Multiple sockets

06/06/2008 - 00:00 AM

  • Multiple sockets
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At the start of the 60s, with the Italian economic boom in full swing, take-up of coloured telephones was an indicator that Italian tastes were changing and the country was transforming into something of a “consumer society”.

In a little less than 10 years (between 1954 and 1963), the number of telephone subscribers in Italy leapt up from 1.5 million (of whom 931,000 were private customers) to around 4 million. This growth took place at a time when the common black telephone affixed to the wall or perched on a shelf in the hall began to give way to a new phenomenon.
In 1962, the Italian telecommunications company Siemens published a brochure illustrating a range of new “unified” telephones available in a variety of colours (ivory, yellow, blue, red, green, and two-tone grey). The advertising copy for these new products read: “When we go into somebody’s house, the furnishings arouse an initial impression about the taste and character of the people who live there. Every detail – even the smallest – contributes to the harmony of the whole, and should never be neglected by those who wish to live in pleasant and welcoming surroundings. The telephone has a role to play in all of this, not just as an invaluable link to the outside world necessary in every home, but as a decorating feature in various rooms around the house.”

Towards the end of the 60s, the telephone company routinely installed multiple sockets in homes. The old black telephone began to become an endangered species as architects and builders ensured that there was at least one telephone socket in every room, both in newbuild and refurbished properties.
SIP, by this time Italy’s sole telephone provider, redoubled its efforts from the spring of 1967 to increase the number of phones in each individual home through an advertising campaign with the slogan “A telephone on a leash”.
Brochures and advertising material from the period show a variety of telephones on offer, from the classic “Unificato” (“suited to every room, from the entrance hall to the corridor, kitchen and library”) to the slender and graceful Lillo (“ideal in the living room and dining room”), the more original Grillo and “Ericofon” (“recommended for their design and minimalist footprint” either for the bedroom or for anywhere “where space is at a premium”).
The campaign ran in periodicals, news weeklies, women’s magazines, and furniture magazines. An advertising short was shown in cinemas, and a poster campaign ran in major towns. By 1969, SIP had almost doubled the number of subscribers it had at the beginning of the decade. Not only did the company supply 6 million households, one in eight of those households had at least a second telephone.

The dissemination of sockets and multiple telephones reflected not just increasing well-being in the average Italian family; it marked a change in the way people lived, how they communicated, the way they shared domestic space, and relations between generations and the sexes.A telephone in multiple rooms corresponded to greater privacy for the various members of the family, teenagers included. This was, in effect, the first step towards the idea of the telephone as an “individual” and “personal” communications tool, something that would only fully come to fruition with the arrival of mobile phones on the mass market in the 90s.