Outside of the Doctor Who program, the police call box kiosk has become obsolete, not unlike the iconic telephone booth. However, the use of call boxes, or call stations, was cutting-edge in the 1880’s and dramatically changed the way in which police and fire departments responded to emergencies. In 1881, the Police Patrol and Signal Service in Chicago installed the first of these stations with direct phone lines back to police stations. These stations resembled guard sentry boxes or kiosks. The kiosks were “keyed” to limit public access and discourage false alarms. Eventually, with increasing demand, stand-alone call boxes were manufactured to easily mount on exterior walls or on lamp posts. Keys were typically issued to the police and occasionally for certain trusted members of the public. The big player in the manufacturing and installation of the alarm systems was the Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Company (still in existence), becoming notable for their recognizable trademark of a fist with lightning bolts.
By 1886, Gamewell had installed systems throughout 250 American cities. Gamewell also introduced home alarm systems that allowed the homeowner the ability to signal the police for specific criminal acts, including unusual choices such as “drunken servant”. Pamphlets like these were issued to advertise and promote Gamewell equipment and services across the country, often accompanied with endorsement quotes from local police departments or politicians.
According to Gamewell, these stations were
“Placed at the outset in the most turbulent district of the city, it so speedily increased the efficiency of the ” force,” by enabling them to concentrate promptly at any needed point, that, within a few months, the district was as easily cared for and protected as the average districts of the city. Patrolmen soon learned that in case of necessity they, or some one for them, could literally, with the rapidity of lightning, summons assistance from the nearest station, and that they could reckon with certainty on a response. And the criminal and riotous discovered that there was little chance for them where electricity was utilized so successfully in aid of law and its agents.”…..”The telegraph is the one thing that the criminals dread. It circumvents all their skill and their cunning; and this application of it is certain to prove as valuable in municipalities as it has heretofore proved in securing arrests at distant points.”
Two horse police wagon
“The patrol wagons…..furnished with an alarm gong, and under the seats, which run lengthwise on each side of the box, are compartments for handcuffs, come-alongs, clubs, blankets, canvas stretcher, ropes, a medicine chest and other articles necessary and convenient. One of the force accompanying the wagon is an expert, trained in the necessary expedients for resuscitating a case of suspended animation, stopping a flow of blood from a wound, and other temporary appliances for saving life and alleviating misery.”
A private alarm system
A small signal-box is specially constructed, to be placed in private residences, banks, hotels, or business offices to be connected directly with the system. When a signal-box is placed in a private residence, a key of the house is left at the station under seal. In case the occupants of the house have occasion, at any time, to call for assistance of the police, they can do so by simply pulling the hook attached to the box, and they can also indicate the nature of their want by using any one of ten different signals ; that is, they may indicate burglars, drunken servant, fire, etc.
The call station street kiosk
The street station shown is very extensively used; it is octagonal in shape, with pointed top, two feet four inches in diameter, and about eight feet in height. The top being made of glass and iron, it takes the place of a lamp post, and the gas or other lamp is placed upon the top, serving not only as a street light, but to light the interior of the station at night.
Stand-alone wall box
From the report of Alonzo Bowman, Chief of Police, January 31, 1888:
“The Electric Police Signal (the Gamewell System) and Telephone System has been in operation now some four months, and may be considered a success. An average of one hundred and twenty-five signals are sent into the station every twenty-four hours from the street boxes by the sergeants and patrolmen on street duty. Officers on patrol duty are required to signal from the boxes on their routes every hour, and on some routes oftener, the record being kept at the Chief’s office averaging thirty eight hundred per month.”
- [Police equipment. :Pamphlet box.]. [1889-1892].
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