Candlestick Telephone

This candlestick telephone is part of our Design and Technology collection.

Candlestick telephones gained popularity in the 1880s as the telephone became an important piece of technology for modern businesses. A standard candlestick phone included a base, stem, mouthpiece, and receiver. The phone’s heavy receiver, or speaker end, rested on a hooked perch when not in use.

Our candlestick telephone, like the majority of early candlesticks, has only a single switch for dialing an operator (some intercom or office phones had additional buttons for calling between locally networked telephones).

Due to the threat of contagious diseases like influenza and tuberculosis shortly after World War I, telephone producers developed mouthpieces made from glass or porcelain, which were thought to be more sanitary than Bakelite or rubber. These parts could be easily cleaned by unscrewing and boiling them, and employees of large companies sometimes carried their own mouthpieces to work.

Eventually, round 10-hole dials were mounted onto the center shaft of candlesticks, eliminating the need for calling an operator before dialing out. This rotary dial was patented by Almon Strowger in 1891. By the 1920s, dials were relocated to the telephone’s base, beginning a shift in telephone design that would ultimately lead to the cradle telephone.