& 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
AppViewX extending its toolkit for app deployment and orchestration to automate manual processes and help network operators save time.
Apple CEO Tim Cook signals a new enterprise push in a joint appearance with Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, presenting possible new enterprise business opportunities for service providers.
Hungry for attention as a public cloud provider, Oracle lands a major customer in AT&T.
Comcast is looking to a private cloud based on Cloud Foundry to turn around record bad customer satisfaction scores.
Facebook is building out its networking infrastructure to provide for the needs of nearly 2 billion active users.
Featured Video
From The Founder
Light Reading is spending much of this year digging into the details of how automation technology will impact the comms market, but let's take a moment to also look at how automation is set to overturn the current world order by the middle of the century.
Flash Poll
Upcoming Live Events
November 1, 2017, The Royal Garden Hotel
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 2, 2017, 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, UK
November 2, 2017, 8 Northumberland Avenue – London
November 10, 2017, The Westin Times Square, New York, NY
November 16, 2017, ExCel Centre, London
November 30, 2017, The Westin Times Square
May 14-17, 2018, Austin Convention Center
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
Muni Policies Stymie Edge Computing
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 10/17/2017
'Brutal' Automation & the Looming Workforce Cull
Iain Morris, News Editor, 10/18/2017
Is US Lurching Back to Monopoly Status?
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 10/16/2017
Pai's FCC Raises Alarms at Competitive Carriers
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 10/16/2017
Worried About Bandwidth for 4K? Here Comes 8K!
Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation, 10/17/2017
Animals with Phones
Selfie Game Strong Click Here
Latest Comment
Live Digital Audio

Understanding the full experience of women in technology requires starting at the collegiate level (or sooner) and studying the technologies women are involved with, company cultures they're part of and personal experiences of individuals.

During this WiC radio show, we will talk with Nicole Engelbert, the director of Research & Analysis for Ovum Technology and a 23-year telecom industry veteran, about her experiences and perspectives on women in tech. Engelbert covers infrastructure, applications and industries for Ovum, but she is also involved in the research firm's higher education team and has helped colleges and universities globally leverage technology as a strategy for improving recruitment, retention and graduation performance.

She will share her unique insight into the collegiate level, where women pursuing engineering and STEM-related degrees is dwindling. Engelbert will also reveal new, original Ovum research on the topics of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, security and augmented reality, as well as discuss what each of those technologies might mean for women in our field. As always, we'll also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air and chat board.

Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Partner Perspectives - content from our sponsors
The Mobile Broadband Road Ahead
By Kevin Taylor, for Huawei
All Partner Perspectives