Why the Red Telephone Box was Almost Silver and Other Facts About the K6

Though they’re not as numerous as they once were, the red telephone box is one of a handful of images that instantly conjures up visions of England. But it wasn’t always such an icon.

The Versions

When telephone booths first came on to the scene, they were definitely more function than form. Intent on finding something that would look good gracing countless street corners, nooks and crannies, the General Post Office launched a competition in 1923 to upgrade the booths. Three years later, a design by renowned architect Giles Gilbert Scott was chosen. He called it K2 - short for Kiosk 2 - and it was only available in London (that's a K2 - the big guy - standing next to a K6 in the picture). K3, the version that followed, was made of concrete and was a good deal cheaper to produce than the former cast iron model.

Because K4 incorporated elements that almost made it into a mini post office, only 50 of them were installed before they were deemed too costly (not to mention loud and intrusively large) to continue. K5 was a cheap model intended to last only for short periods of time.

It wasn’t until the K6 in 1935 that Scott hit upon the icon everyone knows and loves today. Created to celebrate King George V’s Silver Jubilee (though he died before any of them were actually installed), version number six included all of the best pieces of Scott’s prior attempts. Interestingly, many citizens abhorred the bright red color and requested something that fit in with the scenery better. The Post Office obligingly had many of the boxes painted a less jarring grey tone with red accents. Scott probably didn't care for any of it - he had intended the booths to be silver with a "greeny-blue" interior.

K7 came along, of course, but was so roundly criticized that it never left the planning stages. K8 made it out the door but never achieved the popularity of its predecessor. Not many were produced; it’s said that only 12 are in existence today. Scott’s ubiquitous K6 can still be found pretty readily, though it’s an endangered species. At one time there were more than 70,000 of them dotting the landscape; today it’s estimated that only a few thousand of them are still around.

The Crown

Before Queen Elizabeth came along, a vague representation of the Tudor crown was used on the telephone boxes. Wanting to put her stamp on things after she ascended to the throne in 1952, QEII had all of the crowns changed to St. Edward's Crown, the crown actually used in coronations. Scotland opted to keep the Crown of Scotland on theirs, and so all K6 boxes manufactured after 1955 had to be made with a slot in the top to insert the plate with the correct crown depending on the location of the booth.

The Recycling

Now that the booths are largely falling into disuse, people are getting creative with repurposing them. There’s a mini-library in Westbury-sub-Mendip, a Somerset man who converted one into a bathroom, one in Prickwillow that has been made into what must be one of the smallest art galleries ever made and a box located on a dock in the Virgin Islands that now serves as a handy outdoor shower.

If you’ve never had the experience of standing in a red telephone box, now you can - virtually.

Photo credit: Oxyman

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Museum of the City of New York
New York City Exhibition Celebrates the Rebellious Victorian-Era Women Who Made History
Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

At a time when women wore corsets and hooped skirts, the American Jewish actress Adah Isaacs Menken caused quite a stir when she appeared onstage in men’s clothing. It was the early 1860s, and her portrayal of a man in the play Mazeppa saw her ride into the theater on a horse while wearing a flesh-colored body stocking. Critics were shocked, but Menken paid no mind. Both on stage and in her daily life, she continued to disregard the norms of that era by cutting her hair short and smoking cigarettes in public.

Menken is just one of the daring women featured in a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Rebel Women: Defying Victorianism celebrates the New York women who challenged the rigid expectations of the Victorian era, and includes a collection of photographs, clothes, and prints from the period.

A caricatures of the "Grecian bend"
Museum of the City of New York

The 19th century was a period of constraints for women. "During this era, a woman could be considered a rebel simply by speaking in public, working outside the home, or disregarding middle‐class morality or decorum," according to a museum statement. “Yet 19th‐century New York City was full of women who defied those expectations in both overt and subtle ways.”

The exhibit highlights the accomplishments of historic figures who contributed to the advancement of women’s rights, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but it also casts a light on lesser-known figures—many of whom history was unkind to.

A photo of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Museum of the City of New York

An illustration of women voting
Museum of the City of New York

There’s Ann Trow Lohman, also known as “Madame Restell,” who was dubbed “The Wickedest Woman in New York” for providing birth control to women. Similarly, Hetty Green earned the moniker “The Witch of Wall Street” for her successful career as a stock broker.

Visitors will also learn about a predecessor to Rosa Parks: Elizabeth Jennings Graham, a black New Yorker who refused to get off of a segregated street car in 1854.

Not all of the women had such noble goals, though, and the exhibition shows that men didn’t have a monopoly on crime. Notorious pickpocket and con-woman Sophie Lyons used her smarts and beauty to steal from wealthy men and earned a reputation as "the most notorious confidence woman America has ever produced."

The exhibition will be on view until January 6, 2019, and tickets can be purchased online.

Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist, predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.

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