Jun 212013
Western Electric WE500

It’s been a while since we posted any phones here, so I though it time to show some. I’ve been keeping busy fixing them all this time, just for some reason I did not document it. This report covers two rotary phones brought in by the same customer

Both these suffered from similar issues – they worked, somewhat, but required service.

The first one we see is an Automatic Electric model 80. This example is interesting as while it looks much like every other rotary phone out there, it’s not. It appears to be a very common WE500 (the red phone in this report). Instead, it’s a look-a-like, very similar in appearance externally but internally quite the different animal. The typical rotary phone uses a series of mechanical or electro-mechanical switches to control all functions, where as this model is more of a hybrid, and some functions are purely electronic. Because the latter takes up less space, the inside of the phone is rather cavernous.

↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ Scroll down for photos and to comment ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓

This model was produced from the 1950s till the mid 1970s and it’s believed that a number of changes were made internally to the design over that time. Older models may be different.

Automatic Electric, from the late 1950s on, was owned by GTE (General Telephone and Electronics) and some sets may be labelled as such, but are otherwise the same as the one we see here. In my experience at least, this make of phone seems fairly rare in Canada and in fact I am not sure if AE ever had a presence in the Great White North, although in the US these phones seem common enough. This means this one, and the few others I have seen, originally came from south of the border.

This phone required work on the ringer. It appears that someone unceremoniously cut all the leads to it, which begs the question why. It’s could be many reasons but one possibility comes to mind – in the old days, your telephone company would often charge you for each set sharing the same line. By disconnecting the ringer, you could “hide” the second phone from the system, saving some money.

That ringer was fixed and rewired and a battery of tests performed. At that same time, every single competent inside was inspected, cleaned, adjusted and tightened. Finally a standard wall jack was added.

The next phone, which looks much like the other, (only in nice cherry red) is actually a more common example from a different maker. This one was made by Northern Electric (later Northern Telecom then simply Nortel), a Canadian made copy of the the ubiquitous US Western Electric model WE500. This was hands down the most common phone seen from the 1950s, well into he 1980s (production started in 1949 and lasted until 1984 and perhaps even later).

It’s virtually indistinguishable from it’s US made counterpart and visually only a small Northern Electric (or Northern Telecom) marking on the case, usually near the hand hold, and a Made in Canada stamp on the chassis, tells us where it’s from.

Don’t forget to LIKE or SHARE this post.

This one too had the ringer disconnected, which was fixed, along with a jack added. And of course at the same time, everything was checked and tuned up. Every phone gets that treatment.

In spite of its long production run this model changed very little over that time. Its simple but robust switchgear assured a long service life even in tough environments. A real anachronism by the 1970s, it continued to be made in huge numbers anyway, even late into the production run. It’s was that solid a design and since it was the base phone offered by many telecom companies (back when you leased your phone), this alone assured its popularity.

Most of the time you’ll see this model in black, something like half to three quarters based upon my experience. However, they did offer many different colours over time (at extra cost of course), some rare. Our colour is somewhat common based on my experience and is quite desirable. This particular phone was made in 1971.

In addition to Northern Electric in Canada, other US makers were licensed to make this model (it was that popular) and you’ll occasionally see some marked for ITT or Stromboli-Carlson instead of Western Electric.

The WE500 was one of many in the 500 series line and by far the most common. There was a wall phone variant (same internals, different case), various multi-line systems and others, all 5xx sub models. In addition there is the WE1500 and variants, which was the push button phone in the same case. You may see some off these in future reports.

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

Date: June, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.

Automatic Electric M80

An Automatic Electric model 80 rotary phone in pieces.

Automatic Electric 80 phone

This one required a complete rebuild to work.

Model 80 Automatic Electric

The M80 looks very much like the more common Western Electric model WE500 (below).

Western Electric WE500 phone

This Western Electric WE500 is in the desirable colour cherry red.

WE 500 phone

This one required some work but overall was in fine shape.

Western Electric WE500

Probably the most common phone from the 1950-80s, most WE500s were plain black.


Join the discussion...

4 Comments on "Automatic Electric 80 and Northern Electric WE500 phones rebuilt"

newest oldest
Subscribe only
toni sweet
toni sweet

Can you make any rotary phone work? I was told by telus they don’t support them anymore. My moms old phone looks much like the red one but in yellow and when I plugged it in, nothing happened. It’s at least from the 1960s because I remember it when I was a kid and I recently inherited when she passed on. I’d love to use it if I can.


Just picked up a M80 labeled Automatic Electric in Prince George B.C. Bottom is stamped with CSA number and has a BCTel sticker “not for resale”. Plugged it into the phone jack and it works beautifully right down to its crisp ring:) Have not yet opened it up, as there has been no need so far. Cleaned and polished up like new. What a great phone for $10.