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Who Among Us Has the Oldest 554?

Started by Sargeguy, June 12, 2009, 10:48:57 PM

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Sargeguy

A friend just gave me a 554 dated 4-31-56.  When did these begin production and who has the earliest?
Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409

McHeath

I have an 8/59 model that has been seriously Frankenphoned by Ma Bell over the decades.  Wasn't production supposed to have started in 55'?

Dennis Markham

I believe the 554's began production in Black and Ivory in early 1955.

Dan

I have an early black WE554 wall phone with the  shell dated 11-23-56. Nice narrow chrome hook.
"Imagine how weird telephones would look if our ears weren't so close to our mouths." - Steven Wright

HobieSport

Come to think of it, I don't have a single 554 of any year.  Just 354s.
-Matt

AtomicEraTom

Mine's a numbers matching '58 which I know the entire history of.
I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main roads. Searchin' in the sun for another overload.  I hear you singin' in the wires, I can hear you through the whine, and the Witchita Lineman is still on the line.

rp2813

4/31/56?  Really?  I didn't realize Ma Bell had her own version of leap year.    :D
Ralph

Sargeguy

Hmmm.  Now since my birthday is on May 1st, does this qualify as a birthday phone/wrong year?
Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409

jsowers

Hi Everyone--I'd like to chime in on this one. I've been lurking since the beginning and haven't made any comments until now. I think I may have a 554 that's hard to beat and will offer a little history on the side. I have a black numbers-matching 554 with a housing date of 6-10-55 (first shift). It's what I call a black switchhook model. The first 554s had black painted switchhooks--this may have been before ivory was offered, but I'm not sure. If anyone has ever heard of the Black Bumper Mennonites, a religious sect whose cars I remember seeing in Lancaster, PA when on vacation in the Amish country, this phone reminds me of them. They painted over the chrome on their cars because it looked ostentatious. Nowadays they probably save a lot of paint! But in the 1970s when I first saw it, they stood out coming and going.

I'm attaching three pictures of this phone. The first shows it off-hook. The second shows all the dates in a composite. The third shows the surprise number card I found. These pictures are from before I cleaned the phone, but it was amazingly clean when I got it. I always take pictures of my new phones, just to have a record. My favorite phones are the soft plastics from the 1950s, but I have lots of others. Most of them came from eBay. It's amazing what you can learn from just looking at all the phones for sale. I also collect old phone literature and I have a 1955 catalog with this black switchhook phone pictured.
Jonathan

JorgeAmely

jsowers:

First time I see one with a factory painted handset hook. Is it anodized black or enamel painted black? Bakelite handset?

You small picture of the blue 500 is very nice.

Welcome to the group.
Jorge

Dennis Markham

Jonathan, thank you for your posting.  That is one awesome telephone.  I have never seen one with a black switch hook, nor was I aware that they existed.  You're correct, that is going to be hard to top!

McHeath

Welcome jsowers, and what a cool phone!  I too like my comrades in arms never knew that the early 554s had black hooks, very striking.  Could you post some more pics of the hook, inside and all?  My 59' model 554 has the thin chrome hook from later days, but it would make sense that the early 554s had their hooks in black as the 354s did. 

jsowers

Quote from: JorgeAmely on June 23, 2009, 04:29:50 PM
jsowers:

First time I see one with a factory painted handset hook. Is it anodized black or enamel painted black? Bakelite handset?

You small picture of the blue 500 is very nice.

Welcome to the group.

Thanks! That blue 500 is one that got away, but I kept the auction picture. I have a couple dark blues in my collection, but I'm sure you know how hard it is to forget losing one or two special phones along the way. I use the picture on my computer desktop too.

The handset of the black 554 is Bakelite. I have a picture of the handset innards and a closeup of the switchhook I can post below. Some of the paint is worn off the inside of the switchhook from use. It seems to me to be more painted than anodized because the paint is shiny and chipped off. It looks to be bare metal underneath and not chrome. Also as you may have noticed, the switchhooks on the 1955-59 554s are thicker metal. Late 1959 or early 1960 is when they changed. It was about the same time they added the seventh hole to the earpiece cap on the handset.


Quote from: McHeath on June 24, 2009, 12:26:25 AM
Welcome jsowers, and what a cool phone!  I too like my comrades in arms never knew that the early 554s had black hooks, very striking.  Could you post some more pics of the hook, inside and all?  My 59' model 554 has the thin chrome hook from later days, but it would make sense that the early 554s had their hooks in black as the 354s did. 

More pictures below.  This phone also came with a painted wooden backboard, complete with the screws that held it to the wall. Also, I posted a scan from an early 1955 Western Electric catalog I have with the black switchhook 554 illustrated next to an ivory 354 with a chrome hook. That's what made me think black was made first, kind of like the 500 set. This catalog also pictured all the colors that 500 sets came in, so I feel sure it would have pictured ivory if it were available on the 554. Paul Fassbender's site says black and ivory were made first, so perhaps ivory came along a month later. I'll send these pictures to Paul, or send him the link to this thread, and let you know if he has anything to offer.
Jonathan

Sargeguy

That is one nice phone!!! ::) 

OT-I hear a lot of people refer to "1st shift" and "2nd shift" to explain the 1, 2 & 3 at the end of date codes.  Has it been established that this is what the codes mean?  It's hard to believe WECO was pumping out  phones around the clock for all those years.  I worked in manufacturing QC for a while and it seems to me more likely that the codes referred to which assembly line the phones came off, or more likely, which mold was used to make the casting.  Also the dates are not so WECO knows how long the parts last (differential usage would make that irrelevant), its so Quality Control can track down defective lots when duds turn up.
Greg Sargeant
Providence, RI
TCI /ATCA #4409

jsowers

Quote from: Sargeguy on June 29, 2009, 12:07:43 AM
That is one nice phone!!! ::) 

OT-I hear a lot of people refer to "1st shift" and "2nd shift" to explain the 1, 2 & 3 at the end of date codes.  Has it been established that this is what the codes mean?  It's hard to believe WECO was pumping out  phones around the clock for all those years.  I worked in manufacturing QC for a while and it seems to me more likely that the codes referred to which assembly line the phones came off, or more likely, which mold was used to make the casting.  Also the dates are not so WECO knows how long the parts last (differential usage would make that irrelevant), its so Quality Control can track down defective lots when duds turn up.

I think it's all speculation about the shift being the last number, unless Dennis knows more about it than I do. I noticed he used that reference to it being the shift and I had always assumed that too. I don't know how many assembly lines they had, but I have seen pictures of the "girls" as they called them assembling phones. The housings came down from rails mounted above their heads. The housings were back-to-back on a conveyer system with colors all mixed up. I have no idea where the handsets, caps and dial faces came from. I've also seen a picture of the room where they kept the new housings and they were stacked on pallets by color, about four feet high.

Someone should go to Indianapolis and find someone who worked in that plant and ask them how it all worked, before they're all dead. I did buy a phone once from someone who worked in the business office of that plant in the 1960s, and her late father helped design the plant, but she had very little to share. The building, which is huge, is still there, but phones haven't been made there since the 1980s. I would love to know one thing about that plant. Did the soft plastic housings reek when they were new?
Jonathan