In the 1930s, Bell Labs asked Henry Dreyfuss to create a new telephone set, to be used across AT&T’s vast phone system. Dreyfuss was a young man and an emerging voice in the field of industrial design. Designers including Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy, and Walter Dorwin Teague were reinventing the point of contact between people and equipment, often by unifying mechanical parts inside smooth, sculptural shells.

Dreyfuss and Bell Labs unveiled their Model 302 telephone in 1937. The object’s curving sidewalls swoop upward from a square base to cradle the graceful arc of the handset. Indebted to Jean Heiberg’s 1931 phone for the Swedish company Ericsson, the Model 302 is a functional artifact of extraordinary beauty.

Dreyfuss conducted observational research to design the Model 302. He wanted to know how people used phones in their daily lives. Below, hear Dreyfuss’s story about masquerading as a phone repairman’s assistant.

Story adapted from Henry Dreyfuss, Designing for People (1955). Voice actor: Sean Carusi

This and other objects by Henry Dreyfuss appear in the exhibition Beautiful Users, 12 December 2014 – 26 April 2015.

Ellen Lupton is Senior Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art.

3 thoughts on “Model 302 Telephone, Henry Dreyfuss

Interesting choice of metal over Bakelite as used in the Heilberg design and earlier models.

What reliable references are you using to claim that it was Dreyfuss who designed the model 302? The patents show otherwise.

Ellen, Im sure that you are aware that Mr. Dreyfuss had very little to do with the design of the Bell System’s 302 telephone. It was the work of George Lum, a 25 to 30 year veteran of Bell Labs. I would be happy to share the research with you that clarified this issue for many, especially antique telephone collectors like me. Even Wikipedia has revised its information about the telephone.

Just thought you might like to know.

Gary Goff, Telephone Collectors International

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