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  • 1 Post By Hill Billy Holmes

Thread: "Phenol Fiber"

  1. #1 "Phenol Fiber" 
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    A story, needed, as usual. Growing up, driving to visit my Grandma, we passed a huge brick building, from which flowed a most unusual smell: my Mother explained it was "phenol fiber". The plant was Western Electric. At that time, virtually every telephone handset one picked up had the inscription on it's underside, "Western Electric, Maker of Bell Telephones".

    Our phone at home, before I have recollection, carried the number "6667-J" I DO recall the "party line", 4 customers were connected to a single line, our parties being Mrs. Houha, across the alley, Kratochvils also across the alley, us, and the third I've forgotten. Anyway, the phone was a convenience item, we received perhaps a call a week, placed even less. Often, upon picking up our receiver, Mrs. Houha was heard gabbing with someone! If a needed call was VERY important to make, one would request the party to get off the line! At that time, there was not yet a DIAL on the phone. 5 blocks from our house there stood a large brick building we knew as the "Telephone Exchange". Apparently, untold numbers of "operators" toiled therein to connect the calls appropriately.

    Dial technology brought us a slightly changed number: STanley 8-6667. Much later, this became 788-6667. Other "exchanges" in our area were "Olympic 7", Hubbard, Canal, etc. No idea where these names came from.

    Phenol fiber was the "plastic" material from which these early phones were made. Some of it was produced in a sort of laminated form, to make sheets. It was seen in shades of brown as well as black. I found it could be drilled, threaded, filed, machined; it was surely the harbinger of non-metallics to come.

    Historically, Western Electric became a victim of the "Ma Bell" scourge, when in 1984 the Bell System was broken up by Federal mandate. George Orwell would have loved it. The public was promised lower telephone rates thereto; ours increased four-fold! Today, the magnificent manufacturing facilities of Western Electric, located in Chicago, Illinois, are gone. The enormous red-brick buildings have been razed. Thus, history marches forward. jocular


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    I always thought that stuff was epoxy fiber ,it was a step ahead of baklite and just before good plastic. I think it was used for insulators or something. Which western electric building?


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    Quote Originally Posted by Hill Billy Holmes View Post
    I always thought that stuff was epoxy fiber ,it was a step ahead of baklite and just before good plastic. I think it was used for insulators or something. Which western electric building?
    The main plant building, with the tall, pointed steeple-like roof on the corner of Cermak Road and Cicero Ave. Are you from around there? jocular
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hill Billy Holmes View Post
    I always thought that stuff was epoxy fiber ,it was a step ahead of baklite and just before good plastic. I think it was used for insulators or something. Which western electric building?
    Right you are! They're almost the same thing, one has wood filler added to the phenolic mix. Both were/are good insulators, and could be found virtually everywhere in the electrical industry. jocular
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    I'm from a little further north. I was thinking of the edison building on division that was right on my block. That was back when it was still a part of poland ,and before it was councered by spain and spainyards. Now its burbank orange county vagus or the keys for me.
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