New York’s last payphone kiosk, removed from Midtown last month, has officially become a museum artifact


Last month, New York City retired its last payphone kiosk, a relic of an analog era that, in 2022, is more of a museum piece than a functional object. So it’s only fitting that the phone immediately made its way into the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, where it’s now featured in an exhibit celebrating the city’s pre-digital era.

Originally located at Seventh Avenue and 50th Street, the payphone was ripped from the sidewalk following a ceremony attended by a crowd of reporters and onlookers on May 23.

There had always been maintenance issues with payphones, and vandalism and theft meant they often broke down, particularly in the 1970s. But these coin-operated phones were an essential utility for New- Yorkers busy for decades.

“As far as the history of New York City is concerned, payphones were extremely important for communicating and staying connected in a fast-paced pedestrian city with vibrant street life,” said MCNY curator Lilly Tuttle at Artnet News. “You were able to make a call at every corner.”

A man poses in front of the last public telephone terminal in New York. Photo courtesy of LinkNYC.

In the early 2000s, New York City had approximately 30,000 payphones, but that number has rapidly declined over the past seven years as they have been replaced by LinkNYC kiosks.

Payphone may have the edge when it comes to nostalgia, but LinkNYC is the clear winner when it comes to utility.

Kiosks offer free Wi-Fi and free calls across the United States (no need to dig up a quarter of the bottom of your wallet), as well as screens featuring rotating displays of ads, artwork, and more. art, New York City history and current affairs. And you can even use them to charge your cell phone.

It is also thanks to LinkNYC that MCNY was able to acquire the latest payphone. The company, which had worked with the museum on some of its screen content, asked if the phone would be suitable for the collection.

New York's last public telephone kiosk is now on display at the Museum of the City of New York.  Photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

New York’s last public telephone kiosk is now on display at the Museum of the City of New York. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

“It was uninstalled with great fanfare just as we were opening this show on pre-digital analog technology,” Tuttle said. “It was a convenient and serendipitous coincidence.”

The phone was installed last week at the entrance to the exhibit, titled “Analog City: NYC BC (Before Computers)”.

“We spend months and months planning and designing exhibits, and we just happened to have the perfect place for it just outside the main gallery,” Tuttle added.

The museum’s exhibit commemorates this bygone era and the role of technologies such as typewriters, pneumatic tubes and even note cards and slide rules in the financial, information and business sectors. city ​​real estate.

A Linotype machine on display in

A Linotype machine on display in “Analog City: NYC BC (Before Computers)” at the Museum of the City of New York. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

An artifact on display is a Linotype machine like those used by the New York Times, beginning in the 1870s, to set the type of his newspaper pages, one line at a time, by melting the lead metal type after each issue was printed.

“Before that, all printed materials had to be laid out by hand using individual letters. It was incredibly laborious,” Tuttle said. “With the Linotype, the paper could print more pages and more frequent editions. This has enabled an incredible boom in the amount of printed materials available in the world and the expansion of news media as well as literacy.

Salle de presse du <em>New York Times</em>.  Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.  “width=”1024″ height=”1016″ srcset=”×1016.jpg 1024w, https://news.artnet×150.jpg 150w ,×1523.jpg 1536w, Analog_0472_News_Collins-Marjory_Pressroom-50×50.jpg 50w,×96.jpg 96w, news-upload/2022/06/Analog_0472_News_Collins-Marjory_Pressroom.jpg 1808w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/></p>
<p id=press room of the New York Times. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The exhibition can also lead visitors to consider the importance of items they never thought of, such as the humble filing cabinet, which was actually revolutionary in its time.

In a sort of ripple effect, the adoption of the typewriter led to the production of paper in standardized sizes that could be used in the machine. This, in turn, made it possible to store paper in a standardized way.

“We have a photograph of a desk where paper is stored horizontally, it’s rolled up, it’s placed in a million little holes in a giant desk – and then we have an example of a filing cabinet, which not only lets you to store large amounts of paper, but also to organize and access that paper,” Tuttle said.

And while the revolutionary nature of the filing cabinet may escape us today, the way it changed our world can still be seen in the terminology used for computer storage, in files and folders.

Paperwork crisis, the Stock Exchange.  Photo courtesy of NYSE Group Inc.

A paperwork crisis on the New York Stock Exchange. Photo courtesy of NYSE Group Inc.

“Icons on your computer literally look like folders of files from vertical filing cabinets,” Tuttle said. “This basic tool for storage and access, which informs later forms of technology.”

“Analog City” is also interactive, giving kids and Gen Zers the chance to try out technologies they may have only read about in books or seen on TV or in movies.

The payphone is therefore a key addition to the display.

“It was in the heart of Midtown and represents the peak of payphone usage,” Tuttle said. “He was probably a real workhorse. That he was gone was a symbolic moment representing the end of the era.

The removal of the last public telephone kiosk in New York.  Photo courtesy of LinkNYC.

The removal of the last public telephone kiosk in New York. Photo courtesy of LinkNYC.

Although it’s the last public phone kiosk in town, New Yorkers with dead cellphone batteries can still make phone calls at four phone booths that dot the Upper West Side. (Thanks to a strong local fondness for payphones in the community, the plan is to keep these booths, on West End Avenue at 101st, 100th, 90th and 66th Streets, in operation in perpetuity.)

But the ubiquity of the public telephone, which was once an integral part of the city, is gone forever.

“It’s important to remember how much payphones were part of the urban fabric and visual landscape of the city until very recently,” Tuttle said. “The reality is that we haven’t carried tiny little phones with us for most of history. In the exhibit, we really hope to remind people that communication was very, very different in this city. We don’t didn’t quite have the connectivity that cell phones give us, but we were still able to achieve some amazing things.

“Analog City: NYC BC (Before Computers)” can be viewed at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 5th Avenue, New York, through December 31, 2022.

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