April 1956 Popular Electronics
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history
of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights
are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from
thought that custom ringtones have only been around since the mobile phone, you will be surprised to
learn that according to this news brief in a 1956 issue of Popular Electronics, Bell Telephone Labs
was experimenting with such features. Bell was exploiting the convenience, small size, and relatively
inexpensive transistor to enable customers with deeper pockets to hear something other than the standard
mechanical bell ringer. The irony is, of course, that some people nowadays use a ringtone in their smartphones
that sounds like the old mechanical ringer. Evidently the custom ringtones never went over too big for
Bell because I don't remember ever hearing one in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and there is not a plethora
of them for sale on eBay today. Being able to differentiate your own phone's ring in the midst of an
environment with potentially a dozen or more other phones was not exactly a huge concern then. BTW,
it wasn't until 1982 that Bell Telephone was broken up into regional 'Baby Bells.'
Telephones Will "Ring" With Musical Tones
Telephone users will welcome the news that the Bell Telephone
Laboratories is experimenting with a new device that will eliminate the b-r-r-r-ing of present-day instruments.
The gadget, using transistors, will produce pleasant musical tones resembling those of a clarinet. Sound
emanates through the louvered area at the base of the set, shown in the photo with a white background.
This device requires less than 1 volt for operation; the ordinary telephone bell needs about 85 volts.
A full-scale field trial of the new equipment is expected to provide enough technical data and customers'
reactions to help determine its future.
Posted February 22, 2017