Ipohworld's World

Saving Yesterday For Tomorrow

 …a rotary dial phone? I remember having one at home….and I also remember how my small fingers kept getting stuck in those number holes :) Well, here’s some nostalgia for you (see picture below).


  1. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Dear felicia … That dial was a finely engineered piece of equipment!

    In those days, the entire system was electro-mechanical: there were actual moving parts all along the line (and I don’t mean only electrons). If one mechanical part of the system moved too quickly, the other parts would not be able to keep up and the call would fail. So when your finger moved that dial to each correct digit and then let it go, it wasn’t allowed to go “back to zero” immediately: a trick was used to keep its return trip slow enough that the correct metallic bits and pieces in the telephone exchange miles away would have time to move accordingly, to “build up” the connection you were in the process of requesting!

    Before dials, human operators — usually girls — had to make the connections for you by hand. (Boys were tried first but all over the world they were found to be much too crass and impolite.)

    In Malaya, telephones were introduced as early as the 1870s, not long after they were invented in the USA. The first telephone exchange was on Prince Street in Singapore. Telephone numbers had only one or two digits: there were only forty-one private customers, including both companies and individuals, and all were Singaporean except one: the Sultan of Johore.

    By the late 1920s it was possible to make long-distance “trunk calls” between Ipoh and KL. You might have had to wait up to half an hour for your call to “go through,” but it was possible.

    The dialing system was introduced widely in 1930. By this time there were a lot more telephone users and, like you, many of them had to be trained in the proper use of the dial!

    By 1931, it became possible to make long-distance calls between Singapore and KL/Ipoh/Penang. Within a year, an average of 115 of these calls were being made every day.

    For most Malayans in those days, however, telephones were only a distant marvel.

    In Ipoh, for many, many years, even into the 1960s and perhaps the early 1970s, most people had no access to a telephone either at home or at work. Telephone numbers were still expressed as no more than four digits. There was at the Station Hotel a telephone that people could use when the guests weren’t using it but, because it wasn’t free of charge, I suspect that it was mostly people with long-distance family emergencies who used it.

  2. NCK says:

    This is not an ordinary, rotary dial phone we used at home. From the row of alphabet keys at the bottom, I think the phone was used in an office.

  3. Mano says:

    As to the row of levers at the bottom of the phone. I believe that’s for phone contacts. The red lever toggles to choose the upper or lower row of alphabets. Then the corresponding alphabet lever is pushed to open the cover revealing the card where the names and numbers are written. We had one but differing in contraption whereby it was a button that ratcheted down the side along the alphabets. When you pushed the button at any of the alphabets the cover would open accordingly.

  4. S.Y. says:

    My father used to have a phone like that. Even earlier, as a boy, I remember that I used to pick up the phone and the operator will ask me for the number I want to phone. This was before the dialing of the numbers. If I remember correctly, phone numbers only used to have four digits, as Mano says above.

  5. IKA says:

    How privileged you all were.

    When I was a kid the nearest phone was in a red box about one mile away from home. We had no car or bike and had to walk there and back to make a call. Often there would be a queue and you waited in the rain. Finally it was your turn and the person was out when you called.

    We did not use the phone very often!

    • NCK says:

      Hi IKA, I believe your childhood took place very long time ago and well before mine. Nowadays kids have smartphones, iPads, and whatnots. How times have changed.

    • NCK says:

      Mano, when I googled on dial phones, I came across a website that talked about some history of telephones. According to it, Europe fell far behind the US as regards telephone line subscription rate in the early part of the 20th century, when telephones were new. I suppose Europe had less needs for the use of phones due to the physically smaller size of each of its component countries compared with the expanse of the US, or perhaps US telcos were more aggressive in marketing their products.

  6. Mano says:

    NCK, I think the disparity was due to the aftermath of the War. Europe had to rebuild altogether from the devastation with little or no resources whilst the Americans were virtually unscathed and rich in resources as well. As explained in another thread, the resulting design and engineering of the automobile is another prime example.

    • NCK says:

      Yes, WWI should have played a role. However, European countries were far from having little or no resources if you remember that they had colonies all over the world. Even after WWII, when independence swept through the world, they didn’t lose their colonies all at once. Even after their colonies had gained independence, they still had companies there to control the resources. Not to mention the vast new worlds which their people had emigrated to and taken control of, and which had remained loyal to the respective old worlds.

  7. Mano says:

    Your’re quite right, NCK, but what from what I have gathered, Europe did have it’s difficulties in rebuilding post WW II. Perhaps due to:
    1) The more damaging weaponry and arsenal compared to WW I
    2) Their colonies were also in need of rebuilding
    3) Oil and fuel was not easily accessible
    I guess we’ll need to look further into this:)

  8. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Dear Mano … This is a bit of a digression here but as you mention the re-building of British colonies immediately after WWII, perhaps we should note something: That re-building occurred to the extent that it would quickly provide the UK government with USD, the commodity needed to shore up sterling.

    At that difficult moment, the value (not so say viability) of sterling was paramount; little else mattered, certainly not the intrinsic well-being or political health of the colonies.

    Not that you were unaware of this fact, obviously.

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