The Good Life: Ma Bell's ill communication

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By the mid-1950s, the Korean War was in the rear view mirror, Dad was home and back to work, and the economic good times saw no end in sight. Throw in the fact that the percentage of U.S. homes with a telephone more than doubled between 1940 and 1960 (to 78.3 percent) and it's no wonder the Bell Telephone System—the network run by the Bell Telephone Co. and affectionately known as Ma Bell—decided families should own more than one phone. With its 1956 ad (top), addressed to the woman of the house, we see an early take on the modern role-swapping trope: What if by some "Freaky Friday" miracle, you and your hubby switched "jobs"? Hilarious, right? He would see that you needed an additional phone in your own "office"! For clarity, the copy adds: "That's in the kitchen where you do so much of your work." She may hold the purse strings, but that doesn't mean the lady of the house can't be condescended to! Fast-forward to 1964, and the modern family now has that phone in the kitchen, as shown in this second Bell System ad. What they really needed now was a long-distance plan! And speaking of swapping, this swingin' '60s ad (below) seems to sizzle with possibilities, as the copy suggests: "Long Distance is such an easy, personal way to extend an invitation and settle the details for a friendly visit." We'll have what she's having.

Credit: Getty Images

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