From Coin to Cutting Edge
A Brief History of the Payphone
Ever since the first payphones were opened to the public, using attendants who collected the money and placed the calls, the payphone has become an American icon. Today, it is also an engine of American innovation.
William Gray, inventor of the "unattended" coin payphone, began selling his devices in 1891. Payphone technology didn't change significantly between 1913, with the invention of the "three-slot" payphone, and 1965, when modern, single-coin models debuted. For more than a century, the payphone has offered convenience to consumers and a lifeline to communities that lack phone service at home.
Until 1984, phone companies had a monopoly over payphones. The independent payphone industry was made possible by a 1984 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that required local phone companies to open their networks to competitors' payphones.
Today, independent Payphone Service Providers (PSPs) operate some 450,000 of the nation's 1.5 million (according to industry sources) payphones. They range in size from small providers who own one or two phones to a publicly-traded company that operates about 70,000. In 1988, PSPs formed the American Public Communications Council, Inc. (APCC) to represent and lead the industry.
Now the industry is leading the way with new technologies and innovations for the 21st century. From a street corner to a coffee shop, in all the familiar places where payphones are located today, consumers can see cutting edge technologies that offer services ranging from sending a fax, surfing the web, or calling home using a laptop.
In 2005, the payphone remains what it has been for a century: a device of convenience for telecommunications services away from home or office - that never drops a call, loses a signal or needs a new battery. Tomorrow's payphones are limited only by our imagination. Amid the evolution, we can be certain of this: The payphone will remain an American icon, and the independent payphone industry will remain an engine of innovation.
The payphone has come a long way since William Gray sold his first back in 1891 -- an exciting journey from coins to cutting edge.