America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 / Edition 1

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The telephone looms large in our lives, as ever present in modern societies as cars and television. Claude Fischer presents the first social history of this vital but little-studied technology—how we encountered, tested, and ultimately embraced it with enthusiasm. Using telephone ads, oral histories, telephone industry correspondence, and statistical data, Fischer's work is a colorful exploration of how, when, and why Americans started communicating in this radically new manner.

Studying three California communities, Fischer uncovers how the telephone became integrated into the private worlds and community activities of average Americans in the first decades of this century. Women were especially avid in their use, a phenomenon which the industry first vigorously discouraged and then later wholeheartedly promoted. Again and again Fischer finds that the telephone supported a wide-ranging network of social relations and played a crucial role in community life, especially for women, from organizing children's relationships and church activities to alleviating the loneliness and boredom of rural life.

Deftly written and meticulously researched, America Calling adds an important new chapter to the social history of our nation and illuminates a fundamental aspect of cultural modernism that is integral to contemporary life.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A warning to those who see technology as having clear and far-reaching consequences in American life: Don't use the telephone as an obvious example. From a user-centered view of technological dispersion, the author argues convincingly that the telephone reinforced social and cultural patterns rather than changed them. Most wealthy and middle-class Americans (and many farmers) adopted the new technology to their own ends prior to World War II--ends not necessarily anticipated or welcomed by industry leaders or technology forecasters. Well researched, with an excellent bibliography and fascinating endnotes, Fischer's study is likely to be a required purchase for comprehensive collections in sociology, business, and the history of technology. It is accessible, however, to a wider audience because of its readability.-- Ellen McDermott, NYNEX Corp. Lib., White Plains, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520086470
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 3/22/1994
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Claude S. Fischer is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of To Dwell among Friends: Personal Networks in Town and City (1982) and The Urban Experience (1984).

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Table of Contents

List of Files
List of Tables
Ch. 1 Technology and Modern Life 1
Ch. 2 The Telephone in America 33
Ch. 3 Educating the Public 60
Ch. 4 The Telephone Spreads: National Patterns 86
Ch. 5 The Telephone Spreads: Local Patterns 122
Ch. 6 Becoming Commonplace 175
Ch. 7 Local Attachment, 1890-1940 193
Ch. 8 Personal Calls, Personal Meanings 222
Ch. 9 Conclusion 255
Appendix A Bibliographic Essay 273
Appendix B Statistical Analyses of Telephone and Automobile Distribution 277
Appendix C Telephone Subscription among Iowa Farmers, 1924 283
Appendix D Summary of Expenditure Studies by Household Income or Occupation 287
Appendix E The 1918-1919 Cost of Living Study 292
Appendix F Who Had the Telephone When? 299
Appendix G Analysis of Advertisement Data 309
Appendix H Statistical Analyses for Chapter 7 312
Notes 321
Bibliography 379
Index 413
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