Unique New England Museums: The Telephone Museum

By Carla Charter

Vincent Valentine, CEO of the Telephone Museum in Waltham, Ma. has always been fascinated with phones.  “As a little kid I had an insatiable curiosity about how phones worked. I took them apart which led to taking other stuff like tape recorders and walkie talkies apart which evolved into repairing them.”   This curiosity led Valentine to a career in Electrical Engineering and then to creating the Phone Museum to encourage children to become Electrical Engineers.

“I originally was bringing phones to schools and doing workshops. It became a little too difficult bringing the equipment in, setting it up and tearing it down.  I went from there to the museum. My entire life I’ve collected phones. When neighbors or family came over to my house I was always doing something with phones.”

The museum has 750 phones on display from 1876 to the present day.  ”We have one of the first phones Bell ever made. It was manufactured by Charles Williams Jr. These phones were manufactured in Boston and called the coffin phone because it kind of looks like a coffin.  We have prototypes of phones and one of the very first dial phones.” The phone itself was invented in Boston.

The museum also houses other phone ephemera. “We have a British 1936 working phone booth. We have an American Watch Case switchboard from the Watch Case Corp. in Rhode Island.  We have an old Boston are phone book from 1934.”

Valentine continued, “We have a huge workbench where twelve kids can sit down and take a phone apart. With today’s electronics you can’t take things apart and see all the components. You can’t take out the screws and see all the components like in an old phone.”

Valentine said when children visit, they pick up a phone, hear a dial tone and often say what is that noise coming out of the phone?  “When they see a rotary dial phone they try to push the numbers as if it’s a push button phone.  One child saw the letters over the numbers and said can you text on this phone?”    As for the adult visitors he said “Everyone picks out the phone they had growing up. They remember those phones.” He said often a one-hour tour can last two hours.

The museum holds workshops on electrical theory and soldering. The phone museum also accepts donations. “We never turn down a phone,” valentine said.

More information can be found at the telephone-museum.org. Other telephone museums in New England includes phone Museum in Warner, New Hampshire, www.nhtelephonemuseum.org and a phone museum in Ellsworth, Maine,www.thetelephonemuseum.org.