The Telephone Museum, one of Atlanta's lesser-known attractions, documents the first century of telephone usage in the United States. It is operated by the AT&T Pioneers, a volunteer organization of former BellSouth and AT&T workers. The museum is located in AT&T Midtown Center in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta. Nearby attractions include the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Varsity and the Fox Theatre. Atlanta's downtown attractions, including the Imagine It! Children's Museum and CNN Center, are only minutes away. The museum is easily accessible from the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector. MARTA, Atlanta's public transit system, has a train station with a direct entrance from the building. The area is also served by local bus lines.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that the Telephone Museum "isn't one of those eye-popping, thrill-a-minute destinations where you'd want to spend hours and hours,'' but it does recommend it for a day when school is closed and parents want an educational outing for the kids. Even for adults, especially history buffs, the museum offers a detailed look into the development and use of the telephone and its cultural impact over its first century. Guided tours are available with prior arrangement.
Features of the museum include:
A reproduction of Alexander Graham Bell's laboratory
Many models of telephones, including wooden boxes going back to 1876
A life-sized 1920s street scene with a wax figure of a repairman working overhead
A lighted display of fiber-optic strands, used to transmit voices and data
A working exhibit of switching equipment that demonstrates how calls were once connected with each other by crossbars
A 15-minute film on the telephone's development
A display of the different types of transmission that have been used for voice and data, including cable, microwave and satellite
A telephone receiver that visitors can talk on to hear the difference between analog and digital transmission
There is a fascinating working display of the "step-by-step'' dialing system, a series of relays, rods and wire brushes, that used pulses from the dialed numbers to connect each number one at a time. The system seems amazingly archaic when compared to today's digital system, which is also explained in detail. The museum also explores social issues that followed telephone technology. For example, as technology improved, operators lost their jobs, a situation that disproportionately affected the employment status of women.
The museum is open from 11 AM to 1 PM Monday through Friday. A tour of the museum takes about an hour. Admission is free. Despite several interactive exhibits, much of the museum's information is garnered through reading. As the Journal-Constitution says, "Younger children might get antsy unless someone explains it to them at a level they can understand,'' although they note that one four-year-old "seemed to be having fun just running around pushing buttons.''
The Telephone Museum is definitely more educational than it is fun, but inquisitive young people who cannot imagine life without a cell phone attached to them 24 hours a day will find these exhibits interesting. One young man who toured the museum declared it "neat to look at'' and "kind of cool.'' A twelve-year-old proclaimed that "you can learn a lot from this place,'' a ringing (no pun intended) endorsement from someone his age!