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Preparing the Pavilion

When planning their pavilion for the Fair, Bell Telephone Laboratories selected one of their own – the very experienced John Mills – to design their displays. Mills served nearly thirty years in the Bell system, having worked on the first transcontinental telephone in 1914 and the first transatlantic phone a year later.

Mills first experienced a world's Fair in Chicago in 1893. He recalled visiting the Bell exhibit as a seven-year- old and noted: "There was nothing to attract my attention to it then." However, by the early Thirties, Mills became an astute observer of how to sell to the consumer public. Bell tapped him to create their displays for Chicago's Century of Progress exposition, to much acclaim.

For "The World of Tomorrow," Mills a series of interactive exhibits to both demonstrate the latest in AT&T technology and lure the consumers to the pavilion.

HEARING TESTS: One out of every six visitors to the pavilion had their hearing tested in sound-proof booths. The test consisted of a series of musical notes and a human voice, gradually diminishing in volume. The results proved to be the most comprehensive data of its kind and the Bell Laboratories released their findings to the United States Public Health Service.

VOICE MIRROR: A clever recording device allowed visitors to speak into a telephone receiver for five seconds and then hear a playback of what they said so they could "hear" what their voices sounded like over a phone. The playback device was the same as was used in the Voice of the Visitor exhibit, however, on a smaller scale.

VOICE OF THE VISITOR: Five specially selected guests assumed seats on a stage set of a landscaped garden. The Interlocutor then interviewed the individuals for a few minutes. Sports, vacation plans styles in women's hats and pet peeves proved to be the most popular topics of discussion. The guests then took seats at the foot of the garden. Within minutes, five mannequins situated in their previous seats repeated the initial interview in the visitors' original voices.

The Long Distance Exhibit

AT&T hit the ball out of the park with their long-distance phone contest.

Visitors were presented with a number when entering the exhibit area. Using "the best established public lotter practices," attendants announced the first five numbered balls that fell out of a revolving glass drum every half hour. Bell employees began a betting pool of five cents per every half hour – the winner determined by the first number falling from the glass drum. The average pot – $4.70.

The lucky winners could make a long-distance call anywhere in the forty-eight states. However, before the caller stepped into the glass phone booths, workers upstairs searched for the call's eventual location and either selected a pre-made stencil or quickly cut one. Trezevant Town proved to be the most difficult one to prepare in such a short amount of time. Workers then positioned the stencils in the two-story map and the "switchboard" operators turned on a series of 3,500 bulbs to demonstrate the call's "journey" throughout the United States.

The "switchboard" at the base of the map was 100% phony and acted only as a transit for the pre-call information. In reality, Bell operators placed the call routed through their switchboard at 32 6th Avenue, in Manhattan.

Once in the glass phone booths, the callers' voices rang through the exhibit hall, to the extreme pleasure of the audience. Often the "listeners" applauded as the caller left the booths after an extremely interesting conversation.

The exhibit provided an average of 145 calls every day, topped off by 170 on Mother's Day. The most frequently called states? California and Illinois.

Some Interesting Calls

The first caller at the long-distance exhibit was David L. Potter, a United States Navy ordnance man. He called his wife in Vallejo, CA at a little past 11:00 on April 30. His first words: "Hello, Ethel." Her responses: "Hello, darling. It's good to hear from you. When are you coming home?" Potter then spoke with his fourteen -year-old son about fishing.

A Bronx housewife stormed off the stage when informed that her selection of a call to Hunts Point was not long-distance. "From Flushing and The World of Tomorrow is not long distance?" proved to be her departing words.

Miss B. Morgan called West Los Angeles 3, 8028 but failed to get an answer at Joan Crawford's home.

Barry Arnold Forman, an eight-year-old and the youngest winner, placed his call to Bob Livingston in Hollywood. Livingston portrayed The Lone Ranger on the radio and the two conversed about the show, Tonto and Silver.

Janice Weinberg, a high school student, placed her call to Robert Taylor in Hollywood but, instead, heard: "Mr. Taylor is not here just now. This is Mrs. Taylor (Barbara Stanwyck)." Miss Weinberg congratulated Mrs. Taylor on her performance in the recently released "Union Pacific."

Governor E. D. Rivers, GA, telephoned his executive secretary with the political news that Mayor LaGuardia would not be attending either the Democratic or Republican conventions in the following year.

Harry Seid had #13 on September 13 and won his call for the 13th time. He called his sister-in-law in Hollywood.

One of Danbury Connecticut's three telephone operators placed her free call to her chief operator.

Melville Bell Grosvenor, Alexander Graham Bell's grandson, passed up his opportunity to make a long distance call.

Dorothy Lamour attempted to call Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in Hollywood but the operators could not locate his name in the phone directory. She abandoned her attempt.

Bill Robinson calls Shirley Temple, his co-star in "The Little Colonel," once a week. At the Bell exhibit, six-hundred visitors to the pavilion listened in for the three-minute call.


Voder was demonstration of the first artificial voice created at the moment by the use of an extensive sound activation system.

Homer Dudley, a Bell Laboratories employee, conceived the idea for the artificial voice in 1936. Originally, the designers dubbed the device Pedro, after Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil, who exclaimed "My God, it talks!" after experiencing Bell's first telephone at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Dudley declared that the technology used in the development of Voder would revolutionize long-Three hundred telephone operators tried out to learn how to operator Voder. Twenty-four were selected. A year's extensive training followed. And ... three times every day during the Fair's run, the Voderettes practiced to keep especially sharp. Each Voderette worked only a half hour shift and then had time off, to "save their nerves."distance calling as it would allow thirty telephone messages to be transmitted over the same wire at the same time.

The voice of Voder came from a series of keys pressed to simulate human speech. In all, there were twenty-three different sounds available to the operators through a keyboard. One set controlled the sound made by forcing breath through the mouth, past the tongue, teeth and lips, such as "s," "th," and "f." A second set of control keys produced the "stop consonants" like "d," "k," and "p." A third set of keys controlled the more musical vowel sounds. A foot pedal controlled the pitch and rising and falling inflection of the words. The lowest pitch available with Voder was 80 – 90 cycles and the highest was 10,000 cycles. Thus, the number of actual sounds produced by Voder depended on the operator's ability to control the total operation.

The most experience operators could simulate male, female and children's voices. Madeline Swann could produce a Scottish brogue, Ethel Weigand a German accent (and Donald Duck), Sara Johnson a Norwegian accent, and Maybelle Duffy a Southern drawl.

At the exhibit, an interlocutor interacted with Voder for ten minutes and then the audience was invited to suggest tough expressions to reproduce. A few of the most difficult were Chiahuahua, Mexico, Saskatchewan, Port Elizabeth, South Africa and Brooklyn High School for Specialty Trades. One of the easiest was Mississippi. The worst was submitted by Alfred Harding, Jr., one of the editors of Equity magazine of a certain kind of dust storm: pneumonouttramicroscopicsilcovolcanisis. The interlocutor changed the rules thereafter to ask for common words only.

Other than following the directions of the interlocutor and the audience, Voder also came into use for a number of unusual circumstances. A mother having lost her son had the artificial voice call "Tommy, Tommy, were are you?" and soon heard from the auditorium's balcony, "Mummie, I'm here." A Western Union employee asked the operators to page a Mr. Corbin for an urgent telegram and Voder greeted New York Governor Lehman by name.

An interesting phone conversation occurred on at 2:00 July 29, when the New York Fair's Voder spoke with the San Francisco Fair's Voder. "Hello, San Francisco, hello everybody. This is New York speaking. Greetings from New York to San Francisco." The west coast version replied with a similar solicitation. The two ended their "conversation" with: "So long."

Some Reactins to the Voder

"Sounds like Charlie McCarthy at his worst, but that is understandable." Tom Caufield

"Makes me wonder whether science may not advance to the point were we will some day have a synthetic egg." Charles Grutzner