Western Electric model 354Released in 1937, Western Electric’s model 302 was a significant evolutionary step, one that served subscribers loyally for nearly twenty years. They now enjoy a good deal of popularity among old phone enthusiasts, those who can appreciate their sound design, classic styling and historical significance. Now days the 302 is often called the “Lucy phone”, apparently named by those whose pre-1980 knowledge was obtained from TV reruns. Upon completion of the design Henry Dreyfuss and his team began work on a companion wall-mount version, the model 354. Its release was intended to follow closely on the heels of the 302’s introduction, but then World War II came into play. The shift to wartime production had the unfortunate consequence of delaying the 354’s release until 1946, only three years before Western Electric released their revolutionary new desk phone, the model 500.
The 354 used the same electrical/mechanical components as the 302 of the time, including the #6 dial, 101B induction coil, F1 handset, and B2 ringer. The first 302s had zinc alloy housings, but soon switched to thermoplastics for their construction, the material employed on all 354s. The model 554, a wall version of the 500, came out in 1956, so after roughly nine years of production the 354 rode off into the sunset.
As the 1950s loomed large, the model 354 had charged into battle armed with ’30s styling, not an ideal situation. The phone was well accepted but, as would be expected for a wall-mount telephone, never achieved production numbers anywhere near those of the 302. Made less than ten years, it’s not hard to see why the 354 is somewhat of a rarity today.
Paint splatter on the model 354The 354 pictured here started out in fairly rough condition, covered in grime and paint splatters. Not abused, but the phone was definitely showing the years. Now it’s just beautiful, inside and out, thanks to the skill and care of Dennis Markham. The story of a classic phone brought back from the brink always warms my heart, but this one more than most. Why? Because I’m now the proud owner. Yes, I traded Dennis a nice, dirty, unrestored North Electric Galion for the 354. I had told him that I was thinking of finding a wall phone to be the main telephone in our living area, something to put over the built-in desk where a 554 hung when I was growing up. He mentioned that he had a 354 I might like, and over a few days we agreed to make the trade. Actually, the 354 was also unrestored at the time we made this deal, but Dennis said he’d “clean it up a little” prior to the exchange. ¬†Yea.
Dennis overlooks nothing when restoring a telephone, cleaning and polishing every piece, right down to the smallest screws. (For many more photos and descriptions of the work done on this phone, visit his Picasa Album) As he disassembled the phone it was found to have a slew of matching dates, all components being from 1952. Even the handset was original to the phone, as its wear patterns show it to have never spent time on a desk set. Finding a true survivor, a phone that hasn’t been tampered with, My desk and the W.E. 354is rare today. It’s common for these phones to have been repaired or upgraded over the years, resulting in mismatched dates, but not in this case. I’ve acquired a good number of phones, but this one is my favorite. As can be seen in this photograph, it’s mounted right over my desk, between the CPU and monitor. See, old and new technology can happily coexist! The 354 is our primary telephone, which gets used a lot, and I know it will serve us well for many years to come. Thanks Dennis.