“Advances in Answering Machines?”


I realize that for many even the answering machine above on the right is obsolete, replaced by systems built into cell phones. Still, we still use the machine and I have been thinking about the way it replaced and changed the practice of answering the phone and taking a message.

When I was a child, we had one phone on the first floor of a three story home. Eventually my parents added a phone in their room on the second floor. Throughout my growing up, one frequent yell was “Will someone please get the phone,” followed by an adult shouting “Will someone pick up the g…d… phone!” Eventually one of us four kids would answer the obnoxious unceasing ring.

Now the problem, which each of us had avoided by not answering the phone, arose. We were to say(though we rarely remembered) “Hello, this is the L…. house, Betsy speaking.” Then we would hear a request to speak to one of our parents. We would find a parent who would ask, “Who is it?” Running back to the phone we were to say “Who should I say is calling?”(another phrase to forget.) Then back to the parent who would replay, “Take a message.” Then back to the phone with “May I please take a message?” Then the frantic search for a pencil and paper while the caller waited. And waited. And waited.(maybe there was a pencil in the mixed-up drawer.)

Finally, pencil and paper in hand only to discover that either the caller had hung up, tired of waiting, or the caller said,”Never mind, I will call back.” The reaction when we returned without a message was to be avoided. No wonder no one would ever answer the phone!


28 thoughts on ““Advances in Answering Machines?”

  1. We first got a house phone when I was barely 9 years old. It wasn’t even a party-line, so I felt suitably superior. I can remember the number, all this time later. BER 5889.
    I would answer it in my ‘proper’ London accent. (Not Cockney) “Hello, Bermondsey 5889”. But it was ALWAYS a family member, usually one of my Aunts, or my grandmother.

    My first answering machine didn’t arrive until much later, when I was married. (1977)
    It had a tiny cassette tape inside, and once we had played the message, we had to rewind it.

    Now we have digital answerphones on the house phone, and both mobiles. I use them all the time, as I rarely (if ever) actually answer it when it rings. (Too many sales calls)

    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. I too remember these days, though as my father was/is a veterinarian and at least half of the incoming calls were clients, we were not allowed to answer the phone unless and until we had the proper etiquette and the ability to take messages down pat. And heaven help the person who walked off with pen and paper that were to stay by the phone at all times. 😉


  3. There was only one phone in our house growing up and that served two parents and 5 kids. If someone ended up talking too long we were told to get off the phone. Fortunately my best friends lived next door and we usually ran to each other’s houses to visit rather than talk on the phone. Better, I think. 🙂


      1. We were not encouraged to answer the telephone. I don’t remember that we were forbidden to. My dad was a dentist, so after hours, it could be a patient calling. Our mother must have answered the phone all the time.


  4. Haha, Elizabeth, my memories are quite different. My sisters and I used to hog the phone for hours talking to friends and boyfriends. I was thinking just last night that you can’t slam down the phone anymore and get the satisfaction of a thump. Cell phones are not conducive to venting your feelings.


  5. 🤣🤣🤣 When we had a single wired phone for the family with no answering machine, I would pick up the phone:
    No answer.
    No answer.
    I would call out my brother: “I think the call is for you.”
    He would run in. Take the call and start talking to the voiceless caller. 😂


  6. This reminds me of how, when answering machines first came about, if my Dad called and had to leave a message, there was always a pause – as if maybe he felt spooky about registering a verbal message in an electronic thingamajig; or, as if he was expecting the phone to be picked up. Eventually he would shout “It’s your Dad!!” and hang up the phone is if there should have been a law on the books making it illegal for children to make their parents leave messages on answering machines!!😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We only had one phone growing up & weren’t aloud to call friends & vice a versa. Our parents always took the incoming calls until teenage years as it was an adult thing apparently.
    It sounds we didn’t miss anything 😀


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