NH Telephone Museum

an image of the front of the NH Telephone Museum

Located just minutes off Interstate 89, this museum is packed of telephones, equipment even a library (but you gotta pay annual dues in order to look at them!)

These images were from series of visits NH Telephone Museum (see related posts for details) in 2015. The Museum is about 20 miles away from Concord, in Warner, New Hampshire. It is about 15 minutes away from the Interstate 89 split, which from there is about 65 or so miles away from the Boston, Massachusetts city line.

The museum originated at the offices of Merrimack County Telephone (MCT), when the company was sold around 2001, the company that acquired them donated some money to build museum which would be relocated to its own space in Warner and opened in 2005.

The interesting story that doesn’t get told is that even though the Bell System (err AT&T) acquired many of the smaller telephone companies; the investments were in more populated areas. Areas such as Warner, Hopington or communities just east of Concord in this example were disconnected to the world, and MCT (and hundreds of similar) Independent Telephone Companies (would “interconnect” into the Bell System.) Most of the collection came from one of the employees of the company, many have ether been donated, or they have bought phones from say eBay like sites, or your humble publisher (see Former Items)




This switchboard was actually once used at the Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch (probably within an hour drive from the Canadian border), just a few minutes north of Berlin, the the only city in upstate NH.

The owner of the Museum bought this in an auction and brought this here in Warner. The resort shut down a few years back and with state funding, the place is attempted to be restored. This is also the same building that people would go and vote in the First in the Nation primary, as people cast their votes at midnight. This area is least populated, about 40 something or less live there. (but don’t worry, that’s not what NH truly is anymore!)

SXS (Step By Step) Switching

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Prior to the 5ESS, or the DMS100, or even any of the existing digital PBX systems around, the “electromechanical” generation of switchings systems known as SXS were common. The other type was a crossbar, but in this example two sets are tied into this switch, there are two phones with two numbers (somehow the 7 digit number is “programmed” in this switch is probably hardwired.) Basically one of those cylinders would “step” up as you would dial the number, then would ring the other set. When a call is completed, there would be a loud thump. If too many circuits were busy, there was a “fast busy” tone. As you could imagine, there were hundreds if not thousands of SXS switches serving a finite number of calls concurrently.

Despite the automatic nature, there was human intervention. If there was a line still off hook and no one was near the phone (say one party disconnected and the other one inadvertently stayed on the line, a craftsman would take one of handsets near the switch and yell at the customer’s attention to ask if the call is still needed.

Caller ID was part of the ISDN/digital telephony or Signaling System 7 technology. In the early 1990s Caller ID was “not available in all areas” that was because many central offices still were on non electronic switching systems (ESS) or electromechanical switches – like the one you saw were still in production as late as the late 1980s. According to the people at NHTM, the switch was there as of 1989.  According to trade papers such as Network World (based here in Central New England), they reported that New England Telephone was planning to replace all remaining electromechanical switching by the early 90s. Basically services like Caller ID, call waiting, the abilities to get full 56k data connections in many markets really exploded once the fully digital ESS systems appeared in those central offices.


The fine folks at the Museum explain how the first generation phones work. They were cranked powered and ran locally with dry batteries. The first generation sets also had separate mouth and ear pieces.


Other first generation sets had hard mouth pieces where you had to go up to the box and speak. These of course many would consider resembled in a human, alien an animal with the bells looking like eyes and the mouth piece looking like a nose. All one could do is get a lead pencil and draw a smile on the bottom piece!


Most form factors were wooden in nature, including the handsets for the earpiece.


In order to get bypass the rules to allow to touch is a) email the museum you run a site featuring this kind of stuff and b) know what you’re talking about. Don’t fake it ether like a Cisco UC salesman! These two factors enabled me permission by the lady that runs the place for me to not only touch but to grab pictures at the same time!


Another first generation set where there were two pieces for mouth and ear.


The first connectors were screw types. They remind me of my grandmother’s salt and pepper shaker, with the wooden base and the screw topDSC_0390

Another early connector.

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This handset enables you to “Push to Talk”.


They have collections from other telephones in other parts of the globe.


English phone, circa 1970s. Does this handset look familiar from a series made by AT&T?


Sweden, rotary set


Germany rotary set


Another German set


This was really nice that the Museum kept some wiring since after all the museum was once located at the Merrimack Telephone Company (in the central part of the state)


The basic principle of telephony is one wire to make the phone ring and listen and another to make another set ring and to talk. Multiply that by the hundreds and you can get a 2400 pair! Amazing!


There are other wires with various gauges and each did its own purpose (notice the toll on their Dymos)

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This one is a fiber optic cable. One little strand can give you tons of trunks, mega to gigabit data, etc. If it weren’t for fiber optic, kiss broadband goodbye and good luck trying to get copper broadband like ISDN or DSL to the masses!





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I’m old enough to know about the first portable cell phones that weighed like a brick – literally. This appeared to be a Cellular One (which I forgot what was it’s fate became.)


DSC_0563This is a Radio Shack branded mobile phone. A little cheap on the plastic but, that’s what you get for quality – if you are a cost conscious.   DSC_0562 DSC_0565Motorola beat AT&T in the mobile phone field. Not to long after that, AT&T had their own car phone, basically a Trimline like set tied to a radio antenna.



Early “car phones” were basically a dedicated radio signal allocated to handle a few calls at a time. You can learn more by clicking here, and see this YouTube clip from AT&T. DSC_0567

One of the conventional “flip phones” called the MicroTac phone from Motorola.


Another phone but without the flip.



I think people may have forgotten what the BlackBerry was – which was all the rage back around 2008/09.

1960s – PRESENT (Including Office Telephony)

Because this was a Independent Telephone Company or an Interconnect telco provider, this enabled them to not be chained to the Western Electric equipment, even if they were very reliable hardware. As mentioned in recent posts, ITT, Kellogg and Stromberg Carlson and Automatic Electric were the go-to for independents.


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A Siemens operator console that looks very German. Americans didn’t see these sets often after they bought ROLM from IBM in 1991. Siemens basically did a facelift to the ROLM sets, and slapped their blue typeface logo on them but kept the ROLM legacy for a long time after. After the 90s, German imports were seen less and less for the American market.


The set to the left is a NEC key set. It may very well be the same as the right, as that was a TIE key telephone set. TIE was sold to Nitsuko in Japan which in turn was bought by neighboring NEC in the 90s. Given how tech savvy Japanese are and their strict standards, the offsprings had some quality issues in new phone system offerings (like the Electra) in the 90s. I believe those systems were based off the latter two companies’ products, since US dealers that sold TIE and Nitsuko ultimately became NEC dealers.  They had to even recall some sets due to quality issues.


A closeup of the TIE set (on the right). Regardless these TIE sets were common in small installments in the 70s and 80s, if they weren’t happy with AT&T.


This is a Nortel 9417 with an answering machine. By telling the phone number, this could’ve been the phone used at the Museum since they had a couple other landline Meridian sets used for business at the front desk and another location.

A Cisco 7962 shown in other posts on other subjects.DSC_0619



If you see this throughout this vExhibit, they have collected these doohickey. This insulator was used to lay phone wire over tree branches. Before there was “telephone poles”, linemen would use these glass pieces on an end of a tree branch to route the cables and not have the tree be a subject to catch fire or worse if it came into contact or a surge occurred.


Donated by a lady from Merrimack, a town in the southerly tier, this 1940s set was for kids. Children were not disconnected to the fad known as the telephone. This wooden toy probably was the inspiration for Fisher Price, Little Tikes, and Playskool to make plastic sets from the 60s then on.


This is what they called in the day a Teletypewriter. If you are familiar to broadcasting, this is how news agencies got their stories from the AP, UPI and others. Basically a dedicated circuit would send pulses via the lines and then this device would print out what was being typed from afar.

Early “dumb terminals” also derived from this concept, hence TTY emulation. The teletypewriter would print the output and you would type in the input to the mainframe.


This hard hat appears to be from the late 80s for AT&T Long Distance technicians. Prior to the 1984 Divestiture, the corporate logo featured the infamous Bell logo and the local Bell company in Helvetica typeface with a yellow and blue stripes on white background. After Divestiture, the company’s logo became the Darth Vader-esque logo with a red, blue and black stripes on a dark background.  This scheme was used company wide including the Information Services, manufacturing and computer arms at the time.


Unlike other museums, this place features a library. There are tons of of books, telephone directories, Bell System Practices, even an edition of a Harry Newton’s Telecom Dictionary! The caveat, is you got to be a member of the museum, as I found out recently (September 2015,)