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The End of an Era: New York City’s Last Payphone Is Removed

(Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

The last free-standing public payphone was removed from New York City on May 25, 2022. It was located at 49th Street and Seventh Avenue, and the removal was broadcast on CBS News. In the age of handheld smartphones, the demise of payphones was inevitable.

The end of an era

Black and white photo of 3 men using public payphones
View of three men using a row of public telephones outside Bryant Park on West 42nd Street, New York, May 10, 1979. (Photo Credit: Walter Leporati / Getty Images)

The removal of this payphone marks “the end of what used to be the primary lifeline service for many New Yorkers,” as described by NYC’s Chief Technology Officer, Matthew Fraser. The payphones that were removed were replaced with LinkNYC kiosks that offer free Wifi, charging, domestic phone calls, and traffic and weather reports.

In the city’s “planned long goodbye,” over 6,000 payphones were removed, starting in 2015 and finally coming to an end in 2022.

Payphone memories

Black and white photo of 2 women using payphones
Phone booths in Soho, New York, May 22, 1990. (Photo Credit: Jean-Marc ZAORSKI / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

As payphones serviced the citizens of New York for many years, some recalled memories of events that occurred at those payphones.

One woman remembered how she found an envelope filled with $38,000. At the time, she was scared to touch it but eventually took it to the nearby Bloomingdale’s to turn it into their security department.

Another woman remembered how, as a young girl, she used to dial “0” to call the operator and tell them the machine ate her quarter, giving her a call to her parents for free.

Gone but not forgotten

a payphone is lifted onto a truck in a busy NYC intersection
Workers remove the final New York City payphone near Seventh Avenue and 50th Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, on May 23, 2022 (Photo Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

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Although all public payphones have now been removed from New York, there are still a few located on private properties that remain in place for now. As well, there are four complete phone booths that are still standing on the Upper West Side.

The last officially removed phone booth has been transported to the Museum of the City of New York, where it will be on display as a relic of the city’s history.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!