Light Reading
More than a century ago, while the phone was still young, pranksters were already calling the morgue to ask for Mr. Stiff.

A Brief History of the Prank Phone Call

Mitch Wagner
8/1/2014
50%
50%

Eight years after Alexander Graham Bell summoned Mr. Watson, someone was already using Mr. Bell's invention to prank their elders. 1884 was the first documented appearance of the prank phone call.

Electrical World magazine ran an article describing how a prankster in Providence, RI, was phoning undertakers "to bring freezers, candlesticks and coffins for persons alleged to be dead. In each case, the denouement was highly farcical, and the reputed corpses are now hunting in a lively matter for that telephonist."

Pranksters continued using the phone for mischief, calling the Bronx Zoo in New York for "Mr. Lyon," the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago for "Mr. B.O. Constrictor," and so on.

For decades, April Fools Day became a virtual New York holiday for inflicting these dummy calls on younger siblings and new office workers: on April 1st of 1928, the Bellevue Morgue recorded some 125 calls for Mr. Stiff, 73 calls for Mr. Coffin, and — rather more creatively — another 50 calls for Mr. Biers. The Aquarium was assailed by 2,646 April Fool calls in 1936; the Bronx Zoo got hit with 1,980 calls that same day for the likes of L.E. Fant and Mr. Behr.

Eventually the Bronx Zoo simply took to disconnecting its Wellington 3-5000 number every April 1st, forcing jokesters to resort to Mr. Bush at the New York Botanical Garden and Mr. Snow at the Weather Bureau. The situation was much the same around the country, though Chicago's zoo hit upon a more pugnacious response: phone operators set up a gramophone so that callers asking for Mr. Lyon were promptly hit with an ear-splitting roar through their handsets.


It's no joke -- find out what you need to know about modern services at Light Reading's services content channel.


Prank phone calls were still going strong a century later, but Caller ID struck the first death-blow in the 1990s.

Prank phone calls will remain alive as long as people continue to watch The Simpsons.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to wagner@lightreading.com.

(21)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
mhhf1ve
50%
50%
mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2014 | 2:51:37 PM
It's interesting that prank calls don't seem to happen more and more with VoIP and free long distance calling
And thankfully, robocall scripts are not readily in the hands of teenagers with too much free time...
Michelle
50%
50%
Michelle,
User Rank: Moderator
8/5/2014 | 10:53:19 PM
Re: Is your refrigerator running?
Oh my! I suppose there really is nothing new under the sun...

People will do what they always do...always.
DHagar
50%
50%
DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/5/2014 | 12:51:37 PM
Re: When Bart Calls Moe
@Susan, excactly.  Supply meeting demand (i.e., business).
DHagar
50%
50%
DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/5/2014 | 12:45:42 PM
Re: Innovative ways to misuse technology
@Duh!  Thanks for further clarification.  I did get your point, but my answer may have been too brief.  My thinking is that the distinction of "utility" versus "social/economic" value applies not only to the supplier but the user as well.  If the goal is just utility, that is different than optimizing capacity, even from the user end with shared use.

Your points are good ones!
Duh!
50%
50%
Duh!,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/5/2014 | 10:37:53 AM
RE: Innovative Ways to Mususe Technology
DHagar,

You may have misunderstood my point.  In this context, "social optimization" means using shared resources in a cooperative fashion, so all users obtain the intended benefit.  "Individual (or selfish) optimization" means using shared resources for individual benefit, at the expense of all other users.

The signalling network is a shared resource. Excessive use of this individual optimization results in congestion and/or higher pricing to permit the operator to recover capital costs. Also see "tragedy of the commons". 
Susan Fourtané
50%
50%
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/5/2014 | 3:36:23 AM
Re: When Bart Calls Moe
DHagar, 

Thanks. If telecom companies wouldn get enough profit from pre-paid SIM cards the service wouldn't exist in the first place. They are businesses, not charities. 

-Susan 
R Clark
50%
50%
R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
8/4/2014 | 9:25:06 PM
Re: Is your refrigerator running?
Back in the 19th century, the telegraph was a major platform for hooking up, games, porn, scams and pranks.   Who'd have thought?

 
DHagar
50%
50%
DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/4/2014 | 1:32:13 PM
RE: Innovative Ways to Mususe Technology
@Duh?  Good points.  There are real distinctions between a focus on utilization of capacity to generate revenues and creating social and/or commercial value.  It depends on which side of the coin you are on and what your goals are.
DHagar
50%
50%
DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/4/2014 | 1:19:46 PM
Re: When Bart Calls Moe
@Susan,

You have an excellent point about the profits of the telecomms!  I was thinking about the people who should be working spending their time placing prank calls.  I think your profit motive trumps the cost of other companies!
Duh!
50%
50%
Duh!,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/4/2014 | 10:27:11 AM
Re: innovative ways to misuse technology
"Unintended use", not "misuse".  Individual optimization, at the expense of social optimization. 

I vaguely remember similar discussions about this in ISDN signalling and SS#7 standardization.  If memory serves, it was solved by local ringtone generation, which made it difficult to signal by counting ring cycles.  This also was part of the motivation for SMS. 

If this is a serious problem, operators could consider plans that incent use of SMS for this purpose.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from Wagner’s Ring
Videoconferencing and phones-on-your-wrist are two of the predictions in videos promoting phone innovations from 1993 and 1955.
Containers, OpenStack and networking hardware are competitive threats to VMware, which is embracing all three.
Hard times are going to start around Christmas for many SDN startups.
Following three consecutive quarters of revenue decline, Cisco might shake things up.
Vendor lock-in is a carrier turn-off. Cisco, VMware and other vendors hope partnership will be sweet music.
Flash Poll
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Sales Director of INIT on Plug & Play Switch Devices

9|19|14   |   3:21   |   (0) comments


INIT Italy uses both the Huawei S5700 and S7700 series switches for the campus LAN environment. Sales Director Andrea Curti says their company chose these Huawei devices over others because of their performance, flexible scalability and plug-and-play features.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Saudi Arabia Upgrades Vocational Training System

9|19|14   |   3:31   |   (0) comments


The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) has 100,000 students, 150 government-owned institutions and oversees 1000 private institutes. The CIO of TVTC explains that Huawei devices have allowed them to manage multiple datacenters using just one software program, scientifically tracking the progress of students and teachers, saving them millions.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei's Media Solutions Are Here to Stay

9|19|14   |   4:35   |   (0) comments


The current media revolution requires rapid upgrades in technology. New formats (HD, 3D, 4K etc.) and the subsequent explosion of file sizes demand sophisticated network and storage architecture. Social media and the multiple distribution channels require a robust asset management system. Gartner analyst Venecia Liu speaks about the current technological trends in ...
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Microgenesis on Huawei's Switches

9|19|14   |   3:57   |   (0) comments


Microgenesis is a solutions and system integrator company in the Philippines whose areas of expertise include data centers, networking and security products. In this video, Executive Director Jeffrey Choa talks to us about his customers needs and they benefit from using Huawei switches.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Network Solutions Help the Philippines Jump Ahead

9|17|14   |   2:59   |   (0) comments


In the past, the Philippines has under-invested in technology. Now, the CEO of Softshell talks about how Huawei products help the Philippines jump ahead as the economy improves.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
VCS Observation for Safer Cities in the Netherlands

9|17|14   |   5:20   |   (0) comments


Holland's VCS Observation has been operating for 22 years. Its main goal is to get cities safer. CEO Wim van Deijzen tells us some of the challenges his company faces and how Huawei is helping to overcome these challenges.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
A Conversation With Serbia's Ministry of Interior

9|17|14   |   4:38   |   (0) comments


At HCC 2014, the Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia talks to us about his projects and corporation with Huawei. Solutions like Safe City and E-Government and services like cloud computing are just some of the areas his department is interested in.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
IHS Analyst Discusses eLTE at CCW 2014

9|10|14   |   7:09   |   (0) comments


Thomas Lynch, associate director of critical communications at IHS Technology, talks about broadband in critical communications.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
TCAA on Huawei eLTE: A Broadband Solution for Mission-Critical Communications

9|10|14   |   2:29   |   (0) comments


At CCW2014 in Singapore, the TCCA's Phil Kidner talks about the importance of broadband data for critical communications.
LRTV Custom TV
Spotlight on Cisco: SDN for Optical Networks

9|8|14   |   9:27   |   (0) comments


Cisco's Greg Nehib talks OpenFlow and more on the 'Software-Defined Networking for Optical Networks' panel at the Big Telecom Event in June 2014.
LRTV Custom TV
Cisco's Evolved Programmable Network (EPN)

9|8|14   |   4:05   |   (0) comments


A look at the various demos Cisco showed at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event highlighting Cisco's EPN innovation and how SDN and NFV technologies are enabling a variety of new services.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
The Future of Ultra-Broadband, With Kevin Kelly (UBBF2014)

9|5|14   |   1:13   |   (1) comment


If you think the technological changes we've seen up to now are astounding, just wait until you see what the future has in store. Discuss upcoming breakthroughs with Kevin Kelly, Founding Executive Editor of Wired Magazine, at the Huawei Ultra-Broadband Forum on September 24.
Upcoming Live Events!!
September 23, 2014, Denver, CO
October 29, 2014, New York City
November 6, 2014, Santa Clara
November 11, 2014, Atlanta, GA
December 2, 2014, New York City
December 3, 2014, New York City
December 9-10, 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Infographics
A survey conducted by Vasona Networks suggests that 72% of mobile users expect good performance all the time, and they'll blame the network operator when it's not up to par.
Today's Cartoon
Vacation Special Caption Competition Click Here
Latest Comment
Hot Topics
AT&T: We'll Bundle Fixed Wireless & DirecTV
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 9/15/2014
New NFV Forum Focused on Interoperability
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 9/16/2014
NFV & The Data Center: Top 10 Takeaways
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 9/18/2014
Photos: Qualcomm Takes Over San Francisco
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 9/19/2014
Pics: LR's Women in Telecom Breakfast
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 9/16/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed