Rotary dialing is a method of telephone number dialing that was used on older telephone systems. It involved turning a wheel to make a designated number of clicks.
Rotary phones are telephones that use a wheel that makes clicks for a dialing telephone numbers.
When a number is selected, it made that many clicks onto the phone line. For example ‘3’ would make 3 clicks, ‘9’ would make 9 clicks, etc.
While most rotary phones have disappeared, their clicking function hasn’t. A “pulse” option is still present on most landline phones. “Pulse” emulates the rotary sound, and is an alternative to the “tone” method used by most phones.
In some circles where vintage equipment is in fashion, rotary phones are making a return. While the rotary dialing system is not compatible with many VoIP phone systems or touch-tone phone menus, there are adapters available.
Sources and more resources
- Wikipedia – Rotary dial – Wikipedia entry on rotary dialing, including pictures and methods for dialing a rotary phone.
- Popular Science – How your dial phone works – Article from 1946 in Popular Science about how a rotary dial phone works.
- Youtube AT&T Tech Channel – AT&T Archives Director’s Cut – Now You Can Dial – Historical video from AT&T on instructions on how to dial a rotary telephone. The video was circulated during a time when phone users were used to dialing through an operator.
- The Kansas Collection – The Invention and Development of the Dial Telphone: The Contribution of Three Lindsborg Inventors – Story of how the dial telephone was invented.
- Arctos Group / Western Electric – A look at the evolution of the dial telephone – A historical document about different rotary phone models and features that were available.
- Gizmodo – 22 Awesome Rotary Phones: Beautiful Relics of a Bygone Era – some pictures of old rotary dial phones. Most date from the 1950s and 60s.
- Classic Rotary Phones Forum – Internet forum dedicated to classic rotary phones. Although rotary phones are rarely used these days, there are people who are still interested in them for vintage purposes.
- Instructables – Interface a rotary phone dial to an Arduino – how to take apart a rotary phone dial and interface it with an Arduino unit. An interesting project for someone looking to interface the old with the new.