8 Phone Booths of The Future (Of the Past)


New York phone booths, once ubiquitous across the city, will soon be no more. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to replace every pay phone in NYC—there are around 8,400—with WiFi hotspots. Each of these slender kiosks will provide free Internet access for up to 250 devices, and will also allow users to make gratis domestic calls via cell phones connected to the network.

The city hopes to eventually install 10,000 of these pillars, none of which will offer a sliding glass door, coin tray, or dangling chained phone book. The phone booth as we know it is on its last legs, but its death has been in the works for decades. The following inventions sought to either replace, improve upon, or merely repurpose the shell of classic phone booths.

1. Video Conference Booth

Phone booths looked to be a thing of the past as early as 1930, when The New York Times teased the development of a revolutionary new "sight-sound television system" that was a precursor to video chat. The paper explains:

"Suppose that a transcontinental wire or radio circuit is in use and a person in New York wishes to speak with a friend in San Francisco by television so they can see each other. They step into television-telephone booths which are about the size of an ordinary phone booth. They turn in swivel chairs and face the screen, about a foot square. The faces are rapidly scanned by a mild beam of blue light which reflects from their faces to the photoelectric cells and give rise to the current which transmit their image to the distant booth."

2. Chore Booth

In 1960, Westinghouse announced a new technology that would connect a house's appliances to a "dial control" system that would let you call in orders from any phone booth. As the Times explained, “One can sit down in a Los Angeles phone booth and cook a steak, wash the laundry, defrost the refrigerator, or switch the lights on in a New York apartment."

The future is someone turning on the gas range by calling the wrong number and burning down your house.

3. Phone Booth Vending Machine

This patent application, filed in 2010, wanted to turn pay phones into vending machine-hybrids that would dispense products while offering telephone service.

The inventor theorized, "pay phone[s] today [are] obligated by law regulations for providing and enabling accessibility of emergency calls as necessary public service to all people..Mobile phone made pay phone service neglected. Pay phone[s] must offer additional service to the market to provide answers market is demanding."

Make a phone call on your mobile device without eating a Twix, or make a phone call in a phone booth while eating a Twix. The choice seems pretty obvious.

4. Family-Style Restaurant Multi-Media Booth

This behemoth wanted to combine restaurant and phone booths, add "satellite TV, cable, broadcast TV, computer programs and gaming, internet access," and then connect them with other similar booths to "promote high quality video conferencing dining." If it sounds expensive, don't worry—"the cost for videoconferencing can be reclaimed in the price of the food and/or beverages." You mean to tell me this cheeseburger costs $39.99 and you'll broadcast video of me eating it? Yes, please!

5. Phone Booth That Charges Cell Phones

This Chinese invention is the result of seeing a market trend and then providing the very first solution that comes to mind. "The utility model provides a mobile phone charging function [in] public telephone booths, to solve the problem of low utilization of public telephone booths the rise."

It's worth noting that the kiosks New York plans on installing will feature charging stations for mobile devices.

6. Wireless, Booth-less Pay Phone

It's a pay phone, but without a wire. The patent application provides no more information, nor does it answer questions like, "What's to prevent people from walking away with the pay phone?" and, "Where do the quarters go?"

7. Drive-Thru Phone Booth

While not the most prescient idea at the time, had this 1992 invention that combined combustion engine-powered travel with tethered land lines come out in the '50s, it would have been all the rage.

8. Nitrogen Tire Inflation System

This proposed use for old phone booths makes sense, although it's doubtful New York City would want to convert 8,400 decommissioned pay phones into nitrogen dispensers.