Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This site’s content basically comes down to two things. First, posts directed at one specific person, usually my wife or her husband. Second, posts about things that no one gives a shit about. This is one falls under the latter.

I recently came into possession of this incredibly awesome phone.

It’s a Swisstel, 9 inch, yellow wonder speckled with blue confetti. It has a flash button for call waiting, a redial button for calling back the Ghostbusters, and hold button that doesn’t actually put anyone on hold since you have to keep it pressed to maintain the muting function. In an effort to boost voice clarity, the bottom 3 inches impressively curl toward the mouth like an armadillo shell.

It’s a marvel of plastic and science.

However, I don’t know anything else about it. I casually mentioned that it was a Swisstel phone like that was supposed to mean anything to anybody. But a google of Swisstel produces absolutely zilch. So what can we learn of this phone? To the library! With our library cards of learning!

According to a 1988 press release, this phone was Switzerland’s first foray into the vast market of America’s Debbie Gibson-inspired Electric Youth youth.
Swisstel (US) hopes to achieve US telephone market penetration of 3-4% by end-1989. The company is a unit of Ascom Hldg, Switzerland's largest and the world's 11th largest telecommunications concern. Swisstel's 1st product, a lightweight, futuristic phone offered in 10 colors is currently being marketed in the US, which the company plans to use as a base for worldwide market expansion.
But sales didn’t take off like the Swiss had hoped. And it didn’t help that the initial price for this fantastic piece of junk was $70. A second press release the next year reveals that they may have over-estimated the phone’s appeal. According to the Swisstel president,

"The result of those earlier miscalculations was that while we met our fiscal goals, we didn't achieve our sales expectations."

It went on,
Taking a corrective course, Swisstel has made a $ 30 price cut on its unique line of slim-line phones effective in September. The retail price has gone from $ 59.95 to $ 29.95, while actual retail selling prices could be as low as $ 19.95.
By 1990, there were no more mentions of Swisstel selling phones anywhere. In fact, I don’t think they even existed anymore. A $50 phone made from $3 worth of plastic was too much for even the likes of that handsome rich kid Steve Sanders. The Swiss tucked their tails between their legs and limped back to the Land of Chocolate to make army knives and Papal bodyguards.

But that’s not where this story ends. The point of this post wasn’t to brag about my awesome new phone that no one else in the world has. This post is intended to draw attention to the fact that Carnegie Mellon University maintains one of the largest collections of Swiss graphic design and poster art in North America, as far as I can tell. Perhaps the world? But by browsing their extensive assemblage I came across a second confirmed image of this phone. Then even more.

I don’t understand how these things, even at their ridiculous prices, didn’t achieve 50% market penetration. But I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact it looks like a giant wang when you turn it over.



Drew said...

Hm, glad to see that my alma mater is finally pulling its weight with the documentation of Swiss wangphones. Truly an underdeveloped field of research. I feel a thesis paper coming on! I think the poster of winking Swiss grandpa using the exploding wang phone reaches apotheosis of Swiss graphic design.

BB Church said...

The Swisstel ad had me laughing for five minutes straight...

J said...

I bought a Swisstel phone in the early 90s for maybe $5. Still works fantastic, I think it was quite well-made. When I travel to Rome I pack it [takes up no space] along with my MagicJack and laptop and bam. Free calls back to the US. BTW mine is a dull pink with a dialog balloon pointing to the speaker, a la Roy Leichtenstein. PS The Swiss are responsible for Swatch. So I think taking that aesthetic to the phone is not such a stretch. Bye

Thomas said...

I have a Swisstel and it is indeed a great phone. Mine is bright blue w/ matching straight cord; a yard sale purchase for $1. Nice work on finding and old ad too.

Jeff said...

I bought a black one at Donaldson in Minnesota for $14 in 1989 or 90. I recall leaving the store and thinking I should have bought more. I looved it and used it for at least ten years. The sound quality was great. Thne it died. There is a beat up on on Ebay today 1/13/2010, but I'll pass on it

javieth said...

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Anonymous said...

I have to add my two cents' worth. I have a Swisstel phone from about 1990 It's translucent, so you can see the insides! Still works great, despite me pulling the cord tight many times. I'd buy another one. I miss corded phones...they worked.

Anonymous said...

12-15-2010: I have a basic black Swisstel phone that I purchased from Goodwill which had been marked it down from $7 to $3.50. It was slightly used but was repacked in it's plastic box with instructions. I was looking up about the phone and came across you site. Now don’t know how many people would think the phone itself looked that much like “a giant wang". Also in the store the phone was displayed round end up in a clear hard plastic box. However on display in the store, the phone looked like a phallic symbol for another reason. The display box my phone was packed in has straight sides except they expanded the width at the very top using a sort of mushroom curved shape.