When was the last time you used a pay phone?

This photo was taken in the New Wilmington PA Amish settlement.

amish pay phoneI’ve mentioned before how I’m no big fan of cell phones.  That said, they sure are handy to have on hand when you actually need to talk to someone.

The pay phone is one of those things, like the roadside diner and the family radio, that seem destined to become a quaint relic of times past (if it isn’t one already).

But unlike the diner or the radio or other artifacts that evoke warm memories, I’m don’t think the loss of the pay phone will be much mourned.

I won’t be shedding many tears.

Besides the obvious inconvenience factor, my recollections of pay phone use are not the greatest.  Teenage collect call to the folks (no, it wasn’t from the county jail!); frantically digging for another quarter to keep a conversation going; volume-regulating buttons that either don’t work or blast your eardrums.  And yikes, if you’re germ-o-phobic, don’t hold that receiver too close.

Here’s another phone from the same community, fully exposed to the elements.  By the way, it’s more common to see Amish phone shanties with doors on them, and regular phones installed (this is a conservative settlement):

amish phone pennsylvania

So, anyone feeling nostalgic for the pay phone? When did you last use one?

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    1. Natalie

      Almost used one yesterday to call a taxi. However an employee in the bookstore, my last stop at an area mall, called a taxi for me. I do have a cell phone, but have never taken the time to set it up. In attempting to simplify my life, my car is used infrequently. This results on a dead battery more often than I like to admit. Now, where is that horse & buggy when you need one?

      1. Lois Morgan

        Reply to Natalie

        Sounds like you might already have a team and a buggy locked away somewhere in your barn!

        1. Natalie

          Oh Lois,

          I do wish, but it won’t happen living in the city! Chickens are the best one can do here at present. Know of any chicken halters?

      2. tiffany rangier

        pay phone

        I used one today just dont use a debit or credit card to pay for the call because the charge was 29.00 for 4 minutes!that was back last april when i used one and yes it was auctally the payphone company that charges that (its for operator,and nonsubscriber fees)atleast thats what they said.it would be fine to use with quarters.

    2. Roberta Klooster

      I’m trying to remember when the last time was that I SAW a pay phone. I often don’t have a cell phone with me either and ours doesn’t work in many areas, so a few times I have wished they were still around.

    3. I remember being a teenager and my mom telling me never to leave the house without a quarter for the pay phone in case I needed it (even though I remember when they were a dime). I work at the library and even the library has taken out all their pay phones. I do see them here and there but wow, I think it’s been awhile since I’ve used one. I never thought about them being on the way out but I think you’re right!

    4. Peggy M

      pay phone

      It has been a long time. Whenever it went up to 50cents. I don’t always remember my cell phone but 3 of my 6 kids never leave the house with out theirs.

    5. Forest

      They still have them in NC, but they are getting rarer. I have a cell phone that maybe a grand total of 4 people have the number to. I like to keep it for emergencies.

      To me, cell phones are, especially for teenagers, just a way of being sneaky. When I was that age, we had one phone, in the kitchen. There was NO expectation of privacy for a phone call, and you were expected to report who it was you were talking to after you hung up. And no calls after about 8 PM. Our parents knew who we talked to and what it was about.

      Now our society has pre-teens gabbing away to anyone, at any time, without their parents having any idea what’s going on. And don’t even get me started about folks driving and carrying on a conversation at 70 mph with one hand. Out technology has always run ahead of our collective concience, but it seems to be getting worse and worse these days.

      Sorry, I know I got a little off topic.



      1. Different times…your last sentence gave me some food for thought Forest. Thank you

      2. Jeanne C Reyes

        I agree with you Forest, This is just a way for teens to be sneaky about what the parents do not want them to do or be aware of. Mostly it gets them inot trouble!

    6. SharonR

      Pay Phone?

      Really can’t remember the last time I used one!! Have had my cell phone for over 20 years now!!! (where did the time go?)…..we did see a pay phone, somewhere last week, (can’t remember where we were)and my husband remarked, “Hey, there’s pay phone!!” LOL —

      We’ve become so dependent on “cell phones” these days, it is getting too ridiculous! Especially with the upcoming generation that has to be “connected” 24/7!! With me, I gladly put my cell on vibrate, so I won’t hear it ringing — as sometimes, I just enjoy the peace and quiet–and if anyone calls, they can always leave a message! PLUS, I do not “text” at all!! My philosophy is, if you want to ‘connect’, just “TALK” to me!

      I’m thinking in the very near future, there is going to be a whole new group of “electronic robots” walking the earth!! 🙂


    7. Sharyn Ecker

      Pay Phones

      I used one last year , my cell phone died and my cat wouldn’t start at the store. I live in the Middlefield Ohio area , all of our stores still have pay phones because of the high Amish population .:) In this area it’s not uncommon to find a regular phone in the phone shack ,3 or 4 families share the bill .

      1. Sharyn, I couldn’t resist–how do you usually get your cat started?

        🙂 😉 (Sorry, I have hit t when I meant r more than once, sometimes with amusing results)

    8. Roberta

      Pay phone

      I admit that it’s probably been a couple of years since I used a pay phone. They have un-installed a lot of them around here unless they are “sponsored” by a store or something.

      However, there are still a lot of roadside diners and I make a point of eating at them and, yes, we have a radio and it has a hand-crank in case the power goes out.

    9. Matthew

      Used one about three months ago. Despite the fact that I travel a lot, I rarely ever *need* to call. I think cell phone companies did a great job of playing on the “fear factor” of “what if” scenarios years ago. And while I can understand this reason for having one, we all must face that cell phone usage has morphed into something most of us would never have envisioned even ten years ago. For many, it has revealed the addictive personalities that lie deep within.

      Perhaps I’m just a person who likes my personal space too much, and giving people the ability to calling or text me 24/7 is the equivalent of having the personal space invaded.

      And I am more than a bit concerned about the survival of “plain culture” when I see the Amish in Walmart buying blackberries and other “internet appliances”. I would have thought with their ban on television and radio, most Amish Churches (not to mention other plain groups) would have been quick to ban this invasion of the world into their lives. I’m obviously being proved wrong.

      1. Privacy


        If any Amish groups decline to allow cell phones, I’ll bet it’s not for privacy reasons. They already give up a lot of our type of privacy just to live their communitarian life where everybody’s business is everyone else’s business. I could see them declining to use cell phones if spending time on the phone meant paying less attention to family and neighbors, though I don’t know if any of them actually thought about it that way.

        My wife and I now have smartphones. We were late adopters of cell phones and for some years just used TracFones, because we are not the type of people who like to visit by phone. They were mainly so we could coordinate our plans and get together at the end of one of my days of bicycling. (Most conversations consisted of no more than, “Where will you be? What time?”)

        Last year we made a jump from TracPhones to smartphones, and for that service spend as much in one month as we used to spend in a year. We still don’t spend much time talking on the phone and we don’t text, but we do like using them to keep up with our e-mail when we’re away from home, or even when we’re at home.

    10. Pay Phones

      I used them regularly up to about two years ago. I have a cell phone but let its service lapse as we rarely go anywhere, and anywhere we go, I know people. Even the supermarkets here will let a customer use their outside line to call a cab. I keep a house line only because my husband has had a stroke, and when I need to call 911 this week because of a flue fire, it was good to have the phone at hand.

      The pay phone was a necessary part of my undegraduate life. I was working full-time while trying to complete my degree, and I managed a small unit of the financial department in a large corporation in Washington DC. My history professor must have though I was dealing drugs, though, because twice a week, before his ten a.m. class, I was out in the hall on the payphone, talking about large amounts of money, and saying things to my assistant like, “No, they don’t have until Friday, they have to pay that today.” This is obviously before cell phones! I knew where every payphone on campus was, and called the office every two hours or so until I could get across the river to work.

      1. Plain dealing

        Magdalena, I don’t know if you were wearing Plain clothing at the time, but if you were, that would’ve only added to the effect 🙂 😉

    11. I don’t recall when I last used one.

      Several days ago my wife was surprised to have a phone message from an Amish man from whom she has occasionally bought produce at one of the local farmers markets. It wasn’t from a cell phone because the caller ID gave his name. He was reminding her that he still had produce to sell before Thanksgiving. (The sales pitch worked because she went to the market and stocked up. But we didn’t get one of his frozen turkeys — she’d have had to drive 35 miles to go get one from his place.) The phone message had said she could call and leave a message, so I presume he wasn’t calling from his cell phone.

    12. Pay phones

      I cannot remember the last time I saw a pay phone. I have a prepaid cell phone I keep in my pocket for emergencies. No one has that number because it is never even turned on. In a remote location, 30 miles from town on lightly traveled roads, a cell phone is a must. A lot of people up here do not even have landlines because they are so expensive to have wired to your home if you are not near an existing line.
      I take my cell phone when hiking in the woods. One day I got lost and was totally disoriented. I wandered around for quite a while and it was getting late in the day.I finally remembered the cell phone, called a man who lives about a half mile from me and asked him to go out and honk his truck horn so I could figure out where I was. He did. I was about three miles away from his house but could hear, so I got my bearings and went home. A pay phone couldn’t help you out of a situation like that!

    13. Marilyn from NY

      I have a cell phone, but I never remember to take it with me or use it. I am not crazy about cell phones and the only reason I have one is I got it free. I used to have one years ago when my parents were in a nursing home. I went to sell at gem shows a lot and had a cell phone in case the nursing home needed me. The last time I saw a pay phone was about 10 years ago when I came into town I wanted to call a friend on the pay phone to tell them I was in town. The pay phone didn’t work. I went to a restaurant-they didn’t have a coin phone, but seeing it was an in town call they let me use their business phone.

      1. Business phones

        Marilyn on your restaurant call example, maybe businesses are just becoming the default “pay” phones now–ie we’ll let you call as long as it’s in-town.

        With everyone having cell phones, the need arises rarely enough, I suppose.

        1. SharonR

          Pay phones

          Hi, Erik,
          Question for you………showed pic of the phone shanty, to my husband, and he asked why doesn’t the phone companies furnish the “old, no longer used” Phone booths, to the Amish communities, or is that considered too “worldly”?
          Thanks for any thoughts on that.

          1. Amish phone booths

            I wonder Sharon–I could see maybe the phones themselves, but would the booths look out-of-place in an Amish community? Maybe maybe not.

            But I think that there are really relatively few Amish that would use a pay phone set up like this, with most of them using the regular phones in the specially-made shanties. And in those cases it’s probably simple enough for an Amish carpenter to slap one together, with the bonus that you can make it look how you want it to.

            The shanties around New Wilmington are very basic–like the one in the photo–plywood type bare-bones construction (you can see another small thumbnail photo of a NW shanty at the Amish phones link above). The ones in higher communities are generally more aesthetically pleasing.

            1. SharonR

              pay phone shanties

              You are probably correct, Erik, in that the “original” old Phone booths would look out of place — too “worldly” and as you say, the carpenters are very capable of designing and building their own—another way to use any “leftover” lumber.
              Thanks for your thoughts.

              1. It’s a nice thought though. On that point I think it would be neat to see an Amishman emerge from one of the famous red phone booths they have in the UK.

                I will also enjoy visiting the phone booth exhibits one day in the certain-to-be-built National Museum of Pay Phones and Booths 😉

    14. When was the last time you used a payphone?

      I can’t even remember the last time I used an actual payphone 🙂 🙂 I did use one when I was still living in Germany, but that was years ago now. Greetings from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

    15. Rachel

      Pay Phone

      I can’t even remember the last time I used a pay phone. It had to be at least 15 yrs ago. I see that they have takin most of them out. We have one at a gas station in town, but that’s the only one I know of! It’s amazing to see how most everyone has a cell phone now. Which means you won’t have the problem of being on the phone and 3 people standing behind you gettin in a ruff because your taking to long! 🙂

    16. Esther Crowell

      When was the last time you used a pay phone?

      I can’t remember when I last used a pay phone. I have a cell phone. I have also learned to text because some of my clients would text me, so I decided to start paying for unlimited texting, because it was cheaper. I am a small business owner, so it’s important that my clients be able to get a hold of me during business hours.

    17. Debbie Welsh

      My husband and I are newcombers to the cell phone and either keep forgetting to bring it or charge it! We only got it for emergencies, especially seeing how they have done away with pay phones now! It struck home with us about a year ago when we did need to use a pay phone and were shocked that we couldn’t find one.

      However, when we were just in Lancaster on Tuesday and going into Fisher’s Housewares and Fabric store in Bart ( right on Route 896, next to the fantastic, all Amish-run restaurant called Hometown Kitchen ), I pointed out to my husband the fact that they had a brand new, modernized pay phone on the corner of their parking lot. I don’t recall if there was one there before, but this one stood out like a sore thumb because of it’s modern ” pod ” shape and bright, shiny electric blue color. And I remember saying to my husband, boy I wish we still had a few pay phones around, too!

    18. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      December 2010 is the last time I used a payphone. I was Christmas shopping and I didn’t have access to the cell phone.
      I notice in our neighborhood mall there are three banks of payphones, one in the south entrance, one in the north entrance and one lone phone by the mall entrance door to an Ontario based supermarket.
      I’ve noticed there are payphones in the parking lots of local convenience stores, and I’m told there are pay phones at community centres
      I personally try to duck into a payphone booth if there is one during heavy spells of wind, snow or rain. I do the same thing with bus shelters.
      I think the phone companies will in fact keep payphones around as an emergency backup because Bell and similar companies wouldn’t want to lose a revenue stream, though you do sometimes have to search high and low for a booth some places, I’ll admit.

    19. OldKat

      I used one on August 24th, 2011 in a bus terminal in Springfield, Missouri! How is THAT for an exact date? I can easily remember, because I had flown to Missouri to pick up a truck that I had purchased in a town not terribly far from Springfield. Unfortunately, there was no other way to get there than to catch a Greyhound Bus; an experience I don’t wish to ever repeat anytime soon. I needed to make a call , but my cell phone would not connect for some reason; so I used a payphone there in the bus terminal.

      Prior to that I can’t recall the last time I actually USED a pay phone, probably 25 years as I have had a cell phone all the way back to the “brick” phones in the late 80’s. I never really liked using pay phones for many of the reasons Erik stated. The last time I TRIED to use one was about 5 years ago in Houston Intercontinental Airport. I was returning from a trip and had forgotten to take my cell phone charger, so my battery had died. I needed to call home before making that hour and a half plus drive, and was happy to see about 20 pay phones all lined up like shiny little soldiers there in the terminal. Not a one of them worked. A stranger in the terminal allowed me to use his cell phone, very uncommon I would think.

      I later read in the newspaper that years before Southwestern Bell had turned over the pay phone business to an outside vendor, on a sort of concession basis. This vendor had been studying the usage of the pay phones in various locations and if a phone was not being used often enough they disconnected it. I can’t imagine that they couldn’t get enough usage at a major airport to justify keeping them in service, but that was apparently the case.

      BTW: I dislike cell phones more than I ever have. Today people are absolutely idiots in the way they use them; talking LOUDLY into their cellphones in an otherwise quite restaurant, talking while driving (and swerving all over the road), yapping away while pushing their shopping carts down the aisle in a store … oblivious to if they are running into your cart or not. The ultimate was recently when I was stopped at a major intersection in a large metro area. The guy in the red BMW next to me became all animated when traffic came to a stop in the intersection in front of us. He started honking his horn, waving his arms and YELLING at the cars that were “blocking “ us. However, we actually still had a red light so we weren’t going anywhere anyway. When the light turned green over a minute later the intersection was long since clear. As I was pulling away I noticed that he was still sitting there. What was he doing? TEXTING!

    20. Alice Mary

      Don't get me started!

      I haven’t used a pay phone in several years, myself. However, at our library, we USED to have one in the lobby, when we first moved into the building in 1999. The problem was, it was an “independent” company, and you had to LISTEN to instructions as well as read them on the phone. People wouldn’t follow directions (go figure!), or they’d be too impatient to listen or read, and they’d come in and ask staff to help them (as if we had some special knowledge and could get their call expedited). We had to explain that they had to READ instructions, put in their coins, then LISTEN for the dial tone or other instructions before dialing. Kids were usually the ones having problems, and it was getting ridiculous! Also, you couldn’t make calls to certainWe finally had it removed because not enough people were using it to justify the then $84 monthly fee just to have it hanging on the wall. We let people use our own desk phones in emergencies, only, but WE have to dial their numbers ourselves (especially kids—they can only make calls to be picked up to go home.)

      I have a cell phone, but rarely use it (my husband got it for me). It’s for emergencies, only. I don’t go very far from home (2.2 miles to work, a mile to Walmart, 2 – 15 mi. doctor, etc.). Conveniently, for me, I can no longer GET calls on it, only make them. It doesn’t “ring” anymore (or vibrate), so it’s the perfect cell phone for me!

      When cell phones first came out, I was surprised that there weren’t more rules or regulations pertaining to their use. You’re right, people ARE talking more loudly on them. Its ridiculous that the library still has tily little round “signs” on the door showing a cell phone with the “international NO” symbol over it. People come right in, yakking on their phonescompletely ignoring it. Administration has decided that “as long as they’re not disturbing anyone, use the ‘6 foot’ rule” (if you can hear the conversation within a 6 foot radius, you can tell them to “turn it down”—but not off—we don’t want to “offend” them and make our taxpaying patrons upset with us—heaven forbid (GIVE ME A BREAK!).

      I think that now, more than ever, we NEED phone booths (empty ones that close completely, and we need to MANDATE people use them when on their cell phones). At least in our state, it’s illegal to use your cell phone (but you CAN use a “hands-free” device) while driving, and you cannot use it in a school zone AT ALL (not even parked, waiting for your kids). YAY! And you definitely are not allowed to use it while texting!

      The most INFURIATING cell phone technology is Blutooth—I don’t know HOW many times I’ve had a person walk up next to me and say something, and when I ask, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” they give ME a dirty look, because they’re talking to someone on their ear piece! I’d like to rip those things off their ears and&@@%^&*!!?*($! them!!! (excuse my “language”!)

      (I TOLD you not to get me started!! Grrr!)

      Deep breath…exhale…

      Alice Mary

    21. Lindsay

      Wow, I think the last time I remember using a pay phone was to collect call my parents to come pick me up from the local swimming pool…I was probably about, say 14/15 at the time.

      My job provides me with a smartphone, and to be honest I rarely talk or text on it…it’s hooked up to my email accounts so I tend to use that most. However, it’s definitely handy having one for GPS, or being able to look up restaurants if you’re in an unfamiliar area, or need to get bus/train timetables…it’s invaluable.

      BUT, I do have some major cell phone pet peeves. There is nothing I hate more than going out with friends, and having them answer their phone and chit chat with someone (not like taking an important call…like “hello, how are you how are the kids”). Or when I worked in retail, when people would come up to the cash register on their phones, and essentially talk throughout the entire transaction. Ugh…it’s just so rude!

    22. Matt from CT

      Odd, I don’t think I saw this post before … for some reason I was remembering in a dream last night when I worked for the state parks in college (circa 1990).

      Depending on the circumstances of the day, sometimes the patrolman for our day use area would not have a truck with the powerful mobile two-way radio — we’d just be dropped off. Our portable radio (walkie-talkie) couldn’t reach the radio tower to talk to the dispatcher, and you couldn’t always reach another vehicle in the park.

      We would use the pay phone in the park, dialing the 1-800 number used to report poachers, to talk to the dispatcher when we needed help or to answer them when we heard the dispatcher calling us on the portable (we could hear them, they just couldn’t hear us).

      Then word came down we could no longer use the 1-800 number as it was racking up too many calls above it’s budget (we weren’t the only park to do this) …and we had to make sure we carried our own supply of quarters to use. And, no quarters for the pay phone were not in the budget, either…despite it being necessary for work. *sigh* Bureaucracy in action.

      Problem is today if I had to use a pay phone I’d have a real scramble to get a phone number of someone I’d need to reach — all my family and friends are on speed dial, and there’s just a few numbers I remember off the top of my head (local pizza place, firehouse, fire dispatch…I think that’s about it.)

    23. Mona G.

      OMG It has been way too long to remember that…..and I am so glad I don’t have to use them anymore…they were always so gross to use…..and even if I did have to use one now, I always carry my hand sanitizer with me….I would for sure wipe it down before I used it…..to think of using them now gives me the jitters…..

    24. Joshua

      Does anyone on here know how the Amish manage to obtain these phone booths? Does the local phone company strike up a deal with them? I wouldn’t mind discarding my cell phone if I could figure out a way to rig up something like this myself.

      1. Joshua, I don’t have a great idea but I’d think it must be some arrangement via the phone company.

        It’s not really a thing you see a lot of even in Amish communities, but the community these were taken in is a fairly conservative one, and is old and large, which is one reason they may be able to have this arrangement.

        I’m guessing an (old-fashioned?) land line is going to be a lot simpler for you. I have actually been using Skype more lately than my cell phone. And I still have the same cell phone since this was written two years ago, though its battery may be forcing the issue of getting a new one 🙂

    25. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      Last week I cleaned the payphone we have at work. Another staffer was worried that because children where playing with it that it would become germy and gross.
      No one seems to actually use it, all our visitors have their own cell phones and some are on them the entire time, which is kind of sad, really.