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.