Dear Ellen: 3 Uses of Rotary Phones

I write letters to Ellen DeGeneres. No particular reason. Just because I can.

Dear Ellen,

Technology today certainly has its advantages. There isn’t much you can’t accomplish with one swipe of the finger. But with all of the advantages, there are disadvantages. For me, one of those disadvantages was the untimely death of the rotary phone.

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Here are three reasons why I miss rotary phones.


Rotary phones have a glamorous and charming quality about them. Or maybe it was the way they were depicted in movies. Some stunning beauty would be standing in an evening gown in her spotless kitchen wearing a pristine apron over her dress. She’d remove cookies from the oven right as the phone rang. Seconds before she answered the phone, she’d use one of her hands with perfectly polished french-manicured nails to swipe a 65 carat ruby earring from her ear before putting the receiver up to it.

Glamour like that only takes place in the movies. In reality – my reality – I’m the woman, covered in flour, with 2.5 kids standing in their diapers screaming at me for cookies when the phone rings. “Hello?  Oh, hi, LeeAnn. Can I call you back in a few minutes? I’ve got my mother-in-law coming over in a bit and I lost one of the butt-ugly ruby earrings she gave me from her aunt’s estate….I think it fell in the cookie dough……Hope it’s not in the oven with one of the cookies…..The day I’m having it could be in the dishwasher…..Knowing my luck, it’s hiding in the house somewhere with all of the missing socks….Okay….Talk to you later.”

This next reason was an excellent case-in-point made by one of my readers in the comment section of this post. Nothing demonstrates anger or frustration better than when you hang up on someone by slamming the receiver down on the phone so hard the phone lets out a small ring. That small ring is probably the phone complaining, “Ouch! Watch it!” But when you’re angry, the phone’s feelings are never a concern.

But does this happen today? No. Today when we want to hang up on someone, we hit the “End” button. No dramatic effect whatsoever.  Sometimes, if I’m really frustrated, I slam my cordless phone down onto the table, after. And what happens? The batteries pop out and make a run for it. Hanging up in anger just isn’t the same since rotary phones became extinct.


Rotary phones didn’t come with caller I.D. Yes, that’s right millennials, there was a time in our history where it was anyone’s guess as to who was calling the house. It could’ve been your mother calling or it could’ve been a serial killer, casing your house. Life was much more exciting when the rotary phone rang. Likewise, rotary phones endowed individuals with the power to call and hang up on people. Calling all love-sick teens! There was a time when you could call the object of your affection and hang up when he answered and he’d never know who it was calling. Those were good times!

And, due to their lack of sophistication, the person calling had no way of knowing if they had the right number until you answered the phone.


“Hello, Jamie? It’s Berta with the PTA. I’m calling to let you know that we took a vote and nominated you to be the coordinator of this year’s bake sale/car wash/generally annoying fundraiser. It’ll require you to work every weekend for the rest of your life with over-eager-but-noncommittal teenagers who will expect letters of recommendation for doing little-to-no-work.”

“Lo siento, pero, no habla Ingles.” [I’m sorry, but, I don’t speak English]

“I’m sorry? This is the Peterson residence, isn’t it?”

“Ah….No puedo hablar. My cerveza esta in el bano.” [Um. I can’t talk. My beer is in the bathroom.]

“Oh goodness. I’ve dialed the wrong number. Terribly sorry.”

Jamie hangs up the phone.

“Who was that?” Her husband asks.  

“Don’t answer the phone tonight,” Jamie responds. I think a serial killer is casing the place.”

Death by Phone

Rotary phones were heavy and could do a lot of damage. One smash using the entire phone could kill anything – insects and humans. Just think about this for a moment: If someone breaks into your house while you’re on the rotary phone with the police, you could use that very phone to smash the robber’s head in. Can we say that about our phones today? Um….NO.

Robber enters the house, approaching the victim in a slow, creepy, horror-movie walk. Victim shouts out, “You’re in so much trouble!  I’ve got the police on the way AND…..” taps the Internet browser on cell phone. “Oh yeah…..AND I’ve got the home improvement page open on my smart phone.” Turns phone so intruder can see it. “Yeah…..that’s right, Butt Face! Take one more step and I’ll Feng Shui your rear-end onto a Pinterest board!” Uses phone to smack the intruder three times on the forehead. Intruder takes a step back, stunned by the stupidity of the moment. Victim looks at cracked screen on phone. “Awe, man!” Turns phone toward intruder. “You see that!  You broke my phone! You’ve got serious problems now! Not only are the police after you but now my insurance adjuster is too! Yeah, that’s right. There’s nothing worse than having an insurance adjuster run you down. And my adjuster’s a total bad ass. Her name is Jake! She wears Khaki pants and works for State Farm!

I really wish they’d bring back rotary phones.


A. Marie

Calling all readers! Is there something you miss about rotary phones that I didn’t mention? Is there a piece of technology from your day that you wish would make a comeback? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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19 thoughts on “Dear Ellen: 3 Uses of Rotary Phones

  1. You sooooo CrAcK me up A. Marie !!! LOVE this! Everything you said, btw…SOOO TRUE! Let me know what Ellen says…I bet she’ll agree with you, invite you to come on out to Cali and appear on her show and we mere pirates back at home will be screaming at our television sets, “I KNOW her, I KNOW her, NO REALLY, I KNOW her!!” Kudos to you-dos!!! Keep on keepin’ on! How’d those cookies turn out?

  2. For me being a Baby Boomer born in the late 1950s, growing up in the 1960s and 70s Rotary phones bring back happy nostalgic memories. Yes we had that heavy duty Black phone from Ma Bell but I loved the pink Princess phone in my parents bedroom. I’m sure my Mom picked out that one. Also I miss the sound of dialing. I’m also old enough to remember when phone numbers started with an exchange. For example ours was Laurelton ####. I grew up in St. Albans, Queens, New York. Anyway for that statement to make more sense listen to when Ms. Stanwyck says she has been ringing Melrose ### and getting no answer.

    One of my favorite Old Time Movies is Sorry Wrong Number featuring one of my favorite actresses Barbara Stanwyck.

    Sorry, Wrong Number (1/9) Movie CLIP – Overhearing the Murder Plot (1948) HD

  3. The thing I loved about the rotary phone was the ability to prank your own family if you had two phones. We would dial our own number from our parents’ bedroom, wait for it to ring one, then hang up. Someone downstairs would answer and get a clicking sound. (hard to really describe it words – kind of a “d-d-d-d” sound?) It was great!

  4. Hey, I thought I’d mosey on over instead of waiting for you to answer my question. Now I know – you still write those letters 🙂 I have resubscribed because some Gremlin unsubscribed you 🙁 I’ve never heard these phones called rotary phones before. My education has been incomplete until this very moment. Thank you – *deep bow*

    1. Thank you and welcome back! I must admit I took a hiatus from blogging to go back to school and while my grades weren’t the greatest, I have plenty of stories to tell Ellen. Stay tuned!

  5. Rotary phones were/are the best. I just saw a show the other day that displayed one in use and I was so jealous I wasn’t the person using it. I don’t know what countries still have them in circulation but I suspect they are the countries with the higher death rates…those suckers are heavy and should be considered weapons of mass destruction whether working or not.

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