William Gray (1850 – 1903)
Born in Tarriffville, Connecticut in 1850, William Gray enjoyed tinkering at an early age. He became an apprentice at a machine shop and eventually went to work at Pratt & Whitney. While there, he came up with various ideas, which he later patented, including a belt shifter and an inflatable torso protector for baseball players.
When Gray had some trouble finding a telephone to call a doctor for an ailing relative, he came up with the idea of a public phone. He developed and sold the invention to Southern New England Telephone Company who installed the first pay telephone at a bank in Hartford, Connecticut in 1889. Unlike pay telephones with which most of us are familiar today, the first pay telephone was a postpay machine meaning one paid for the call after it was placed.
The pay phone was such a success that Gray founded his own business – the Gray Telephone Pay Station Company, which operated from 1889 until 1948 when the company was acquired by Automatic Electric. William Gray died during the success of his business in 1903.
Answerbag.com. Who Made the First Pay Phone? Accessed at http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/70548 on September 1, 2010.
Baseball Biography Project. http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&pid=19540&bid=1573
Radio Museum. History of the radio manufacturer Gray Manufacturing Co., Inc. Hartford, CT. http://www.radiomuseum.org/dsp_hersteller_detail.cfm?company_id=11120
Photo Credit: Gray Telephone Pay Station Co. Catalog, No. 22, 1912, 96 pp.