Business Installs for the Intelligent Business


Western Electric 2831

Western Electric 20 Line PhoneWe recently came into posession of a Western Electric 2831 20 line phone, courtesy of NBC in Los Angeles.  Being Low Voltage Technicians and telephone experts, we decided to repurpose the device for use in one of our shows.  After the jump, we'll grow through our dissection and modifications and show off the final product!


This is our starting point.  Some of us actually remember these phones.  They were manufactured in the late 70's / early 80's and were primarily used at receptionist desks.  This beauty actually came out of NBC up in Los Angeles and was probably used for show call-ins - the "On Air" buttons were not put on by us!  As a side note, and to add to the nostalgia, the paper on the inserts looks to be typewritten and I can only imagine the poor soul who had to type them, cut them, unclip the covers, and put them back anytime a button function changed.  Thankfully, this wouldn't have happened that that often as Local Number Portability wasn't mandated until 1997 - but that's another blog post.  Back to our project!


Western Electric Phone


The cover simply unclips with a little bend to the outer plastic frame.  It looks as if this has been done once or twice before on our model as the cover plate is cracked in the center, under the retainer tab.  There are two screws on the right and left of phone which will allow us to remove the outer plastic frame.  Each row of call buttons has a screw on either side and there are two additional screws holding the number pad over the wiring panel and bell.


Western Electric Phone Internals


Now is where we get to the fun stuff!  What looks to be a mess of wires is actually a well organized, self-contained phone system.  As we can tell from the diagram below, the lines are nothing more than a pretty straight forward phone setup with a couple of minor modifications.


Western Electric Wiring Diagram


Red Line (6) - Ring - the active or positive side of the telephone circuit

Blue Line (3) - Tip - the grounded circuit side

Grey Line (1) - Sleeve - the neutral ground of a phone system

Green Line (4 & 5) - Hold - connected to the Hold button which would interrupt the call and break the circuit and release the button, but not terminate the call

Green Line (2) - Line Release - connected across all buttons in the row to release all of the lines simultaneously

Yellow Line (L & LG) - Light - these are the two we care about!


Western Electric Buttons


Telephones run on Direct Current (DC) and we had a couple of small transformers laying around that we figured should put out enough power to get the lights to work.  We really wanted a switch that would get the bell to ring but, unfortunately, we ran out of time. After connecting the Light and the Light Ground for each row together, and then again to our transformer...


Western Electric Wire Splices


We have a fully functioning (if only for the lights) telephone from 30 years ago!


Fully Functioning Western Electric Phone


If you have any comments, or if you still have one of these phones in your office - we'd love to hear from you!

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