The Telephone Museum of New Mexico

My partner and I finally made it during open hours to the Telephone Museum of New Mexico. We had tried to go a couple of times before and always missed it by the thinnest of margins. They are only open MWF 10-2, so plan accordingly.

The TMNM is a charming place, situated in the old telephone exchange building downtown, on the 4th St Mall between Central and Copper. It is a truly local and non-profit endeavor, staffed and manned entirely, it seems, by retiree volunteers. In the initial room, there is a collection of old wall mounted units from the early age of the telephone around NM, complete with photographs of the telephone centers that used to house them. Back behind is a large room stuffed to the gills with phones from the earliest to the pretty recent. Mini phones, weird phones, office phones, picture phones, explosion-proof phones (no joke), pay phones, phones from around the world. It's a lot to take in, but we meandered and spotted a number that were exciting enough to call across the room, "Ooh, hey, look at this one!" The aesthetics and design aspects of a large amount of this material alone is worth a trip for someone interested in such things, and we both are, especially my JJ.

The downstairs has a collection related to the early development of phone networks across the country, and the upstairs has more history and a focus on the installation, tools, and maintenance of the lines "back then." But both up (which is 3rd & 4th floor in a funny split level) and the basement are chock-full of historical recreations and dioramas, all hand made, all populated by mannequins. Again: No joke. The place is frankly full of mannequins using phones, invading the United States, saving our citizens from those invaders, warning neighbors of impending doom (The Sad Story of Sally), climbing poles, connecting calls, sipping champagne. Creepy, yes. But really wonderful and entertaining.

This is genuinely a small community, niche museum, but it's all about something that is so central to our everyday lives. Frankly, I learned a lot about the history of phones, while also being highly entertained for over and hour.

The fee was only $2 for adults ($1 for 12 and under). It's centrally located. It's air conditioned. The building itself, inside and out, is lovely. I highly recommend taking a morning or early afternoon and going to see this place. History geeks will love it; local interests abound for those of us partisan for NM; steampunk artisans will marvel at the transistors and silk-wrapped wiring; and for those interested in the fancy bakelite style of 1930's material culture: it don't get much cooler than some of this stuff.

Go see art.
Wait...I mean...go see phones.

Views: 103

Comment by Brendan on June 17, 2008 at 9:57pm
Khan, you are my hero of the week. Had no idea this existed- will be visiting right away!
Comment by JMG on June 17, 2008 at 10:01pm
Here's something I've wondered, but have never asked outloud or online because there's never been an opportunity without totally changing the subject. Finally I'm relevant!

All these phone recordings you get that say, "If you don't have a touch tone phone, please stay on the line and an operator will answer."

Who doesn't have a touch tone phone? Are there even any dial phones left in current use?
Comment by Laura on June 17, 2008 at 10:08pm
My parents had a dial phone until about a decade ago...
Comment by Khan on June 17, 2008 at 11:15pm
My parents kept a rotary in their bedroom until only a couple of years ago, and that's all we had while I was growing up, 'till I was maybe 16 or 17. These days, though... It sounds silly, but would a rotary still even activate the line properly? I bet it would.
Comment by Joshua Arnold on June 17, 2008 at 11:16pm
Switched back to a rotary ("Pink Princess") phone about a year ago -- we maintain our ground line mostly for [cheap] Internet. The phone has a lot more character than its touch-tone cousins, and is certainly fun to use. A better question is: who actually still has a ground line? :-P
Comment by Khan on June 17, 2008 at 11:22pm
I do! I do!
We have never owned a cell and most probably never will, unless it was insisted upon by a job or something. We're semi-luddites.
Comment by killbox on June 17, 2008 at 11:34pm
Our little 2600 Hacker Quarterly made a afternoon pilgrimage there (twice), It is a great place, we even made a small donation (i think it was around $100 to help defray costs and keep them about.)

The building has a modern remake of the facade it once had, but its a good job.

Their little giftshop i got the telephone pioneers trivia game, (i thought i knew a bit about telecommunications, but heck no!!)

It is truly a little treasure. and even better for being where the history was made, and in the shadow of the big AT&T building
Comment by killbox on June 17, 2008 at 11:37pm
JMG: pulse dialing still works, so im sure there are still people with pulse phones. My grandmother kept her rotary (bell system) phone hooked up, until she passed away. When she got it you could only get phones from the phone company. She insisted it worked much better than the dinky cordless.
Comment by mombat on June 18, 2008 at 6:30am
Great post. We will have to go.
Comment by Kelly on June 18, 2008 at 7:51am
Check Don's great post from the DCF archives for photos.


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