How the Pay Telephone Was Invented in Connecticut

March 5, 2017 · Collections ·

This 1907 Gray Pay Telephone is on view in Connecticut Innovates! , Gift of the Estate of George A. Long, 1959.91.6a-c © 2017 The Connecticut Historical Society.

Did you know that the pay telephone was invented here in Connecticut?

Connecticut has always been a hotbed for invention and innovation. The Connecticut Historical Society’s (CHS) current exhibit, Connecticut Innovates! Presented by Connecticut Innovations, explores this topic, and the public pay telephone is just one of the innovations presented.

The idea for a public pay telephone was conceived in 1887, by William Gray when his wife was ill and he was not able to call a doctor. Gray, born in 1850, in Tariffville, Connecticut, was a fan of baseball, and before he invented the public pay telephone, he patented the inflatable chest protector for baseball catchers.

Gray set to work drawing up plans and models of his new invention which he felt would help people in times of need. When he was satisfied he brought his idea to Pratt & Whitney, who then commissioned a sixteen-year old apprentice, George Alexander Long, to create the first model of the pay telephone based on Gray’s plans. In 1889, the first pay telephone was installed on the ground floor of a bank building at the corner of Main Street and Central Row in Hartford by the Southern New England Telephone Company.

William Gray. Source: Gray Telephone Pay Stations: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

The successful creation of this new invention led to the formation of The Gray Telephone Pay Station Company in 1891, with William Gray, Amos Whitney, and Charles Soby as officers. In 1901, George A. Long joined the company. Whitney and Gray were first introduced while working at Colt’s Armory, but became better acquainted when both were at Pratt & Whitney. Gray and Soby met when Soby became financially involved with the chest protector.

Gradually more pay stations were installed around Connecticut, but the public was slow to accept the use of the pay stations. As with any new invention, models had to be improved and adjusted. The first model of the pay telephone was a postpayment model, which meant the caller paid once their call was complete.

George A. Long (1869-1958), Source: Gray Telephone Pay Stations: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

The public found the postpayment model burdensome, which led George A. Long to devise a prepayment model with a multi-coin system. New innovations in the telecommunications industry have led to improvements and alterations to telephones. Today, almost everyone carries a phone with them, and public pay phones have become scarce. Innovation is based on improving and building upon the ideas set forth by people before us, which is exactly what has happened with the telephone.

Connecticut Innovates! Presented by Connecticut Innovations is on view until March 25, 2017.

References:
The Gray Telephone Pay Station Co. Gray Telephone Pay Stations. Hartford, CT: R. S. Peck & Co., 1924

The Gray Telephone Pay Station Co. Gray Telephone Pay Stations: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Hartford, CT: R. S. Peck & Co., 1935.

The Gray Telephone Pay Station Company building, Hartford, CT, Source: Gray Telephone Pay Stations

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