Oct 222012
Northern Telecom rotary phone

Nearly indistinguishable from its American counterpart the Northern Telecom Model 500 is by far the most common rotary telephone seen in Canada. Every household from the 1950s until the 1980s seemed to have one (all my friends parents did). And most like this one, were black.

Based on the US made Western Electric model of the same number, the only visual difference between them is the small NT logo on the case. Parts for these are mostly interchangeable regardless of date or country of manufacture.

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Even in spite of their age most phones I see are in fine shape internally and this example was no exception. Generally a quick rebuild it all that’s needed to bring them back to life. The design is very robust and most parts can be rebuilt in-kind. And if not there are some donors phones in the shop that will provide the needed pieces. The model seen here dates from 1972 and the phone number shown on the dial shows it came from the Drunheller area of Alberta (the number is now a car wash).

Designed by the noted Henry Dreyfuss firm, this model was produced in quantity from 1949 until the 1980s. This company also was responsible for the design of earlier Western Electric phones and later the very popular Princess phone. They also designed locomotives, buildings, cameras and other interesting things.

Earlier Canadian made models of this phone are marked Northern Electric, which was the predecessor company to Northern Telecom. Today this company is known as Nortel.

There is a sticker on this phone labelled “property of AGT”. This company, known as Alberta Government Telephones, managed the province’s entire phone network (save for Edmonton who had their own municipal government system) from early in the twentieth century until the 1990s. At that. time the company was privatized and the name changed to Telus.

Technically this phone is still owned by this successor company, as in the past (in Alberta and BC anyway) one only leased a phone from the carrier and you never owned them. Just for fun I called Telus to see what they had to say about this and after they stopped laughing they assured me that these old phones were no longer wanted by them and there are no restrictions on their trade or use. If you have one so marked the phone cops will not drop by to claim it.

Colours were an extra cost option on this model and some are quite rare. About three quarters of the examples I see are black. Of the non-black one’s most were American made Western Electric 500s, leading me to believe that Northern Electric/Northern Telecom did not make many coloured ones.

Like most phones that come in, there are some small blemishes on this unit like scratches and such. I find them desirable to keep since it adds to the character and the client agreed with this.

The Northern Telecom / Western Electric 500 was also produced in touch tone form known as the models 1500 and 2500. These used the same body but with push buttons in place of the rotary mechanism.

To see some other phones I’ve fixed, follow these links…
Automatic Electric 80 and Northern Electric WE500 phones rebuilt.
KTAS D08 phone rebuilt.

If you have an old rotary or push button phone you’d like fixed or rebuilt, use the link below to contact us…
Hire Chris and Connie.

Date: October 2012.
Location: Calgary Alberta.

Northern Telecom 500 phone

A Northern Telecom model 500 rotary phone in pieces.

WE 500 rotary phone

This Canadian made example is the same as the US model.

Northern Telecom phone

In spite of its age (1972 for this one), this phone is in fine shape.

AGT rotary phone

Property of AGT – Alberta Government Telephones.

WE model 500 phone

This is a donor phone that provided a few parts for the rebuild.

Northern Telecom rotary phone

With the addition of an RJ11 cable, this phone is complete.


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11 Comments on "Northern Telecom WE 500 phone rebuilt"

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Kelvin 1982
Kelvin 1982

Amazing I did not know these old phones could be used today. I want one!


Can you fix the touchtone version of this phone? I have one in red I’d like to use.

martin cottam
martin cottam

l love the North American model 500. I am after a push button phone in the 500 series.
Martin UK

James Tang
James Tang

I have one of these phones. It calls out okay, but does not ring or pick up. Can you fix it?


Hello. I have a northern electric rotary phone, which is believe is a model 500. I got it to work, I got a ring tone and can make calls, but the phone doesn’t ring. If you have any suggestions or answers please let me know. Thanks, Christine.