It’s the end of an era. On Monday, May 23, the last public payphone was removed from its home in Times Square. The removal was in the works for quite a while now. In 2015, New York City began removing public payphone booths. They’re being replaced with LinkNYC kiosks, which offer free public Wi-Fi, charging ports, 911 buttons, and screens with maps and other services. Just like the old payphones, they help generate revenue for the city. So far, over 6,000 payphones have been removed, with the one in Times Square being the last standard public payphone.
No more will Superman be able to bound into a payphone booth to quickly change outfits, at least in New York. However, the city is keeping four full length “Superman” booths in the Upper West Side, so perhaps Superman doesn’t need to worry too much. Payphones aren’t completely gone from the city. Those that are on private property or privately operated may still be standing. Rumor has it that some of the phones in the subway stations still work as well.
Where is the Last Public Payphone Going?
Thankfully this is not the final end for this pre-digital relic. The Museum of the City of New York has opened an exhibit called “Analog City.” While I haven’t had a chance to check it out, this exhibit looks to be chock full of nostalgia. The payphone that was removed on Monday will be finding new life as a part of this exhibit. The exhibit looks at the city before the digital era, specifically between 1870 and 1970. It opened this past Friday, and is already quite popular. You can read the museum’s description of the exhibition here
What about Other Payphones?
Payphones across the US have been disappearing for decades. In 1999, there were over 2 million payphones scattered across the US. As of 2018, a bare 100,000 were estimated to still exist. Payphones as a whole have had a short life. The first payphone, created by William Gray and George Long, was installed in Connecticut in 1889. By 1902 there were over 80,000 payphones. 1995 saw the peak of the payphone business, with an estimated 2.6 million across the nation. Just a short 6 years later, companies began leaving the payphone business and payphones began to fall out of use.
Even famous payphones weren’t immune. The Mojave Phone Booth, made famous by Godfrey Daniels, was destroyed in 2000. (But if you still want the magic of the Mojave Phone Booth, you can still call the number.)
Amazingly enough, you can still purchase a payphone if you would want one! Payphone.com, based in Houston TX, is still providing payphones. There are pushes to save and conserve public payphones, and some states, like Indiana, will let you request a payphone be installed if there is a “Compelling Public Need”.
Perhaps all is not yet lost for the remaining 100,000 payphones in the US, although time is nearly up for those in NYC