If you have been in Costa Rica for more than a decade you will remember the “modern” (for the time in Costa Rica) phones, before the cellular phone and today’s smartphones.

These phones are pretty much gone today, save for a keepsake here or there. However, I still believe that somewhere, in some corner of the country, someone is still using a rotary home phone somewhere.

This manual operator switchboard belonged to the United Fruit Company, which in 1902 installed the first cordless telephone in Puerto Limón. With this, it developed its own international system of telecommunications. (Melissa Fernández)

It used to take a long time to get a home phone, years in most cases, can’t imagine it is easy for some to give that up.

For the major part, 15 years ago, public phones were the only way to communicate for the majority of the people. Many who had home phones kept them their rotary dial under lock and key. Literally.

A typical pay phone in use in the 1990’s in Costa Rica

Long lines to use a pay phone was normal. ICE, the state-owned telecommunications that was until a several years ago the only game in town, made an effort to reduce the lines, coming up with the banks of pay phones at strategic locations.The ones I remember most are the pay phones in front of the Gran Hotel and by the Plaza de la Cultura.

But using a pay phone was no easy task. There were several kinds of pay phones on the streets, ICE took a long time to remove the old phones as they new phones became available. Then there was a change in coins, from the silver (remember them) to the gold coins currently in use. There were also pay phones that used phone cards, buying one was an adventure in itself.

Then the cell phone came along and everything changed. You can spot a pay phone here or there, but, I can’t remember the last time I saw one in actual use. Even my loved pay phones by the Plaza de la Cultura.

Pay phones got modern in Costa Rica.

To not forget the past, ICE recently opened its doors to the Museo Histórico y Cultural del Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), in Sabana Norte.

It is located 100 metres north of the Palma Real hotel, a couple of blocks from the main ICE offices.

The museum is open from Monday to Friday, from 7:00am to 4:00pm. Entrance is free.

The exhibition recalls 150 years of advances in communications, from the invention of the telegraph to the latest in 4G technology.

Analogical switching stations, which operated by electromagnetic impulses, were the successors of the manual switchboards. (Melissa Fernández)

The display includes old artefacts such as telephones and switchboards, both in their original versions and replicas, used in Costa Rica.

There is also the sample of the birth of the telephone, a voice-communication apparatus that several sources credit as the first telephone, attributed to Antonio Meucci, in 1854; the arrival of the telegraph in Costa Rica in 1868; and the creation of the ICE in 1949.

On hand (no pun intended) is first version to arrive in Costa Rica of the 1973 mobile telephone by Martin Cooper, who invented the first handheld cellular mobile phone, brought to the country by Millicom, in 1989.

Likewise, murals highlight some of the events that marked the rise of telecommunications in Costa Rica, for example, the change of the telephone number system from four to five digits in 1994 and the replacement of the analog model with digital, a year later, in 1995.

The story includes the first 400,000 GSM cellular lines to arrive in Costa Rica, brought to us by the French telecom, Alcatel. This global system in mobile communications allowed users to connect to the internet for the first time from their cell phone.

“Aló… La historia del teléfono” (Hello…the history of the telephone) took a year to create, at the hands of historian Manuel Gamboa.

The historian said that to prepare the exhibit, it took a a comprehensive review of ICE reports, studies on technological changes, compilation of “raw” data and statistics, as well as the selection of the most relevant data to exhibit.


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