It's easy to think of the transition from candlestick telephones to rotary phones to cordless phones to iPhones as an unbroken string of progress, but along the way lie numerous failed, experimental or just plain weird phones that appear very odd to us today. (Some of them even looked odd in their own time periods!)
To celebrate the revolutionary invention's birthday – Alexander Graham Bell first called up Thomas A. Watson on March 10, 1876 – enjoy this list of the 17 strangest phones throughout history. Some are pretty, while others are pretty ugly, but all of them offer a window back to a time when a phone call was a thing to be treasured, instead of an unwelcome distraction from Candy Crush.
The First Phone
A replica of Alexander Graham Bell's original telephone
SSPL / Getty
No, it's not a LEGO contraption, it's the first phone, a replica of the one Alexander Graham Bell showed off at America's Centennial celebration in Philadelphia in 1876. At the time it was known as "the electric telegraph" – a device the phone would help kill.
The Rotary Phone
Strowger dial phone, created by Automatic Electric Co. in 1901
Chicago History Museum / UIG / Getty
This beautiful early rotary phone looks straight out of the French Belle Époque, but it's actually American!
The Face Phone
A Magneto phone from 1907
Kevin Clark / AP
A century before FaceTime, this wooden Magneto Phone let you pretend that your telephone was continually gaping at you in shock.
The Lobster Phone
Salvador Dalí's Lobster Telephone (Red and Black)
Salvador Dalí created this Surrealist art object to expand his audience's dreams of what was and was not possible. The design has not caught on.
The Ericofon Telephone
The Ericofon telephone designed between 1949 and 1954
A. Dagli Orti / Getty
It looks like a modern handset, but it's likely older than your parents. They hid the buttons at the very bottom, which might have made for some hilarious wrong numbers.
The Red Phone
The White House's red phone, as it exists in the popular imagination
The strangest thing about the red phone linking the White House and the Kremlin during the Cold War is that it didn't actually exist. John F. Kennedy did install a direct line to the Soviets in 1963, but it wasn't even a phone, much less red – instead, the governments sent direct messages by telegraph, and later fax. You can see why Hollywood decided they needed to spice the image up.
The Video Phone
Two newly invented AT&T Picture Phones in Washington, D.C. in 1964
Bruce Dale / National Geographic / Getty
One of the earliest video phones, the AT&T Picture Phone was a highlight of the 1964 World's Fair. Unlike subsequent webcams it was presumably never used for sexting.
The Flip Phone
Sit-Siemens 1965 Grillo telephone
A. Dagli Orti / De Agostini / Getty
Sorry, Nokia, Sit-Siemens got to the flip phone all the way back in the 1960s.
The Yellow Phone
A vintage 1970s phone
Created at the height of the Pop Art movement, this circular yellow phone would seem to demand you answer it with the greeting: "Cheerio!"
The Kirk Phone
The Kirk telephone, designed in Denmark and launched in 1980
It wasn't named after the famous Starfleet captain, but this futuristic '80s phone apparently influenced the design of calculators for years to come.
The Swatch Phone
A Swatch corded telephone
Remember when phones were clear?
The Car Phone
A car phone from the 1980s
It may be hard to believe now, in the "no texting while driving" era, but companies once sold phones that were intended to only be used while driving. And people used them! Were people crashing into each other all the time back then?
A hamburger phone similar to the one seen in the film Juno
Lobsters and hamburgers – the only two foodstuffs to be turned into telephones. One day someone is going to invent the Nacho Phone, and they will clean up.
The Disposable Phone
Randi Altschul's Phone Card, made from recycled paper
In the '90s, inventor Randi Altschul had a brilliant idea: a $10 throwaway cell phone, loaded with 60 minutes of time and printed on thick card stock. Though the phone never went to market, her aim was true; a few years later, cell phones were cheap enough for disposable "burner" phones to hit the market.
The Watch Phone
The Telson TWC 1150 wrist phone
The rise of phones that have clocks on them has decimated the watch industry, but in 2004 Telson tried to marry the two devices with a wristwatch that was also a cell phone.
The Flexible Phone
The Nokia 888 flexible phone
The Nokia 888 only exists as a concept, but what a concept: a bendable phone that you could carry around on your wrist. Just think of what this could do for Tinder photos.