How to Turn a Rotary Phone Into a Push-button Phone

IMG_6841Last month, AT&T forced us to switch to a voice over internet protocol (VOIP) phone service. When they did so my beloved Western Electric 500 rotary phone (that sits atop the cat scratcher I blogged about yesterday) could no longer dial outgoing calls. So much for backwards compatibility!

Thankfully, some Google searching led me to a device you can install in your rotary phone to turn it into a hybrid rotary/push-button phone. Old Phone Work’s rotary pulse to tone converter not only made the phone dial again but also added last number redial and stored numbers.


You need to be somewhat of a phone geek to install this gadget. It took me about an hour to sort out the wiring with directions specifically for WE500s that I downloaded from the Old Phone Works website. Thankfully, many vintage phones, such as ours, have labeled connections and are easy to rewire. The Old Phone Works pulse-to-tone converter, pictured above, fits completely within our old phone. The phone dials just as it used to, but at the end of each turn of the dial a pulse is emitted. The pulse-to-dial converter I bought won’t work on a conventional phone line (non-VOIP) as the voltages are too high. For non-VOIP service Old Phone Works has this pulse to tone converter.

The reasons we still have a land line–as well as why we haven’t switched to cable service–are complicated and will have to wait for a future blog post. But right now I’m enjoying the novelty of navigating phone trees with a dial phone. It’s one of the more ridiculous projects around the compound, but I like that a 50 year old phone, built like a tank, is still working.

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  1. Hey, we still have one of these tucked away. I didn’t know you could convert them, but we’re going to try. Thanks for the info.

  2. Very interesting! I miss the bell ring of the old phones. Years ago, we replaced our old, rental phone (remember that?) with one of the new ones and the first time it rang I had no idea what that annoying chirping was. Thought a squirrel had gotten in the house.

    Where we live, you’d need not be embarrassed to admit you’ve got a land line. Everyone does. There’s no cell service for miles around and our house; in fact, cell service is spotty outside of the few cities (they’d be called towns in other states) here and there. And yes, we live in the U.S.

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