Trimline telephone

Trimline telephone

The Western Electric Trimline telephone is a variety of telephone set designed by Henry Dreyfuss Associates for the Bell System (AT&T). It was built by the Bell System's manufacturing arm, Western Electric. The idea behind the Trimline telephone was to create an alternative telephone set design that was stylish and easier to use than a traditional telephone. This was accomplished by moving the dial from the telephone's base to the inside of the handset, between the earpiece and mouthpiece. The user could then dial a call without having to return to the base. The same concept is now used by all cellular telephone and cordless telephone models. To miniaturize the rotary dial enough to fit in the Trimline handset, an unusual moving fingerstop was used. The Trimline was also one of the first phones to use the predecessor of the now-ubiquitous RJ11 modular phone plug and jack.

First introduced in 1965, the Trimline included a lighted dial and was encased in a sleek, curved plastic housing that took up little space compared to earlier U.S. models. Unfortunately, the glass-smooth and shallowly-curved plastic handset proved difficult to retain between cheek and shoulder for hands-free communication without slipping, and this problem was never corrected over the life of the phone. The first Trimline models used incandescent dial lights powered by a power transformer plugged into a standard 120VAC outlet. The bulky transformer and the need for a conveniently-placed 120-volt outlet was criticized by many consumers, and Western Electric subsequently redesigned the Trimline to use a green LED backlit dial powered by current from the phone line. Always eager to re-use its older stocks of turned-in phones, AT&T later repainted and resold early-model pre-divestiture Trimlines without a transformer as 'non-lighted' models.

The Trimline was the first new AT&T/Western Electric phone made in both rotary dial and Touch-Tone versions from the start of production. The Trimline was the first U.S. phone to achieve some design recognition in Europe, where it was referred to as the 'Manhattan' model. Today, similarly designed models are sold by many companies. AT&T retained the Trimline name for the later 'Trimline III', a more compact successor featuring squared corners and straight lines.

Today, AT&T produces the following Trimline models:

  • 205
  • 210 - based upon original design
  • 265


  • 1965 Original Trimline introduced in both rotary and Touch-Tone versions. First touch-tone phones lack pound and star buttons.
  • early 70s The clear plastic button backplate with colored paper backing matching the color of the phone is replaced with an aluminum backplate on the round button Touch-Tone phones. Also at this time, the round handset cords using proprietary connectors are replaced with modern flat modular cords and jacks. On all Trimline phones, the screw cover above the dial changes from reading "Bell System made by Western Electric" to just "Trimline" with a bell logo to the left of the text.
  • late 70s A green LED light fed by the phone line power replaces the incandescent lamp, additionally, the Touch-Tone version now sports slightly larger, square keys, as opposed to the earlier small round keys. Also the Touch-Tone version receives an aluminum faceplate behind the keys.
  • 1983 AT&T begins selling phones, including the Trimline, to the public (as opposed to their previous leasing only policy) through its newly created American Bell subsidiary.
  • 1984 AT&T is divested of its regional operating companies and is prohibited from using the Bell name or logo, so the American Bell brand is dropped and replaced with simply AT&T. All telephone production continues as normal.
    • Late 1984 The Touch-tone Trimline phone is heavily modified with the following new features:
      • Electronic chirp ringer in the handset, replacing the previous real bell ringer
      • Keys are now made of a soft rubber material
      • Line switch (switchhook) eliminated from base, moved to top of phone just below the receiver
      • Handset screws' cover no longer says "Trimline"; made smaller in the middle to conform to new switchhook location
      • Only one handset-to-jack cord is required for the telephone connection; cord can be tightly secured onto the bottom of the base, which now only exists with no purpose other than as a rest for the handset
  • 1985 The rotary Trimline is discontinued, and further modifications are made to the touch-tone model:
    • Desk or wall convertible, eliminating separate desk and wall models
    • Touch-Tone/dial pulse switch, eliminating separate Touch-Tone and rotary models
    • Redial and Mute functions
    • One cord to connect telephone is eliminated, base-to-handset and base-to-jack cords reinstated
  • 1986 With the closing of the Western Electric Indianapolis Works, Trimline production is moved overseas to Singapore and China. Minor modifications included:
    • Earpiece Volume Control
    • Chirp Ringer/ringer loudness switch moved to base of the phone
    • Bottom of the base is now made of plastic, with a lead weight inside the base
    • Only 1 screw is used to hold the handset together; location of screw and screw cover is moved to below the dialpad
    • 2220 Trimline is dropped as a model number, replaced by the 210, 220, and 230.
  • 1993 The Trimline phone is again updated with the following features:
    • The soft rubber keys are again replaced with hard plastic keys, similar to the late 70s and early 80s models, but the keys are even larger and rectangular rather than square
    • The faceplate behind the keys, aluminum since the late 70s LED conversion is now a dark gray plastic with a matte surface
    • Production is moved to Mexico
    • Caller ID models, the 250 & 260, are introduced under the Trimline brand. The design shares nothing in common with the 210 model.
  • 1996 Lucent Technologies is spun off from AT&T, and minor modifications are added:
    • Phones are marked "Lucent Technologies", though this turned out to be temporary, and the boxes and marketing materials were always co-branded with AT&T
    • "Trimline" again marked above the dialpad on the matte surface
    • Ringer loudness switch is moved back to dialpad; ringer remains inside the base
  • 1997 Lucent enters a joint venture with Philips, creating Philips Consumer Communications. Shortly after entering the joint venture, more changes are made:
    • Handset screws are eliminated completely. Handset is only held together by "snap" ends at both ends of the phone, above the receiver and below the microphone.
    • Telephones are again branded AT&T; Lucent Technologies branding ends
    • Ringer moved into handset
  • 2000 Lucent dissolved the joint venture with Philips in 1998, and sells its consumer division to Hong Kong company VTech, where it becomes Advanced American Telephones. VTech moved all production to China.

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