How to Rewire a Vintage Phone so it works Today!

The title of this post is lie number one of a litany of lies to be found on the Internet.

You are NOT going to learn how to rewire a vintage phone. You are not.

I know this from experience. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself as I am want to do when I’m in fits.

I have a number of oddities hidden in my basement. For instance there’s this. And these.

Amongst the stuff is a collection of antique/vintage telephones. Some work. Some don’t. You may wonder why I care whether or not a relic of a phone with an actual dial on it works or not. I like them. I like old phones. I like old things. And I particularly like old thing that can still be used. There’s a certain nostalgia and sentimentality about using a big old handset. Plus if you’re on it you can tell people you can’t talk any longer ’cause you’re stuck to the wall and you need to get things done. That excuse doesn’t work if you’re talking on a portable phone.

There’s one in particular I’ve been wanting to get up and running for a long time.

Northern Electric 302

This phone was in my grandmother’s house in Renfrew, Ontario. It’s not only in perfect condition, it’s one of a couple of phones in my basement that have been part of my family for generations.

So some time before Christmas I decided to look up how to rewire some of my old phones with their vintage 3 wires …

… to a modern phone line. One would think it’s just a matter of attaching red to red, green to green and so on. But it’s not. Sometimes this connection will get the phone to work to make and receive calls, but the ringer won’t work. Or it’ll make calls but can’t receive them. Or vice versa. It’s a messy business this phone wiring thing. They’re like Fiats. Or Lindsay Lohan’s brain. Nobody really knows how the wiring works.

More Wires

I looked up a few tutorials on-line and a few videos on YouTube and one video seemed to have great potential. All you have to do is attach red to red, combine the green and yellow from the phone and attach them to the green of the phone jack line.

I’m not sure why I was shocked when it didn’t work but it was the Opening a Wine bottle with a Tree Trunk all over again.


Around 3 hours into it I realized, this probably wasn’t gonna work out for you folks. I would NOT be doing a post on how to make your vintage telephone ring.

But I wasn’t giving up on mine. You see, I have that gene in me. That little slice of DNA that won’t allow me to stop. I can’t give up. I will get so angry and frustrated at points that I need to eat potato chips just to calm down.

Because of the Great and Stupid Paleo experiment, we don’t have any potato chips.

So I got more angry and more frustrated and decided to work through it by eating a block of cheese. Which isn’t very good alone in large portions so I also had some crackers. I’m O.K. with that.

You know why? That little respite from the stupid Paleo plan was enough to get me to settle down and figure it out.

Phone Guts Before

I had another old wall phone downstairs that was wired properly so I dragged that upstairs and compared the guts. They were similar. Similar enough that I could figure out how to hard wire the new phone jack line into the old phone. It made calls and received them. No ring.

So I made some uneducated guesses moving wires and changing things and finally … it rang.

302 Phone Guts

The phone now holds court in the living room.

Antique Phone

If I’d had a bag of potato chips around instead of just cheese and crackers I’m fairly certain I would have been able to resolve any and all conflicts in the Middle East.

And because you were kind of screwed out of any learning anything at all in this post, I have made for you this little video proving that my phone does indeed ring and work.

Vintage Phone ring


Proof of vintage phone working.

Yet another reason to love the olden day phones. No Skype.


  1. Sudhabalaji says:

    Am done my old phone conenection it have red,white and green wire.But my lan cable having a 2 wires red and green i merged red with red and green with green its receive a call but outing is said the number is invalid but my dial mobile number is working condition. What i do ??

  2. Vikki says:

    We kinda live out in the “boonies” and sometimes our cellphone reception is iffy (or non-existent). I got an old black wall phone so that if our power goes out I can still make a call in an emergency. If you don’t have electric service, your landline won’t work and I can never depend on cell reception. The old pulse dial is essential if you need to call 911.

  3. Frank Izzo says:

    Hey – your writing style is hilarious (and I’m a pro, I know). The idiot tenants who rented my late mother’s apartment had the gaul to give back her vintage phone because they wanted a newer model. So I contacted the Southern New England telephone company – and they found the it in a heap of discarded phones (I know it was the right one because it had the faded phone number on it.) So I looked up refurbishers, and sure enough I found somebody who could make it work for 100 bucks. But the ring was so loud, it was always waking my kid up, so I pulled the plug on it. Now 25 years later, I can’t get the damn thing to work. But I’m not giving up. I think it’s just my phone jack, or and don’t know jack shit – one or the other.

  4. Jenny Fago says:

    Karen, Inspired by your post I rewired this 1950s Swiss phone. It is linked to my cell phone through an Xlink Bluetooth device (no landline needed). As long as my cell phone is within 10 feet of the Xlink I can receive and dial out on this old phone. The ring sound is so cool! Thanks, Jenny

    • Karen says:

      Good job Jenny! ~ karen!

    • David Egert says:

      Jenny! How might you like it if you could ….

      a. have this telephone connect over bluetooth at 30 feet not just 10 feet
      b. Not have ANY wires going to the phone
      c. have the Bluetooth circuit and the rechargeable battery tucked INSIDE your lovely desk telephone.

      Think of it, your friends come over, they take note of your desk telephone on the end table, NO wires and the DARN THINGS STARTS RINGING!

      This guy on eBay seems to do a nice job, finding the page on eBay is easy, search using all three words ‘ western electric bluetooth ‘

  5. NBrown says:

    I have a Duck phone – like was on Jersey Shore, by telemania. It makes calls and receives calls, but cant hear it ring. I’ve looked online trying to figure out how to make it ring! Making me quack lol. Cant even find a manual or schematic! And perhaps it wont ring because I’m plugging it into my modem, I stead of a standard phone jack. I guess I need to pay my 92 year old mominlaw a visit, and try it there.

  6. KRISTIN says:

    I am hoping someone on here may be able to point me in the right direction even though it is an older posting…

    I have just purchased a “Duchess made in Japan” old rotary telephone. It is virtually in PRISTINE condition. It still has its original fabric cords both to the wall and from the base to the earpiece/ handle…I got an adapter for the 4 prong plug…and lo and behold….it WORKS! Well….MOSTLY WORKS….lol.

    Unfortunately, I have no sound to my earpiece / handle…I cannot hear anything at all….but it dials perfectly and connects to the call. It even RINGS when called…well sort of….it’s more of a vibration or rattle than a “ring”…maybe this can be fixed as well???

    Anyone out there have any advise or can point me of where to go for information so I can try and figure out how to fix the earpiece/handle on this phone so I can use it? I, too, am afflicted w/ the “don’t give up / solve the problem” gene! PLUS….I’m in LOVE w/this phone! :) I haven’t been able to find much of anything in terms of information on the phone…I only ever get ebay listings or something similar…

  7. Suzanne and Charles Merical says:

    Loved the instructions. I have a 1950s vintage copper covered telephone with the same shape as this old Northern Electric one. It was purchased in Germany. There are 2 wires in the cord coming from it. Any ideas what to do to convert it for modern use?

  8. Taipan Lalo says:

    How do I find out what circa my vintage phone is?

  9. Taipan Lalo says:

    I have a phone just like yours, not sure what circa and it was already rewired but it has a British phone jack I do have the adapter to plug it into a regular RJ-11. I don’t have a landline in the house, how do I set it up so that when someone calls my cell, it will ring?

  10. Donna Witt says:

    Wow, Karen, thank you. I have just rewired a 1970s Telecom (Australia) phone and needless to say, I was over the moon to hear it ring! In my case I just joined the red and white wires in the jack, like in your photo.

  11. richard says:

    i have a 1950 wallphone payphone is rewired .. but i want to connect my i phone to that wire…so when i turn the numbers my i phone calls… is that possible do anyone have a answer?

    • David Egert says:

      Did you see this? Search ‘ western electric Bluetooth ‘ on eBay. He says that he can convert telephones if you send them in.

  12. robin says:

    so if I follow the picture of your final and successful rewiring then my old phone will work too?

    • Karen says:

      It depends on your phone robin. And it depends on what was wrong with it in the first place. In my case the ringer just wasn’t working so I changed the wires around and now it works. ~ karen!

      • Hi Karen
        Wasn’t sure where to make a comment on your blog, so here goes!
        Picked up a phone like yours but with a chrome dial. On the handset the wires are all disconnected where the wires come into the speaker. Is there someway you can post or send me a pic.
        Also the wiring on the base set is similar but a bit different but going to try it out.

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  14. Gus Haddad says:

    Thanks, I have a vintage Mickey Mouse Phone as well as an Original ATT payphone, can you add an external speakerphone to these?

  15. Alexander says:

    Glad you figured it out. On old 3-wire phones like this: RED, GREEN AND YELLOW, the yellow wire was the ringer wire. If you wanted the phone to ring, you’d connect the YELLOW to the GREEN at the jack on the wall (usually a 42A block). If didn’t want the phone to ring, you’d connect yellow to yellow. Awesome phone though. Glad you made it work.

  16. Seamus Clarke says:

    Good for you, I have been trying for the last week how to get my antique candlestick phone to ring. I will have to be as persistent as you.

  17. Barbara Cioffi says:

    I live in the old phone company building converted into codes. I have an old phone (the kind where you have a pick up the piece to listen and talk into the mouthpiece on the main unit) in a phone booth that I would love to get working again. Lights and fan work perfectly. Can anybody out there help me with that? Located in Rhode Island.

  18. Jessica North Hollywood California says:

    my question about the old phone we own ringing without power, is how is this possible? how did it ring without power? it only rang once.

  19. Jessica North Hollywood California says:

    I am just wondering why the 1940’s black rotary phone with fabric cord that did not work and was never plugged in of course (how could it be with that fabric cord) and was only used by my parents as a prop at their theatre (where it never rang) all of a sudden rang one afternoon after the play was over and they brought the props home. ? It rang one long, full length ring. It really freaked me out.

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