Phone Boxes

05/26/2007 - 00:00 AM

  • Phone Boxes
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Italy’s first street phone box was installed by the STIPEL phone company in Milan’s Piazza San Babila, on February 10, 1952. Manufactured by the Publicab company, the metal and glass box ushered in a design that set the standard for the following decades. Previously, public phones had been installed almost exclusively at Public Telephone Offices (Posti Telefonici Pubblici or PTPs), or in bars, newsagents, restaurants and other private places. Until the start of the Seventies, new phone boxes were rolled out in cities at a rather leisurely pace.

The booming Seventies

“You’re never alone when you’re near a phone” was one of the slogans that SIP adopted in the late Seventies, as part of a public telephone campaign that ran with the picture of a yellow outdoor phone box. In the Seventies, prefabricated metal phone boxes with see-through glass doors and sides became a fixture in Italian towns and villages.
In 1971, there were just 2.500 phone boxes nationwide. By 1972, the number had doubled to 5,000. Four years later, in 1976, there were 21,250; by 1977, the figure had climbed to 26,100, and by 1978, there were 30,700. The decade ended with 33,000 such boxes on Italy’s streets. After this date, in Italy (as elsewhere) boxes were gradually phased out in favour of open kiosks, which were easier to access for the handicapped, and also discouraged overly long phone calls (owing to the relative lack of privacy).

Tokens and phonecards

In the Seventies, demand boomed for telephone tokens to use in the growing number of public phone boxes. To cater to this burgeoning demand, SIP commissioned four different manufacturers to manufacture tokens: IPM (Industria Politecnica Meridionale, Arzano, Naples); ESM (Emilio Senesi Medaglie, Milan), UT (Urmet Costruzioni Elettrotelefoniche, Turin), and CMM (Costruzioni Minuterie Metalliche, Sant’Agata Li Battiati, Catania).
Phonecards first appeared in 1976, and gradually started to replace tokens. The early yellow/blue phonecards were inserted vertically; after the credit was used up, they were retained by the phones.
Over the next decade, the technology was upgraded. “Horizontal” magnetic-strip cards allowed people to use up the credit on a unit-by-unit basis, and keep the cards afterwards. Soon a thriving collectors’ market developed for these cards.
Telephone box numbers fell during the Nineties as people bought mobile phones in droves. In recent years, however, phone boxes have been making something of a comeback.