In 1889, inventor William Gray and developer George A. Long installed the first pay phone at a bank in Hartford, Connecticut. By 1902, there were 81,000 pay phones in the United States. The number of pay phones peaked in 1995, with 2.6 million public pay phones across the U.S.
But as cell phone numbers increased, pay phone usage dwindled. And on May 23, New York City officials removed the city’s last free-standing public pay phones from a midtown Manhattan sidewalk.
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Manhattan Borough President Mark D. Levine shared photos of the two-phone steel bank being taken away on Twitter.
“There it goes! The last free-standing pay phones were removed this morning in Times Square. Truly the end of an era but also, hopefully, the start of a new one with more equity in technology access! @LinkNYC is one great way we are achieving this,” he tweeted.
There it goes! The last free-standing pay phones were removed this morning in Times Square. Truly the end of an era but also, hopefully, the start of a new one with more equity in technology access! @LinkNYC is one great way we are achieving this. pic.twitter.com/03lFCT6iI2
— Mark D. Levine (@MBPMarkLevine) May 23, 2022
The pay phone, the last of approximately 8,000 public phones still in use around the city as of March 2015, will be part of a new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. The installation, called Analog City, reflects on life in the city before the digital age.
In 2015, the city began replacing pay phones with LinkNYC kiosks. These stands provide free public Wi-Fi, charging ports, 911 buttons and other services.
LinkNYC shared a picture of the booth being lifted to the bed of a truck on Twitter.
“Out with the old, in with the new! NYC’s last free-standing pay phones were removed today; they’ll be replaced with a Link, boosting accessibility and connectivity across the city,” LinkNYC tweeted.
Out with the old, in with the new! NYC’s last free-standing pay phones were removed today; they’ll be replaced with a Link, boosting accessibility and connectivity across the city. #upgrade 🪛🔌📶 pic.twitter.com/UIBULnbi74
— LinkNYC (@LinkNYC) May 23, 2022
“In less than a decade we’ve gone from pay phones on street corners to free Wi-Fi kiosks all over our city,” New York City Council Member Julie Won told NPR. “We’re on the right track towards making NYC technologically equitable and we must continue this work to connect more New Yorkers to affordable high-speed internet in their homes and schools.”
While this was the final city-operated pay phone, a handful of booths still exist around New York City. Several are on private property. Four “permanent full-length Superman” booths remain, as well. You know, just in case.
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Featured Image Credit: @MBPMarkLevine / Twitter.