Taken from Tribute to the Telephone.

Click here for circuit diagram of the 701B model

The roots of the Princess phone date back to 1955 when Bartlett Miller was appointed to head a new department in Bell's Merchandising Department.  He believed that the Bell System had done a good job providing the customer with what they needed - but weren't listening to what they wanted.  In essence he brought the concept of market research to the forefront.  The world was changing; conveniences were becoming commonplace and people wanted more than just the main phone in the hallway. They wanted a phone that would fit on a bedside table; they wanted their teenagers out of the main hall too!  Miller realised this potential market and went after it.  In 1956 Henry Dreyfuss was commissioned to design this new set and by the end of that year field trials had begun.  The resulting set hinted at the oval of the 202 D1 Base desk station.  However this set included the network components.  More importantly a light was provided to act as a bedside night light and an aid to dialling in the middle of the night.


Several versions evolved from the basic 701 model to include message waiting lamp, two line options, secretarial service, exclusion and hold features. The rotary dial was present on the original model followed by the 10 button touch tone and then the 12 button touch-tone pad. The original 701 sets didn't have room for a standard ringer so an E1 ringer was wall mounted as an adjunct. The resulting set was a full 3 pounds lighter than the 500 desk sets - so light in fact that a weight was later added to keep the phone from spinning during dialling and falling off the table on the slightest tug. This practice ended in 1963 when the M1A ringer was developed. It fit snugly into the base and set from that point on were designated 702. The mid seventies modularised the Princess.  Sets were not only manufactured modular, they were also retrofitted in the field. During a brief period in the early eighties a CS version was sold to customers through the Phone Centre stores. They didn't trust the customer to figure out how to get the light to work so they removed it altogether.  This was followed by the Signature Princess. It was only leased by AT&T and had a line powered dial, was tone pulse switchable and had volume control The night light feature still required an external transformer. Rumour has it that these phones ended their production run in 1994. I've also heard that some Princesses are still being leased by the public - if you know for sure let me know.

Shedding Light on the Lamp

Either of the two bulbs listed below are direct replacements:

  • General Electric # GE259

  • Chicago Miniature # CM259

The light bulbs are available from:

Mouser Electronics - USA

(800) 346-6873

Open 7AM - 8PM (CTZ) Monday-Friday
Mouser Stock #606-CM259
Chicago Miniature Incandescent Lamp - T-3 ¼ WDG 6.3V .25 CM259

They were 51 cents each or 45 cents each for 10 last time I checked. They have NO minimum order (rare these days!) They have three locations; one in Santee, California, another in Mansfield, Texas, and the third in Randolph, New Jersey.


The lamp circuit makes use of the black and yellow conductors in standard station wire. Its powered by a small transformer that plugs into an outlet. The lamp itself is a small screw bulb that could be replace by the customer - yes you heard me right, the customer was actually able to make a repair.  Access to the bulb was made by turning and removing the socket from the bottom of the phone. The slot in the lamp base was curved to best fit a coin so that no real tools would be required. A switch in the circuit at the rear of the phone let the customer turn off  the night light.


In night light mode current passes through a dropping resistor to dim the bulb. Contacts in the hookswitch bypass the resistor to provide full illumination for dialling when the handset was picked up.

The 2012A transformer originally powered the lamp. It had solid plug blades that caused problems because it tended to fall out of wall outlets. The correct part number for the 2012A replacement is the 2012C. Both the A and C versions put out 6-8V AC. (There was also a 2012D which put out 15-18V and replaced the 2012B.) The photos in the BSP (Section 501-136-100, ISS 7) show the 2012A and B with solid prongs and the C & D versions with folded prongs.

[Webmaster's note: At the suggestion of one of my website visitors, here is some info on where you might be able to purchase these transformers made by AT&T as part of a kit which also includes the modular adapter and line cord.    The kits may be obtained from Dennis Owens of Vintage Telephone Restoration.   His phone number is 1-609-886-3352 (USA).]

To combat this a 2A clamp was designed and implemented to hold it firmly in place. Later the 2012C transformer fixed the problem. It had folded prong blades the held tighter and didn't require the clamp.  In the eighties a modular solution was developed. The transformer had a cord with a modular plug. This was plugged into a Y adapter designed specifically for this task. The 218 adapter turns up in modular schematics.

Inside the 701


While they may not have got a ringer into the 701 princesses they did manage to squeeze in a bunch of stuff.  The weight mentioned earlier (P15E719) came with a cardboard insulator to protect the terminal strip and a spring clip to hold it in place. These were installed at the factory and also retrofitted in the field. In some instances party line identification involved a scheme that wired the ringer from tip to ground instead of across tip and ring. It was known as "Tip Party Identification". But without a ringer something had to be done. To solve this problem an induction coil with resistances equivalent to a ringer coil had to be added to the phone. The 1610 Inductor used a wedge to hold it in place and took the spot reserved for the weight. A 1635 inductor was later used. It had a mounting bracket and fit into the middle of the phone so that the weight could be used.  You might even get lucky and find a gas tube inside. This was used for a polarity ringing scheme on party lines.

The original 701 princess required a wall mounted ringer, the 702 ushered in a M1A ringer that just fit into the small space.

Colours Choices
The original 701 princess was introduced in White, Light Beige, Aqua Blue, Turquoise, and the all time favourite Pink. Later the more common colours of Ivory, Moss Green, Red Yellow, Black and Light Grey were made.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Gold and Clear sets could be special ordered. In the mid 1980s, Teal Blue sets were made for a short while.

In the 1990s sets were refurbished in Slate Blue, Peach and Cameo Green. The Signature Princesses were available in Pink, Light Blue White, Ivory and Peach.

Part Numbering
Its important to note that the 701 didn't have the vent slots that the 702 did - its a quick way to spot one.

  • 701B Original set without a ringer

  • 701D The D was for message waiting lamp

  • 702BM The 2 designates an internal ringer, the M is for modular

  • 1702B 10 button Touch-Tone

  • 2702B 12 button Touch-Tone

  • 711B - Slide switch /push button, two line with exclusion

  • 712B - Turn Key, 2 line with hold (and several other combinations)

  • 713B - 2 line with Exclusion or hold

  • CS2702BM - Touch-Tone, no illumination

  • 2703BMG - Signature Princess

Now another historical look at the development of the Princess phone based on my research prior to the article above:

In 1955, Western Electric began work on the Princess telephone. Prior to the Princess telephone, clunky desk telephones prevailed. The Princess was designed to be a “bedroom telephone.” It was smaller and sleeker than what was known as the “500 set ” and was lighter in weight. It had a rotary dial and no internal bell when it was first introduced to the Bell System customers. It's name was chosen from a list of 300 suggested names. The name "Princess" was chosen for this model for its small size and decorative oval shape.

Industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss , who had assisted Bell since the early 1930's, was asked by the Bell System to design the Princess, partly due to his very popular design of the "500 " desk set which was the "basic" phone for many decades. He worked with Bell Labs engineers and Western Electric's Indianapolis Model Shop to create a model that was lighter and smaller--designed for use on night tables--than the standard model. The Princess had an illuminated dial, and came in five colours. The Princess was test marketed in Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

In 1956, he had prototyped models of the Princess which were shown to telephone subscribers in Richmond and Cleveland for their reactions to this new style. When Western completed design of the Princess, it operated two field trials, one of which was in Pennsylvania. Customer comments were highly critical. Western Electric had designed the small, oval-shaped base with all the internal equipment on the left side. According to Western, the right side was empty so new equipment that would make the Princess more versatile could be added at a later date. The uneven distribution of weight caused the set to move around the table as a subscriber tried to dial. The subscriber needed one hand to hold the base in place and the other to dial, while squeezing the handset between neck and shoulder.

Bell Labs chose to disregard the complaints and gave Western Electric the green light to manufacture the Princess sets as designed. Tens of thousands of sets went out to subscribers, and the result was thousands of disgruntled customers and thousands of calls to individual operating company repair service facilities.

Northern Electric Company (the Canadian equivalent of the United States' Western Electric), which was producing a similar but better designed set, ran full-page ads reminding subscribers that Western Electric's Princess was a two-piece set for three-handed people! However, a rather interesting point on Northern's version of the princess: Early on in the production run they used a glue for the base pad that lost its adhesion when it had a couple months to cure on the shelf. As a result, the base pads fell off of the phones when they were removed from their boxes. These were commonly referred to as the "barefoot contessa".

Finally, because of sheer customer pressure, Western produced a counterweight to be mounted on the right side of each set and thousands of repairmen made scheduled visits to retrofit the tens of thousands of Princess sets installed in the marketplace. Millions of dollars were expended because the infallible Bell Laboratories rejected their own test results.

Even though the Western Electric Princess phone was officially introduced in 1959, it wasn't until 1963 that Bell Labs designed a ringer small enough to fit into the base of the Princess phone. Prior to 1963, the ringer was external and mounted on the wall's baseboard.

The Princess phone requires a separate A.C. line-powered transformer to power the light inside the phone. The Trimline telephone required a wall transformers at first. The round button Trimline touch-tone model and rotary model of the same period used incandescent lamps powered by external transformers. When Western Electric went to the square buttons on the Trimline, they changed over to line powered LED's. Incandescent bulbs require too much power and too high a voltage drop to be powered from the CO. LEDs overcame these problems but they weren't commercially available until the mid seventies.

The following was a News Release by AT&T which briefly touches on some history of the Princess* telephone while introducing the "new" Princess* (original text found at ):

Steve O'Donnell
201-581-3904 (office)
201-228-6707 (home)

Mike Zeaman
201-581-3938 (office)
908-277-1105 (home)


Classic AT&T Princess phone now available with new technology

PARSIPPANY, N.J. -- AT&T has redesigned the Princess telephone, adding updated technology to the classic design introduced in 1959 and currently featured in a New York City museum exhibition.

The new Princess design retains the compact oval shape, lighted dial and real bell ringer of the classic Princess phone, which originally was described with the theme line "It's little, it's lovely, it lights."

The most significant change to the original design is the addition of a receiver-volume control, conveniently located on the front of the set and designed to boost hard-to-hear higher frequencies as it increases volume, according to Gerry Yorkshire, product manager for the Princess phone.

The new design also includes a ringer-volume control, selectable touch-tone/dial-pulse dialling, and a raised center "locator bar" on the dial pad for easy dialling. With the addition of an optional transformer, this new model's dial will stay lit continuously, for use as a night light.

Cooper-Hewitt, National Museum of Design of the Smithsonian Institution in New York City, features the original Princess phone in its current exhibition [editor's note: August 17, 1993 - January 2, 1994], Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office. The exhibit examines mechanical objects designed for use by women in 20th century America, including the telephone, typewriter, washing machine and iron.

Calling most phones "neutral, anonymous objects until the 1950s, when the domestic phone was reconceived as an alluring commodity made to appeal to women," exhibit materials describe the Princess phone as "feminine by name and feminine by design."

The new Princess phone will be available through AT&T's Consumer Lease Services program.

"The redesigned Princess phone is one of AT&T's new Signature series, developed specifically for the lease customer," said Yorkshire. "Signature phones incorporate the best features of some of AT&T's classic telephones that make these older phones popular even today), as well as many newer features customers have come to expect, such as memory dialing, hold and last-number redial."

Speaking about the Signature line in general, Laura Antonucci, manager for the Signature series, said, "We developed this new line specifically to give our customers some attractive new products with added features, without increasing the lease rate. That means better value for our customers."

Customers who lease the Signature Princess phone will enjoy all the benefits of AT&T's lease program, including free, immediate replacement of products for any reason; the convenience of dealing with more than 1,000 AT&T Phone Centres and authorised Services Agencies across the country; the flexibility of having products delivered to their homes, free of shipping or handling charges; and the support of a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week, toll-free assistance number. The new Princess phone will be available in white, ivory, rose pink, peach and aqua.

Customers can call 1-800-555-8111 for the location of the nearest AT&T Phone Centre or AT&T- authorised Service Agency, or for more information about leasing the Princess phone.

*Princess is a registered trade mark of AT&T.

Often imitated, never duplicated

The "Princess" name is the registered trademark of AT&T for this telephone model and the name has been incorrectly used by the public to describe other styles of phones like the Trimline and the Celebrity models, which were both produced by Western Electric for AT&T, and Princess "clones" produced by competitors of AT&T.  These competitor models were:

  • "Cinderella", made by Kellogg, originally. (ITT bought Kellogg, but the company is now known as Cortelco)

  • " Petite", made by Stromberg Carlson, but the company is now known as Siemens

  • " Starlite", made by Automatic Electric

  • "Contessa Phone", made by Northern Electric/Northern Telecom


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Last revised: January 30, 2021