& cplSiteName &

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        ADD A COMMENT
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: Light Sabre
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: Blogger
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   >   >>
More Blogs from Wagner’s Ring
Colt is focusing on connectivity. Other telcos should follow its good example.
Not even Donald Trump can make Twitter profitable. Twitter is out of time to turn things around.
While some experts predict AI will take all the jobs, others say technology creates more jobs than it destroys.
It would give Amazon an opportunity to expand its technology/media empire – and stick it to Donald Trump. What's not to like?
Like Amazon before it, Twitter's core strength might be its platform rather than the service it's best known for.
From The Founder
Cisco's Conrad Clemson, recently promoted to head up the company's Service Provider Apps & Platforms developments, talks to Light Reading's Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about how he's bringing cloud video, mobile and virtualization together to empower network operators.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Interviews
MWC17: 5G, Cloud RAN & More

2|21|17   |   04:35   |   (0) comments


Ovum Senior Analyst Julian Bright talks to Scott Bicheno from Telecoms.com about all things MWC, including Cloud RAN, Huawei's pitch to the industry and the road to 5G.
LRTV Interviews
MWC 2017's Key 2-Letter Terms

2|20|17   |   08:29   |   (1) comment


5G, AI, VR... these are just some of the two-letter terms that will dominate show-floor chat at MWC 2017 in Barcelona, according to these two blow-hards (a.k.a. Scott Bicheno of Telecoms.com and Light Reading's Ray Le Maistre). And then there's PB...
LRTV Interviews
Key Trends for Mobile Operators in Developing Markets

2|20|17   |   06:37   |   (0) comments


Ovum's Matthew Reed talks to Scott Bicheno from Telecoms.com about the challenges and opportunities facing mobile operators in the developing markets of Africa and the Middle East.
LRTV Documentaries
YouTube Takes on Facebook Live-Streaming

2|17|17   |     |   (0) comments


Popular 'YouTubers' will be the first to get the new service on their smartphones. You have been warned.
LRTV Custom TV
Open Source NFV/SDN Automation

2|17|17   |   05:54   |   (0) comments


AT&T ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy) code is transitioning into the Linux Foundation for placement into open source. In this video, Carol Wilson provides an update on the maturation of open source ECOMP and meets with industry leaders from AT&T, Bell Canada, Orange, Linux Foundation and Amdocs to discuss what this means for the ...
LRTV Documentaries
Uber & NASA Collaborate on Flying Car Project

2|16|17   |     |   (0) comments


Is Uber for real? Well, it's hired NASA engineer Mark Moore to lead the project, and he wouldn't come cheap.
LRTV Documentaries
Zuckerberg Tries Out the Oculus Rift VR Glove

2|15|17   |     |   (0) comments


Facebook CEO shows off a new way to interact with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset: an Oculus glove.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei Digital Transformation Forum 2017

2|10|17   |     |   (0) comments


Here's a preview of the upcoming Huawei Digital Transformation Forum taking place in Barcelona with trending telecom topics like cloud, IoT, 5G and much more!
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Dan Sahar of Qwilt on Open Edge Cloud Platform

2|8|17   |   08:38   |   (0) comments


Dan Sahar, Qwilt's co-founder, sits down with Steve Saunders of Light Reading for a conversation about Qwilt's Open Edge Cloud platform and the new role of service providers in application and content delivery.
LRTV Documentaries
ZeroStack's 'Self-Driving Cloud'

2|7|17   |   01:09   |   (0) comments


Its Z-Brain tech automates day-to-day management and long-term planning for hybrid clouds.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Nominum's Craig Sprosts on DNS & Cybersecurity Trends

2|7|17   |     |   (0) comments


Nominum's Craig Sprosts talks about the fast-changing landscape of cybersecurity with Steve Saunders of Light Reading. Sprosts touches on the trend of the rise of ransomwares, rivals of IoT base attacks, and mobile network security. He also discusses the realization of the importance of IoT security after a recent cyber attack that paralyzed several major ...
LRTV Documentaries
China Moves Towards Mixed Ownership of Telcos

2|1|17   |   01:10   |   (0) comments


Chinese authorities are promoting new ownership models in order to raise capital.
Upcoming Live Events
March 21-22, 2017, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
March 22, 2017, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
March 22, 2017, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
May 15-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
May 15, 2017, Austin Convention Center - Austin, TX
June 6, 2017, The Joule Hotel, Dallas, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
Is the Time Right for a Cisco/Ericsson Wedding?
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 2/17/2017
Broadband Has a Problem on the Pole
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 2/21/2017
Nice to See at Least One CSP Taking My Advice
Mitch Wagner, Editor, Enterprise Cloud, 2/17/2017
Charter Launches 5G Field Trials
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 2/16/2017
RSAC 2017 in 4 Words
Curtis Franklin, Security Editor, 2/17/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders chats with Sportlogiq CEO Craig Buntin about sports data analysis.
Eyal Waldman, CEO of Mellanox Technologies, speaks to Steve Saunders, CEO of Light Reading, for an exclusive interview about the 100 GB cable challenge, cybersecurity and much more.
Animals with Phones
No One Likes This Click Here
Take a hint!
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.