911 circa 1917
This is a call box I found on the side of a house on East Main Street recently. Clearly, it has been well cared for and is even painted that “public safety blue” to indicate its purpose. These were used to report emergencies in the days prior to widespread telephone availability in homes.
The Gamewell Company manufactured this signal or call box which were common to this area. From the Hamden Fire Retirees website (I had to do a fair amount of searching for this information and ended up in Connecticut!):
The Gamewell Co. manufactured police and fire alarm communications equipment for municipalities. The company was originally headquartered in New York City and then in Newton, Massachusetts.
The website further states: Gamewell municipal fire alarm systems are still utilized today, especially in the Boston area. I found that interesting given our proximity to Boston.
City Directories were available in the days before telephone books and gave citizens information about call box locations. This is from the 1917 Gloucester City Directory and you can see the box above, no. 14, was located at East Main, cor. Highland.
Immediately following these locations, the City Directory provided the code for various signals across the city. I’m afraid I would have had to refer to the directory each and every time since it seems complicated, but I can imagine schoolchildren knew exactly that they should listen for “nine blows”. I have not quite figured out the Imaginary Boxes, perhaps these were places telephones were available to send an alarm out for neighborhood distribution.
I guess the various signals are not so different from today’s changing ring tones or text message alerts, but one hundred years later, we once again find ourselves living in a world where landlines are less likely to be found in homes. Food for thought.