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Simplified Subscriber Telephone Set

by Roger Conklin

The following article is reproduced, with the author's permission, from the December 2003 issue of Singing Wires.

Not too many FEDERAL telephones found their way officially into Australia. The only exception seems to be the FTR804A magneto set, brought in by the PMG around 1948 to help alleviate post war shortages. Only a very few of the telephones in this article, the FTR803 automatic set are ever seen here in Australia but, nevertheless, the history and the logic behind the new design concept makes interesting reading.

With headquarters in New York and Incorporated in 1919 as a holding company owning telephone systems in Cuba and Puerto Rico, International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation (ITT) continued to grow by acquiring and modernising telephone and telegraph systems in Mexico, Chile, China, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Virgin Islands, Turkey, Rumania and Spain, as well as submarine cables around the world. With ITT's 1925 purchase of International Western Electric Co. (IWE) from AT&T, it was renamed International Standard Electric Corporation. ITT became vertically integrated, just like the Bell system, by making its own equipment. The IWE acquisition included factories in Europe and Japan and sales offices around the world.

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939 in Europe, ITT found it necessary to establish a manufacturing unit in the United States to supply telephone equipment to its telephone operating subsidiaries in Latin America and other customers outside the European war zone. Belgium and French developments were brought to the U.S. just ahead of, or smuggled out after Axis occupation. Federal Telephone and Radio Corporation (FTR), in Clifton, NJ was this new U.S. factory with its associated Federal Telephone and Radio Laboratories (FTL) in nearby Nutley. A group of refugee engineers from its European facilities formed the initial core group in the laboratories. (ITT did not acquire Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Co. until later, in 1952).

Amongst FTR's first new products was its Simplified Telephone Set, the FTR803. Although primarily for export to ITT's telephone companies in Latin America, limited quantities were also supplied to Independent Telephone companies in the U.S. These phones are not common today but occasionally one will turn up in an antique shop, flea market or phone show.

Prior to the war, ITT's engineers had been gathering data on telephone set troubles from its far-flung operating companies in preparation for developing a new subscribers' set that would address these problems. The goal was to improve subscriber service by reducing trouble reports, while also reducing operating costs. Moisture was determined to be the No. 1 culprit followed by dirt, lint, insects and open and high resistance circuits brought about by deteriorated soldered joints, broken wire connections and poor contact between conductors and screw heads. Moisture, particularly with high temperatures in the tropics, caused low insulation resistance that resulted in current leakage. Deterioration of insulation materials and electrolytic corrosion caused induction coil windings to become open. Dirt and insects caused both mechanical and electrical failures as well as accentuating the moisture problem by holding it like a wick.

On the outside, the FTR803 was similar in appearance to the Western Electric 302. The handset closely resembled WE's F1. The transmitter capsule resembled and was interchangeable with WE's F1. The receiver capsule was similar but not interchangeable with WE's HA1. The moulded bakelite housing had a knockout for a grounding push button for use with some PABXs where this was used for automatic call transfer.

But similarities to the WE 302 were only on the outside. Inside there was no exposed wiring to break off, come loose, get connected incorrectly or interfere with working parts. The hook switch was mounted on a moulded phenol plastic connecting block, on the underside of which was a heavy tinned brass bus bar grid securely soldered to screw terminals for connecting cords and components. This was the telephone's internal circuitry. A snap on dust cover kept dirt and insects out of the switch hook and a transparent plastic cover did the same for the dial mechanism, as well as supposedly preserving its lubrication. The 3-winding anti-side tone induction coil and the capacitor were each potted and sealed in strong bakelite cases with tinned brass spade-type terminals that slipped under the heads of terminal screws on the bakelite connecting block. The ringer also had spade terminals that slid under the heads of terminal screws on the bakelite connecting block. A moveable tinned brass strip was used for selecting metallic ringing for individual lines, or grounded ringing for party line service. Captive screws attached the condenser, induction coil and ringer to threaded holes in the heavy-gauge flat steel base. A wiring diagram, in Spanish and English, was affixed inside the bakelite housing.

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