Design Line telephone

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Design Line, also known as Deco-Tel, is a brand name that AT&T has used for several of its specialty telephone designs to fulfill the demand by customers for more variety in telephone models.

Pre-divestiture models[edit]

In the early 1970s, well before the Bell System divestiture, customers in increasing numbers chose to install and use telephones not manufactured by Western Electric, AT&T's wholly owned subsidiary. To fulfill the demand, the Bell System decided to offer a series of specialty telephones that could be purchased or leased. The series was called the Design Line telephones. The name did not refer to one particular telephone type; rather Design Line was the collective name given to all the specialty phones, including the Candlestick phone, Country Junction phone, Mickey Mouse phone and others.[1] The phones were among the few that could be purchased in the early 1970s.

Western Electric broke tradition, by obtaining housings for some of the sets from other manufacturers or local contractors in Indianapolis. In all cases, Western Electric supplied the internal electrical components of the phones, such as ringer, receiver, transmitter, and induction coils. Early Design Line sets displayed this disclaimer:

"The telephone housing is your property. To assure quality of service, all working parts, e.g., dial, cords, and electrical components remain the property and responsibility of the Bell Telephone Company."

As a consequence, Bell customers still had to pay a monthly lease fee in order to rent the phone's internal components, which remained the property and responsibility of the local Bell provider. Design Line phones are among the few lines of phones produced by Western Electric that were more renowned for looks than durability. Because the majority of the Design Line phone housings were not made by Western Electric, Bell System standards were less stringent for exterior housings than for the phone's internals.

Beginning in around 1980, the Bell System allowed customers to own the entire phone, including internal components. Sets were marked with "CS" to indicate the phone was entirely customer owned.

The arrangement in which Western Electric components were installed into Japanese-made housings ended around the time of divestiture. Character phones, such as the Mickey Mouse phone, were made in China using the Trimline handset, rather than just the receiver with dial in the base. These phones were still sold as a part of the Design Line series.

Post-divestiture models[edit]

In 1985, AT&T Technologies redesigned its consumer telephone products to be cheaper to build and be more competitive in the marketplace by adding electronic ringers and a redial function. In 1986, they moved telephone production out of the United States. After this time several new Design Line series telephones were marketed and discontinued. One example of a "Design Line" phone was model 140, marketed in the mid 90s. The phone was similar in size to the 2554 wall phone, but had unique features:

  • Round buttons
  • Round receiver/microphone
  • Switchhook similar in shape to a slice of pie
  • Desk or wall use

The phone also required a handset cord which had a long straight section as the connector to the base was located on the bottom of the phone, and not facing outward on the side.

In 2000, Lucent Technologies spun off its consumer telephone division, resulting in the Design Line being redesigned. The basic design was retained, except that the handset was more rectangular in shape, and an "AT&T" badge was placed on the outside of the handset. The phone also replaced the traditional 100 series (the 2500 and 2554 telephones) for consumer use, as Lucent kept the phones because of their high demand for business use after spinning off its consumer division.


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