kitchen.

No mid-century home could be considered modern without at least one phone extension and certainly no modern up to date homemaker would dream of not having a kitchen phone.

vintage ad kitchen wall telephone

“Basic as salt and pepper a kitchen extension phone brings calls where you’re cooking save you time and steps.” explains this 1962 ad from Bell Telephone

Bell telephone ran many ads touting their convenience especially to the homemaker. Hours of time saved, miles of steps and precious energy. No wonder more and more busy homemakers say “My telephone is worth more to me than it costs!”

vintage illustration 1950s Housewife and the telephone.

Vintage 1955 ad from Bell Telephone speaking directly to Mrs. Homemaker

vintage illustration 1950s housewife and the telephone

Vintage ad 1955 Bell Telephone

Suddenly you could enjoy the comfort and pleasure of convenient telephones throughout the house and you would wonder “how you ever did without one?”

Just ask Mrs. Dan Gilman of Danbury Conn, busy mother of three.

vintage ad 1950s housewife and telephone

“Christmas when you spend extra hours in your kitchen you can run your house and visit family and friends without neglecting cookie baking or candy making. It’s easy with your handy kitchen phone.” 1958 vintage ad Bell telephone

It was December 1956 and the snowy town of Danbury was banked in snow.

With the whirlwind of Christmas time activities needing to get done, the family Country Squire station wagon still in the shop and her middle child sick in bed, Madge Gilman might have been frantic. But as she cheerily said with a smile “Let it snow let it snow let it snow.”

This home-bound homemaker was well served by her handy, convenient extension telephone.

In these modern times a phone extension was as essential to a busy homemakers rush about life as was an automatic washer and dryer.

vintage illustration 1950s housewife in the kitchen on the phone

vintage illustration Bell Telephone ad 1960

In her whirlwind life as mother, wife and PTA bake sale czar, Madge couldn’t possibly be tied to a singular phone.

At any time of year kitchen extension phones saved steps and time. But the bright and busy Christmas season seemed to double their usefulness.

She could finish baking those Christmas cookies, dial-up Dan about dinner guests, and mop up the mess the kids made all without leaving the comfort of her fully loaded Kelvinator kitchen.

With the convenience of Christmas catalogs she could enjoy the ease of Xmas shopping the telephone way with a whole department store at her fingertips allowing her to window shop from her very own home.

Walk This Way

telephone yellow pages walking fingers

Before there was google, before apps, before the web when customers wanted to find a local business they reached for a big fat iconic yellow book – The Yellow Pages. Vintage yellow pages ad

And with the mind-boggling amount of information available from the ever ready yellow pages she could let her fingers do the walking whether in the kitchen or the rumpus room. Her well manicured fingers could sashay through those yellow hued pages with the dexterity of a Radio City Rockette.

Even little Jimmy’s cold didn’t stop her from getting things done.

With a phone outlet in the rumpus room, now serving as a sick room, she could sit by his side and call Mr. Antoine to cancel her hairdresser appointment all without leaving the bedside of little Jimmy. As she rubbed the Vics Vapo Rub into his congested chest Madge could still re-schedule her cut and curl right without leaving him alone.

For this busy home executive, an extra phone was a like having a Girl Friday to take care of business.

Reach Don’t Run

telephone planning SWScan05706
In the madcap pace of modern living no one had time to be restricted by one phone. A single phone was downright old-fashioned.

The old days of a lone phone in the hallway niche were long gone. By the time the suburbs blossomed so did the idea of extension phones.

Planning For Home Telephones

vintage Planning new home telephones booklet

Vintage Booklet “Planning For Home Telephones” 1948 Bell Telephone

As a newlywed,  Madge Gilman had relied on a helpful booklet prepared  Bell Telephone especially for new home owners, called Planning For Home Telephones. Acknowledging the importance of the telephone in modern life,  it offered advise on how to plan the placement of outlets for various rooms where one day you might plug-in a phone:

“The telephone is now being recognized as an integral part of home life. The prospective home owner not only wants his telephone located where they will be most convenient to use, he also expects his telephone wiring to be concealed.

A new home is not modern throughout unless the telephones are installed at planned locations. A new home needed to plan their outlets for phones.

telephone extention ideas SWScan01782

But by the early 1950’s the world was changing; convenience and decoration were as important — or even more important — than pure utility. People wanted more than just the main phone in the hallway. They wanted a phone that would fit on a bedside table; and they wanted the teenagers out of the hallway, too.

And they wanted them in cheery decorator colors.

Bell Telephone saw this potential market and went after running after them, placing ads that spoke directly to the housewife.

Telephones Where We Need Them

Vintage telephone ad 1957

Mrs. Raney has wisely chosen the lovely phone in largo yellow for the den. Vintage ad 1957 Bell telephone

In this 1957 ad we are introduced to Mrs. Dallas Raney who like most busy homemakers  enjoyed the convenience of telephones where we need them.

Evenings, the Raneys relax in the family room where Mrs. Raney often plays the electric organ. The telephone here is a must since the family spends so much time in the room. Boisterously singing along to On Top of Old smokey they would never hear the phone ring in the front hallway niche.

A busy homemaker with a family on the go, Mrs. Dallas P. Raney of Little Rock finds her new modern home makes her day easier. It includes practically every homemaking convenience among them , telephones where the family needs them the most.

“They’re part of the way we live, says Mrs. Raney. “We all depend on the phone a lot. I rely on it for all my grocery shopping in church committee work and visiting with friends.

“That’s why we have phones in the kitchen, family room, master bedroom and our daughters bedroom. Their colors harmonize with each rooms furnishings. Wiring is concealed in the walls and portable phones serve little used rooms and the outdoor patio.”

You and your family can enjoy the convenience of telephones where you need them ( reach don’t run for our phone) The cost is low.

As Essential as Salt and Pepper

telephone 56 SWScan09442

Smartly decorated colored phones came in largo yellow, tempo turquoise or prelude pink

Since the kitchen was Madge’s domain, her family’s  first extension phone was installed there, natch.

A modern up to date gal, she wouldn’t be scurrying around to answer the phone, letting the water boil over the way her own mother did.

The advertisements  didn’t have to sell Mrs. Homemaker very hard on the importance of a phone in the kitchen as the copy in this as this ad from 1956 suggests “Why You Need a Kitchen Extension Phone.”

“First it’s a great help running the house. Your kitchen extension is near shopping lists and at your finger tips for emergency calls to the plumber and other repairmen.

Next it saves you trouble. Bisquits won’t burn, or a pot boil over, because a telephone call took you out of the kitchen. And while you handle important household calls, you can keep a watchful eye on playing children.

It saves you steps too. When it rings you’re right there to say “Hello.” Since the kitchen is where you spend so many hours of your busy day, it makes sense to have a telephone handy. ( Your husband, like you will find it one of your most useful phones)

And when all your work is done its easy and fun to take a break and chat with a friend on your handy kitchen extension.

But why stop there.

Bedroom Phones

Vintage Bell Telephone ad 1958

This Xmas what Madge really wanted was a smart new phone in her bedroom .

The ads made it so appealing:

Naturally the livable modern home featured in all the up to date magazines like “Good Housekeeping” had extension phone in the bedrooms.

They provide step saving convenience they offer privacy and the security that lets a family sleep serenely through the night. Whats more each of these telephones is in a harmonizing decorator color. Even the most budget conscious home buyers will be pleasantly surprised to learn how little extension phones cost.

1950s Housewife taliing on telephone

vintage ad 1958 Bell Telephone

Closing her eyes, Madge could already imagine the phone sitting on the carved wood night table next to the Dresden china lamp.  With her smart decorators instinct, she knew the tempo turquoise would give her phone a fresh new glow-never-tired beauty. It was a color with a promise and it promised to match her chenille bedspreads.

And next Christmas when she had piles of presents to wrap and secret Christmas conversations to carry on, the phone would be there to bring extra holiday cheer.


© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



  1. I remember party lines. Where everything you said could be monitored by your neighbors. Imagine that. They were the real NSA.


  2. We had a party line up until 1983!! (very small town in Northwest PA!


  3. Susan

    Having a telephone extension upstairs as well as downstairs probably prevented a lot of nasty accidents while racing for the phone (we had no home answering machines, back in the 60’s and 70’s.) Of course, no matter how many Princess phones you had scattered around the house, there was only one phone line, resulting in the common shout, “Get off the phone! I need to use it!” People picking up their extension phones and accidentally — or deliberately — overhearing an incriminating conversation was popular in mystery plots, too. Now, it’s a source of amusement at our house to listen to our caller ID mispronouncing the names of callers. Last night, a friend with a long last name was transformed from Lithuanian to Italian when the final letters were dropped.
    We cling to our land line for several reasons — including the fact that we can always find a phone that’s plugged into the wall!


  4. Phone etiquette was certainly a feature of living with one phone line, no mater the number of extensions. I still have a fairly large collection of old phones that besides being conversation pieces come in mighty handy during a storm when our power gets knocked out disabling the ability to recharge our so called smart phones. Plugging in a 1964 phone into a phone outlet comes in mighty handy


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