Widows Pays AT&T $14,000 for Rotary Rental

It’s a testament to the anachronistic nature of my family that I — a hot, sexy male in my late 20’s — can operate a rotary phone with aplomb. A dusty, rotary wall phone with a hypnotic whirring click was present in my kitchen up until my late teens, when it suddenly and sadly gave up its ghost.

So I find it amusing that this Yahoo! News article about a widow who has rented a rotary phone for the past 42 years actually needed to dedicate a paragraph to explaining what one really is. But that doesn’t let AT&T off the hook for bilking an octagenarian.

According to the article, Ester Strogen, an 82 year old granny, rented two rotary phones from AT&T in the early 60’s. She has continued to pay AT&T a rental fee every month for the phones… currently at $29.10 a month.

How much has Ester’s rotary phones cost her over the last 42 years? According to her grandaughters… $14,000, or $7,000 a phone.

Ester has apparently been purchased a new phone, and canceled her bill. But she doesn’t like these new-fangled tone dial phones all these crazy kids go on and on about. “I’d like to have my rotary back,” she stated simply. “I like that better!”

Heck, they go for $15 on eBay. I’m tempted to send her one myself, for old time’s sakes.

Widow rented rotary phone for 42 years [Yahoo News] (Thanks, Amy!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Lars says:

    I too grew up in a home with nothing but rotary phones. My mom and I lived with my grandparents for several years and they too were renting their phones from AT&T. My uncle figured out the scam in the early 90s, so my grandparents were only getting bilked for about 30 years. Thankfully though, our town didn’t have touch tone dialing so even with the new push button phones you got to hear a sound that reminded you of the spinning wheel.

  2. Hawkins says:

    Bear in mind when making these calculations that until 1983 you couldn’t legally own your own phone. All telephones were Bell property, and you leased them, and you liked it.

    Om the bottom of every phone in the US, until then: BELL SYSTEM PROPERTY – NOT FOR SALE – Western Electric

  3. Antediluvian says:

    I honestly don’t remember the rental rates being that high, even back in the day.

    Also, I find in interesting that there are still 750k ppl paying $30/month for phone rental (per the article). That earns Lucent a tidy $2.2M/month, or about $26M/year. FOR DOING NOTHING MORE THAN SENDING A BILL EACH MONTH.

    $26,000,000 each year.

    I’m thinking of getting into the phone rental market now. It’s probably the only thing keeping Lucent solvent these days.

  4. matto says:

    it’s somewhat amusing that her name is so close to Strowger, the person who invented the technology that made rotary dialing possible, with his crossbar switch.

  5. Triteon says:

    Hawkins is right. Owning your own phone was the best (only?) good thing from the breakup of Bell Telephone. That said, Illinois Bell allowed long-standing customers who rented their phones to “keep” them beginning in the mid-80’s. (You could buy your own phone, then call them to pick up the old unit. Rarely did they want them back.) My grandmother used her old rotary-dial until she passed…I still love the way that old dial sounds as it winds back.

  6. TPIRman says:

    An old woman named E. Strogen? Seriously?

  7. Jimmy M says:

    Johnny: Hilarious.

  8. mschlock says:

    My parents are still renting an analog cable box from Comcast. ANALOG CABLE BOX! Good lord.

  9. Slack says:

    So whose gonna call that number (on the pic of the phone)?
    205-823-5476 and ask for Estrogen?

  10. TPIRman says:

    Good idea.

  11. TPIRman says:

    Sorry — I prematurely clicked “submit” by accident. I meant to say:

    Good idea. Unfortunately, that number belongs to G.R. Roberts of Birmingham, Alabama. But if anybody gets extremely bored this weekend and wants to take Slack up on his dare, E. Strogen’s new-fangled dial telephone is ready and waiting.

    (Note to morons: Nobody is actually encouraging you to place a prank call to a confused octogenarian. But if you do anyway, call collect.)

  12. AcidReign says:

    …..I was going to say, Johnny, that 205-823 extension is right over the hill from me, in either Vestavia or Hoover (see MTV’s “Two a Days”). I think that address in in the Arboretum Apartments, right next to I-65 mega-noise. Poor guy! That place is a hole!

    …..My parents still have a big boxy wall phone just like that. Bellsouth (then called South Central Bell) sold it to them about 20 years ago, I think.

    …..They are thinking about getting DSL, but no one can tell them how to put a DSL adapter on that phone, and they won’t give it up. It’s hard-wired to the phone line, no neat little plug.

  13. marge says:

    my mom held onto her tacky mustard yellow rotary phone for dear life. as a kid i remember constantly begging her to get touch tone so i could enter into stupid 1-800 call-in games on nickelodeon. what ended up happening was in 2001 the phone had an ‘accident’ when it ‘mysteriously’ fell off the endtable and broke. (‘fell off the endtable’ is code for ‘marge ripped it out of its socket and beat it by wedging it in a doorway and beating it forty two times’.)

    yes, it’s true i no longer lived with her at the time and shouldn’t have cared. but it just sort of happened. she went out to pick up some chinese food and i went uncontrollably zany on that phone. i think it was probably god’s will, or at least a plea from the phone itself. being in heavy use for thirty two years must have made the poor thing pretty miserable.

  14. AcidReign says:

    …..Frankly, I’m surprised it broke. You must hit pretty hard! Those thing are damned near indestructible!

  15. BoldOldPhones says:

    I am sure that all of your commenters will be happy to know that my company ( BoldOldPhones.com ) read this story and sent Mrs. Strogen a replacement phone for Christmas as a gift.

    If Marge ever feels bad about destroying a telephone that actually worked to her mother’s satisfaction for 32 years then we would be happy to sell her a replacement as well.

    In fact, Marge has quite a bit in common with the children in the story– a Mom who is happy with things the way they are but who is stuck with children who cannot mind their own business and leave well enough alone!

    The Mom’s have my sympathy!