Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


QUITE APART from many young people seemingly not knowing how to do long division in any sensible way, they’ve also been known to ask things like “How does a dial phone work?” or “Why say ‘roll up’ the car window?” or “What’s a telex, Grandpa?”

Sorry, Wrong Number, 1948, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster.

To see phone dialing in action, stream the classic 1948 movie Sorry, Wrong Number. Briefly, it’s about an invalid woman who overhears a crossed telephone conversation about a murder plot. And guess who’s the victim?

One picture being worth a thousand words, look immediately below to answer the window “rolling” question.

The funny crank on our Miata door panel operates the window. It is cranked one way to “roll up” the window and the other way to “roll down” the window.

An engineering factoid: Electric window lifts save weight and minimize packaging hassles compared with the classic mechanism. Lotus made this point when it swapped window cranks for buttons.

This leaves “What’s a telex, Grandpa?” and takes me back to days before the Internet.


The earliest computers were stand-alone devices, often taking up entire rooms. They performed what was called “batch processing,” in which you gave the operator a stack of punch cards describing your task and data. If you were lucky (and didn’t make a programming error punching a card), you received the results, maybe, in a couple of hours or days.

The next phase was “time-sharing” on an individual computer. Each user communicated with the computer via a telex aka teleprinter, a gizmo that looked like a big elaborate typewriter.

Typewriter? A “typewriter,” ma petite, was a clattery mechanical keyboard with built-in printer.

As recently as 1983 (well, it seems recent to me), I used a telex in a Professional Management Program run by CBS, which owned R&T at the time.

The program, highly innovative at the time, had banks of telex machines running computer simulations of business challenges.

A Teletype Model 32 telex machine. The numbered gizmo on the right is its “telephone dial.” Image by Jamie-Flickr.

Pre-Internet, a telex machine was also one way of arranging foreign hotel accommodations. It was less costly than international phone conversations. And, unlike a telephone call, it wasn’t time-zone sensitive. My early R&T files contain telex numbers of favorite European and Japanese hotels.

Through the 1980s, fax machines replaced telex communications. And, in time, the Internet put paid to a lot of this excess hardware.

But I’m glad you asked, mon enfant. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

2 comments on “WHAT’S A TELEX, GRANDPA?

  1. Bill Kemp
    May 26, 2018

    In my senior year at Highschool (’71-72), I learned basic on a punch-tape modem time share (Pitt had the mainframe) like what you have pictured. Instead of getting into trouble, I was staying after school and skipping study halls to get more time to program. Fond memories. I remember writing a program to find prime numbers.

  2. Mark Sherman
    May 27, 2018

    When may the student correct the guru?

    That machine may have been called a “telex machine” when it was used on a telex network. It was more commonly called a “terminal” when connected to a computer (as in the application you mentioned).

    Respectfully, perhaps a better reply to your grandson’s question might be “It is a network that preceeded the internet. Look it up in Wikipedia.”

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