Phone Booth Packing
Phone Booth Packing was a 1950's fad whereby a bunch of
people crammed themselves into a telephone booth. Why would anyone do this?
Well, to college kids in 1959, it was all the rage, even getting to a competitive level
with colleges against college. It was the thing to do with all of your
friends. It involved getting at lest ten people together and seeing how many you
could get to fit into a phone booth. The question arose whether packing into a phone
booth meant the whole body, half a body or just a part of a body. Should the door be
able to close or could it remain opened.
It began when a South African college said it had been
able to fit twenty-five students into a booth made for one, setting a "world
record" that has never been defeated. This set the competition off to a start
that very same spring. Before coming to the North America, a group of London
University students packed into one of the wide-body booths that were made over
there. Unlike their South African counterparts, they were only able to fit nineteen
even though their booth was bigger.
By 1959, cramming sessions were under way on many U.S.
and Canadian campuses. Some tried using extra-large fraternity hall phone booths,
and a group of Canadian students was able to jam forty of themselves into one.
However, this was considered cheating, and from then on, usually only standard American
sized booths were used to pack people in. At a junior college in Modesto,
California, a phone booth was donated by a phone company and the students turned it on
it's side. They succeeded in going thirty-four people high, but their record was
argued as invalid. This yet led to another rule that the phone booth had to be
Some real fun was had in April of 1959 when seven young
men from Fresno College crammed into a phone booth submerged in a swimming pool. Not
to be outdone, though, the woman of Fresno College succeeded in jamming eight in the
Fresno Hacienda Motel Pool.
The British made a rule in that one of the inhabitants
had to either place a call or answer a ringing phone. While this was soon the case
all over Britain, here in America only a few followed that requirement. But
something that changed the overall fad was the necessity for planned-packing.
Although at the beginning of this fad people would get in a booth like they were stuffing
crumpled paper into a drawer, enterprising students (engineers and physicists to be
precise) decided that they had to be a little bit more sophisticated about it.
One of the first planned styles of cramming was
sandwich-style. Ryerson Tech students in Toronto made this one up, but it was soon
disregarded because the students had protruding legs coming from the booth. Students
from MIT took a "scientific" approach, and were able to seat nineteen carefully
and comfortably in a fraternity phone cubicle that was much larger than the regularly used
type of booth. But the most efficient by far was the group at St. Mary's College in
Moraga, California. They were encouraged to "Beat South Africa" and almost
did. They were the group that came the closest by fitting twenty-two smallish
students into a booth with a carefully planned and well-executed crosshatch stacking
This fad began to expire when cramming of a different
kind was introduced. Studying for May and June finals meant that students had to
concentrate on other things. So when the stuffing stopped, it marked the end of an era,
bringing on new things in the sixties.