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Question on International Calling Late '50s/early '60s?

MikeKardec

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Hello all, I'm working on yet another novel, this time set in 1961. In it I have characters who need to place calls from one country to another but they are not calling from home or from a hotel.

Call #1 is from Rome to Geneva and I suspect that this could be done from a payphone given you had enough change and a bit of patience ... but I am not sure.

Call #2 is trickier, it is from New York to Manchester England. I have a vague recollection that you could visit an American Express office (or something of the sort, Western Union???) and ask them to get you an international line. They would call you when they had the line and you could use a booth in the office to talk on the phone. They would also manage the billing, which could be pretty extreme. Does anyone know if this is true? If it is can anyone confirm? If it isn't I'd like to know ... or if anyone has any other input on this subject please fill me in. I'd like to get all the details right!
 

MikeKardec

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Even better might be to make the New York to Manchester call from an airport, like New York International (now Kennedy), but I still think it might take an operation like Am Ex or something else to get the International line.
 

LizzieMaine

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I can't tell you what the procedure in Europe would be, but Bell System telephone directories in the early sixties boasted that "you can call practically any telephone in the world from your own. Simply dial O for the operator, and give the name of the country and the telephone number you wish to call."

This wouldn't be an instantaneous connection - you'd hear your call transferred, with a series of clicks and tones, to an International operator, who would actually place the call, and then you'd hear the international operator in the receiving country transferring the call to a local operator in the recipient's city, and then, finally, you'd get the party." The whole process might take several minutes to complete depending on the final destination of the call. You could do it from a payphone, but you'd better have rolls of quarters at hand -- international tolls started at $12 for the first three minutes, and that's a lot of BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! as you drop the quarters into the phone.
 

MikeKardec

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Thanks!
I'm guessing, as you say, it would be easier done from the US than the other way around. I do have some memory, however, of my parents waiting quite awhile to "get a line". I can't remember if they were holding for it or they were called back, but it was after '61 because that's when I was born!
 
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Haversack

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In the very early '60s, (60-63), I remember my grandparents would, (in their words), 'send a cable', (i.e. a telegram), when they needed to convey an immediate message to or from overseas. Usually this was when they were visiting siblings in the UK or NZ. It was much cheaper and easier than a telephone call.

By the 1980s in Germany, there were both the post office phone booths where international calls could be booked and direct dial international calls from one's own phone. In fact, I could make a couple of short international calls a month essentially for free because my monthly phone bill was based on a set number of 'points'. Local calls used very few points. Long distance used more. They didn't roll over from month to month so toward the end of the month I would call friends and family if I hadn't used the phone much that month.
 

MikeKardec

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Does anyone know if there were places like these American Express or post office phone services that would arrange a long distance call in airports? I've seen lots of payphones but nothing like what is being described. Of course it is possible that airports, with lots of international phone traffic going back and forth had a perferred postiion when it came to long distance connections.
 

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