The Hush-A-Phone was a device designed to attach to the transmitter of a telephone to reduce noise pollution and increase privacy. Sold by the Hush-A-Phone company, the device was frequently described in its commercial advertisements as "a voice silencer designed for confidential conversation, clear transmission and office quiet. Not a permanent attachment. Slips right on and off the mouthpiece of any phone".
The device was the topic of a landmark court case, Hush-A-Phone v. United States. The Hush-A-Phone was regularly referred to in telecommunications policy analysis in the 1980s, attracting renewed interest in the 2000s as a symbol of a small company fighting against a monopoly, especially in the context of net neutrality. Indeed, because Hush-A-Phone eventually won its case against the phone company, the final legal proceedings involving the Hush-A-Phone turned out to be relevant to the eventual breakup of the Bell system.
1920–1948: early years
The manufacture of Hush-A-Phones began in 1921, although the Hush-A-Phone company was first mentioned in The New York Times in a 1922 classified advertisement for a "typist-dictaphone operator". At this time, Hush-A-Phone was located in New York's Flatiron District, at 41 Union Square. Only a month later, the company advertised for a salesman, noting that 500 Hush-A-Phones were sold in one week at a business show.
The company was still seeking a salesman in April 1922, but stopped posting dedicated sales openings until January 1923, this time noting several thousand Hush-A-Phones had already sold in New York. The company's first classified advertisement for the product appeared June 7, 1922, pricing the product at $10 and offering a free 5-day trial offer. Between the end of June 1922 and January 16, 1923, the company moved eleven blocks closer to the Empire State Building, to 1182 Broadway, and the "free trial" changed to "free demonstration offer". A capital increase to the "Hush-A-Phone Sales Corp." company was announced on December 22, 1922, from $250,000 to $500,000, and in March 1923, the company's name changed from Hush-A-Phone Sales Corp., Manhattan, to Hush-A-Phone Corp.
Some time between May 30, 1923, and October 18, 1923, Hush-A-Phone moved halfway back toward its original Union Square location, to 10 Madison Avenue, and by May 1924, the company had started suggesting that potential customers outside of New York wanting a demonstration would instead be sent a booklet.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 brought trouble to many companies. On October 20, 1929, Hush-A-Phone was advertised along with several other companies on the first page of The New York Times as part of the "National Business Show" being held in Grand Central Palace from October 21 to 24. The company was showing its handset model for the first time. The ad noted that Mr. H. C. Tuttle, President of the Hush-A-Phone Corporation, had just returned from a European tour of ten countries where the product would be distributed. The product was described as being "beautiful," made of bakelite, and "embellished with a work of art in bas-relief. It appears as a handsome desk clock, nine inches high, concealing its function as a Hush-A-Phone".
Some time between October 1927 and December 1929, Hush-A-Phone moved from its Madison Avenue location to about seven blocks southwest to 43 W. 16th Street. Although one more advertisement appeared in 1929 (December 8, just in time for the holidays), Hush-A-Phone was absent from the Times until July 1934, when a four-line, text-only advertisement appeared. Advertisements in 1936 noted a new model "for French phone" was out, and in October 1937 the Hush-A-Phone company was exhibiting again, this time showing a 200-foot elastic telephone wire at the National Business Show. However, the four-line classified advertisements continued to be the company's public appearances after the show, appearing between ads for cigars and baldness cures, until 1942, when their product appeared in photographs in a few ads run by houseware store Lewis & Conger. In 1944 the company noted "Models for E-1 and F-1 Handset Phone; Pedestal Phone; Switchboard and Dictating Machines".
In 1945, Hush-A-Phone ads began appearing in The Washington Post, and Hush-A-Phone consulted with acoustics expert Leo Beranek at MIT, who began work to design an improved silencer. Beranek would later bring in J. C. R. Licklider to help demonstrate the Hush-A-Phone retained clarity of sound.
Between 1922 and 1949, 125,796 Hush-A-Phone sets were sold.
1948–1957: legal battles with AT&T
During the 1940s, telephone service was seen as a "natural monopoly", and AT&T was the sole provider of all aspects of telephone service in much of the U.S., including telephone equipment. In the late 1940s, phone company repairmen began warning customers that using devices like the Hush-A-Phone could result in termination of phone service.
On December 22, 1948, Hush-A-Phone and Harry C. Tuttle, its president, protested to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), asking them to order the phone company to authorize use of the device. The hearing occurred in 1950, but the original hearing examiner involved died, delaying the initial recommendation.
Some time between May 3 and 12, 1949, the company moved a few doors down, to 65 Madison Ave., and occasionally advertisements exceeded the four-line standard, in Oct 1949 offering free tickets to the "Business Show."
In February 1951, the FCC decided Hush-A-Phone's complaint should be dismissed, but held the case open for the next seven years, permitting further pleadings and reconsideration. A letter to the editor of The Washington Post by John P. Roberts, a communications engineer, described the FCC decision "an invasion of the rights of the individual", adding "even if this quality deterioration had been satisfactorily demonstrated, it is hard to understand why the FCC should have the power to forbid my use of the Hush-A-Phone if I choose to accept the deterioration in quality for the sake of increased privacy". On March 23, 1951, Hush-A-Phone and Harry C. Tuttle submitted filings to the FCC reporting scientific tests proving that the Hush-A-Phone "actually causes a net increase in 'transmission efficiency of the telephone circuit" and that AT&T and affiliates were "public utility monopolies unlawfully interfering with the natural and inherent rights of a subscriber". FCC official Jack Werner's suggestion was that the telephone company should suspend service to any consumer failing to comply with the regulation prohibiting foreign attachments.
The FCC's final decision was issued on December 23, 1955, and stated "The unrestricted use of the 'Hush-A-Phone' could result in a general deterioration of the quality of interstate and foreign telephone service. Accordingly, it is not an unjust and unreasonable practice upon the part of the defendants to prohibit its use in connection with their telephone services." While the commission agreed that the Hush-A-Phone did provide protection against eavesdroppers and noise from telephone circuits, "the device sometimes results in loss of voice intelligibility and also has an adverse affect [sic] on voice recognition and naturalness."
The FCC's 1955 decision was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals on November 8, 1956, in the landmark case Hush-A-Phone v. United States, with the decision stating it was an "unwarranted interference with the telephone subscriber's right reasonably to use his telephone in ways which are privately beneficial without becoming publicly detrimental". The FCC followed up on February 6, 1957 to officially direct AT&T and Bell System subsidiaries to permit subscribers to use the Hush-A-Phone and similar devices. Advertisements proudly noted "Use of the Hush-A-Phone on telephone is permitted by Federal Appellate Court ruling" beginning in March 1957, and by July were stating "Bell System Approves Use of Hush-A-Phone by tariffs Effective May 16, 1957".
Hush-A-Phone was still featured in advertisements by the company during the early 1960s in The New York Times, but their last direct ad seems to have been on March 13, 1962, after which the product was featured in catalog-type ads posted by stationer's store Goldsmith Brothers through 1970. In 1972, the last classified ad for Hush-A-Phone was listed by Harrison-Hoge Industries, Inc. for $13.95 in black and $15.95 in green, ivory, or beige. Hush-A-Phone appears to no longer be for sale except as a collector's item.
- Wilsford, David (March 1984). "Exit and Voice: Strategies for Change in Bureaucratic-Legislative Policymaking". Policy Studies Journal. 12 (3): 435. doi:10.1111/j.1541-0072.1984.tb00319.x. ISSN 1541-0072.
- Vietor, Richard; Davidson, Dekkers (Fall 1985). "Economics and Politics of Deregulation: The Issue of Telephone Access Charges". Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 5 (3): 3–23. doi:10.2307/3323410. ISSN 0276-8739.
- Bernard, Keith E. (November 1986). "Regulatory Development in the U.S.". Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 37 (6): 409–414. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4571(198611)37:6<409::AID-ASI6>3.0.CO;2-Z. ISSN 2330-1635.
- Melody, William (September 1989). "Efficiency and Social Policy in Telecommunication: Lessons from the U. S. Experience". Journal of Economic Issues. 23 (3): 657–689. ISSN 0021-3624. JSTOR 4226167.
- Crawford, Susan. "Hush-A-Phone". Retrieved December 29, 2014.
- Wu, Tim (2010). The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0307594653.[page needed]
- "Display Ad 194". The New York Times. June 23, 1922. p. 36. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 27". The New York Times. June 26, 1922. p. 4. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Gordon, John Steele (April 1997). "The Death of a Monopoly". American Heritage. 48 (2): 16. ISSN 0002-8738.
- "Classified Ad 207". The New York Times. February 26, 1922. p. 116. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Classified Ad 229". The New York Times. March 19, 1922. p. 142. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Classified Ad 42". The New York Times. April 5, 1922. p. 39. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Classified Ad 4". The New York Times. January 16, 1923. p. 43. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 15". The New York Times. January 16, 1923. p. 14. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "New Incorporations". The New York Times. December 23, 1922. p. 12. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Stock Quote 15 (March 6, 1923). The New York Times. p. 38. ISSN 0362-4331. Missing or empty
- "Classified Ad 4". The New York Times. May 30, 1923. p. 29. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 11". The New York Times. October 18, 1923. p. 11. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Display Ad 59 (May 11, 1924). The New York Times. p. SM12. ISSN 0362-4331. Missing or empty
- "Classified Ad 15". The New York Times. October 20, 1929. p. N6. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 52". The New York Times. October 13, 1927. p. 52. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 135". The New York Times. December 8, 1929. p. N10. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Classified Ad 1". The New York Times. July 12, 1934. p. 3. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 31". The New York Times. May 11, 1936. p. 38. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "New Models Lead At Business Show: Improvements of Office Devices Featured in Exhibits of 100 Producers Attendance 'Gratifying' But Effect of Decline in Stocks Is Detected at Some Booths in Lower Sales Security Law Devices Attract Types in Reverse". The New York Times. October 19, 1937. p. 45. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 21". The New York Times. November 29, 1942. p. 47. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 24". The New York Times. December 6, 1944. p. 24. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 39". The New York Times. December 7, 1944. p. 40. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 1". The Washington Post. April 3, 1945. p. 2. ISSN 0190-8286.
- Wu, Tim (2010). The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 103, 120. ISBN 0307594653.
- "Hush-A-Phone Hits Back at A.T.&T.: Corporation Files Answer to F.C.C.'s Decision Sustaining Prohibition of Device". The New York Times. March 24, 1951. p. 25. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Wu, Tim (2010). The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 101–102. ISBN 0307594653.
- "Phone Company Upheld in Ban on Hush-a-Phone". The New York Times. February 17, 1951. p. 29. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Phone Device Ban by A.T.&T. Upheld: F. C. C. Rules Company Can Bar Use of Attachments Made by Others". The New York Times. December 24, 1955. p. 20. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 2". The New York Times. May 3, 1949. p. 3. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 2". The New York Times. May 12, 1949. p. 2. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 34". The New York Times. October 24, 1949. p. 40. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Roberts, John (February 26, 1951). "Hush-A-Phone". The Washington Post. p. 6. ISSN 0190-8286.
- "Court Removes Ban Against Phone Device". The New York Times. November 9, 1956. p. 25. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Hush-A-Phone Backed: F.C.C. Directs Bell System to Permit 'Privacy' Device". The New York Times. February 7, 1957. p. 21. ISSN 0362-4331.
- Display Ad 114 (March 4, 1957). The New York Times. p. 48. ISSN 0362-4331. Missing or empty
- "Display Ad 124". The New York Times. July 8, 1957. p. 34. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 256". The New York Times. March 13, 1962. p. 72. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 326". The New York Times. September 23, 1962. p. 124. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 110". The New York Times. October 4, 1970. p. 47. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Display Ad 164". The New York Times. August 27, 1972. p. S28. ISSN 0362-4331.