Light Reading

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: 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   >   >>
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from Wagner’s Ring
Embarrassing when you're in the cloud business...
Founding companies slash their membership to SDN organization.
Support from major vendors adds reality to the vision of open source data center hardware.
Emoji reflect the culture of Japan, leaving Americans wanting to talk about burritos with nothing to say.
In an effort to put a grim year behind it, Juniper has introduced a router based on new chips, new switches and security and management services.
Flash Poll
From The Founder
The Swedish vendor has undergone a significant transformation during the past few years, adjusting to the demands of next-generation communications companies.
LRTV Documentaries
The 3GPP's Road to 5G Standardization

4|17|15   |   4:43   |   (0) comments


Satoshi Nagata, chairman of the 3GPP's TSG-RAN group and a manager at NTT Docomo, explains the standardization process for 5G, as well as the biggest challenges and opportunities.
LRTV Documentaries
AlcaLu CTO Makes the Case for a New 5G Air Interface

4|16|15   |   3:54   |   (0) comments


Michael Peeters, CTO of wireless at Alcatel-Lucent, explains why 5G will require a new air interface to meet its diverse performance targets.
LRTV Documentaries
AlcaLu + Nokia: The New Uber-Vendor

4|15|15   |   2:42   |   (4) comments


Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown discusses the technological and competitive opportunities and challenges if a merger between Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia comes to pass.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei's Data Center Power Play

4|15|15   |   6:22   |   (0) comments


Huawei has developed industry-leading energy efficiency capabilities for its indoor and outdoor data center solutions, explains Dr. Fang Liangzhou, vice president of Huawei's Network Energy product Line.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei’s Routers, Switches Get the Green Mark

4|15|15   |   2:02   |   (0) comments


TUV Rheinland's Frank Dudley explains how Huawei's routers and switches have been successfully tested by energy efficiency experts and have gained Green Mark Certification.
LRTV Documentaries
A Finn, a Frenchman & a Guy From New Jersey Walk Into a Merger...

4|15|15   |   3:17   |   (0) comments


Stop us if you've heard this one before... Light Reading CEO Founder & CEO Steve Saunders weighs in on the technical and cultural implications of a Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent merger.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Accounting for Better Solutions

4|10|15   |   02:31   |   (1) comment


Murad Yousuf, CTO at Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Finance (Dept. of Zakat & Income Tax), talks about the benefits of deploying router technology from Huawei.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
What's in Store for Huawei & DataCore?

4|10|15   |   05:44   |   (0) comments


At the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany, George Teixeira, CEO of software-defined storage (SDS) specialist DataCore Software, explains why he has just signed a partnership agreement with Huawei Technologies.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Du Puts Its Faith in Huawei's Routers

4|9|15   |   3:42   |   (0) comments


Adnan Masood, director of Enterprise MS Solutions Marketing at du, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) operator also known as Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, explains why his company chose to use Huawei's multifunctional AR routers as part of its managed enterprise services.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Gets Active in the Data Center

4|9|15   |   3:17   |   (0) comments


With enterprise users looking to maximize the use of their data center assets, Huawei’s Chief Architect & Technical Director of IT Data Center Solutions, Bruce Su, explains how the company's six-layer active-active data center solution is eradicating the need to deploy passive, redundant data center assets.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Blue Consult & Huawei for a Better Solution

4|8|15   |   4:01   |   (0) comments


Martin Rott, CEO, and Marc Metzler, head of sales virtualization, from Germany's Blue Consult discuss their collaboration with Huawei and TrendMicro to develop a secure, scalable IT platform that can meet the needs of the most demanding enterprise users.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Beach Petroleum on eLTE & Mining

4|8|15   |   3:09   |   (0) comments


Network systems integrator Jeremy Hamlyn explains how Huawei's secure packet-based trunking communications system, eLTE, can help remote communities and companies in the mining, oil and gas sectors, deploy efficient communications networks that are perfect for video and data as well as voice.
Upcoming Live Events
May 5, 2015, Hyatt McCormick Place, Chicago, IL
May 6, 2015, Georgia World Congress, Atlanta, GA
May 12, 2015, Grand Hyatt, Denver, CO
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
November 11-12, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Network Instruments, a JDSU division, shares results from its 2015 State of the Network, a global survey on security.
Hot Topics
Verizon Scores New OTT Content Deals
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 4/16/2015
Can WiFi Calling Find Its Voice?
Iain Morris, News Editor, 4/13/2015
Senator Proposes New 'Title X' for Net Neutrality
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 4/13/2015
Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent in Merger Talks
Iain Morris, News Editor, 4/14/2015
Nokia & Alcatel-Lucent: What's Going On?
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 4/15/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Data Center Interconnect, or DCI, is one of the hottest sectors in telecom currently. Since coming back to Light Reading last year, prodigal-son style, I've ...
LR CEO and Founder Steve Saunders sits down with the head of Qosmos to talk about the changing state of the art in deep packet inspection technology, including its role in SDN and NFV architectures.