Friday, March 18, 2005

The history of the Pager

Ahhh, the pager. It's still around, but not in the same way it was about 10 years ago. Back in the heyday of the pager, EVERYONE had one.

A pager is "a dedicated RF (radio frequency) device that allows the pager user to receive messages broadcast on a specific frequency over a special network of radio base stations." In other words "blah blah blah, blabaty blah blah. Blah blah, I hate rotary dial phones."

The pager was invented WAY back in 1921 for the police department in Detroit. 28 years later, a man named Al Gross patented the device and it was put to work by other police departments and hospitals. However the device did not win approval until 1958. By that point Al Gross had moved from inventing to his other love, ballroom dancing.

Al was as graceful as a swan. He could maneuver around the dance floor like nobody else. It was no surprise to Al when the Coconut Hat Lounge invited him to be a "paid dancer."

The "paid dancer" or cashdancer was a very popular occupation back in early fifties. Nightclub owners would pay them to 'cut a rug' thus encouraging others to come out and do the same.

This occupation was the subject of many TV shows and movies at the time including the famous "I Love Lucy" episode "Lucy Wants to be a Cashdancer".

Here is an excerpt from that show:

RICKY: Dios mios Lucy! You can't be in the show!
LUCY: But I gotta be in the show.
RICKY: Nope.
LUCY: Then I’m gonna start cheating on you again!
RICKY: ¡Maldígale mujer! ¡Deseo que acababa de casar Greta Grabo!

Anyway, the word "pager" was first used in 1959 by Motorola. The first consumer pager was introduced by Motorola. It was very large. If you ever see the movie "Casino", there is a scene where Robert Deniro gives one of these large pagers to Sharon Stone. There is also a scene where Deniro wears a pair of Mr. Magoo glasses. That was a funny movie.

The pager grew in popularity and by 1980 over 3 million were in use worldwide. The range was not very good, so they were primarily used by companies to page employees while on a particular site.

During the next ten years "wide-area paging" was developed. This meant that people could be paged virtually anywhere. By 1994 there were over 60 million pagers in use.

By 1990, wide-area paging had been invented and over 22 million pagers were in use. By 1994, there were over 61 million pagers in use and pagers became popular for personal use.

It was around this time that the term "beeper" became an alternate word for pager. The "pager vs. beeper" debate raged for over 8 years resulting in at least 20 deaths.

The pager of the 1990's has been slowly disappearing during the past ten years. It had a pretty simple purpose: when someone called your pager number they would push buttons on their phone and those numbers would be quickly transmitted to the pager. The pager would then beep (or vibrate, if you had one of the better pagers) and the number would appear on their display. Then the user could either call them back, or ignore them completely. It was the golden age of communication.

In addition to typing their phone number, the person sending the page could send little code messages to the pager. These included:

080808 - Kisses and hugs.

411 - I need information

10-4 - Is everything OK?

121 - I need to talk to you alone.

143 - I love you.

1776 - You're revolting.

5-0 - Let's go to Hawaii.

32 - I bought an O.J. Simpson jersey

54 - I'm watching the movie 54 starring Mike Myers.

054 - God this movie sucks.

1-8-4-6 - I ate for six (only used by women pregnant with quintuplets.)

789 - Used as a punch line to the joke "why is 6 afraid of 7?".

After the advent of affordable cell phones, pager use dropped. Really creepy "pager stores" shut down and were replaced with creepier "check cashing stores".

Then, new pagers were invented with the ability to send text and more from one pager to another.

How much longer will the pager survive? Time only knows.


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