There were some concerns in the early twentieth century around sanitation, health and telephony and whether diseases or infection could be passed via a telephone mouthpiece or earpiece, due to epidemics of tuberculosis and influenza around this time. People began to consider methods for providing a barrier protection against cross contamination that was thought to occur by sharing intimate objects, such as telephone mouthpieces. Several sanitary telephone mouthpieces, became available to adapt to the transmitters of most telephones. These mouthpieces were originally made of glass or porcelain and could be sterilised by boiling in water.

The GPO, on the other hand, did not approve of any attachments on their telephones, so glass and porcelain sanitary telephone mouthpieces were designed to be screwed into the transmitter of a ‘candlestick’ style (also wall phones with a fixed transmitter), replacing the existing mouthpiece tube.  These sanitary mouthpieces could also be easily removed and cleaned.

From 1916 onwards, more sanitisers appeared in the market place, probably due to the prevalence of many infections and diseases around the time of the First World War, especially influenza and, from 1918 onwards, Spanish Flu.

Due to the introduction of Bakelite telephones and the new Bakelite Transmitter No. 22 in 1930, most sanitary telephone mouthpieces disappeared gradually from sale as they would only fit the older Transmitter No. 1.

Instead new types appeared but not in such numbers.  One type was horseshoe shaped and fitted in the spittoon style mouthpiece.

A company called Phonotas also operated in the UK.  They provided, at a price, cleaners who came to the office and sanitised the telephones.  Mainly women, they had a smart uniform and carried a small case a cleaning materials.  They also had a heavy weight that kept the switch hooks down when cleaning the handset.  This company is still in existence but has had many changes of ownership and names over the years.

Below are some pictures of various sanitisers, mostly from the BT archives.  Dates are when the pictures were taken.

GEC "Magnet" Glass Sanitiser mouthpiece - Code number K7727 (1916)


Porcelain Sanitiser ( 1931)


Phonedis Sanitiser (1931)


Phonedis Sanitiser (1931)


Gledhill and Stones, Blackburn (1928)
This Sanitiser used tablets which could be replaced in the clip on holder


Gledhill and Stones, Blackburn (1928)


Asceptiphon Sanitiser (1930)
Probably fitted to a Telephone No. 72


Sanitiser applicator (1932)
This looks like a spray device which operates when the receiver is placed on hook


Sanitiser (1929)


Telephone No. 2 with Sanitiser (1930)


Telephone No. 4 with Sanitiser (1930)


Sanitiser (1931)


Mechanical Sanitiser (1931)


Sanitiser (1932)


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Last revised: February 24, 2022