A True History

Weird Historical Trends: Phone Booth Stuffing

It seems like every year there’s a new meme or trend popping up that all the kids are doing these days. It’s pretty easy for new trends to spread now, especially thanks to social media spreading new ideas, but that doesn’t mean that kids jumping on strange trends is a new thing. Just like adults complaining about the new generation, people have always found strange ways to occupy their time.

For as long as people have had free time, they’ve found ways to waste that free time.

In the late 1950s that way to waste time was by stuffing as many people as possible into a phone booth.

It was a short lived fad that is said to have gained popularity in March of 1959 when 25 students at the Durban, South Africa YMCA made the Guinness Book of World Records by squeezing most of their bodies into a standard upright phone booth. They say that while they were working on setting this record, the phone in the booth rang, but they were all so tightly packed into the small space that none of them had the ability to answer the phone.

Soon after they made the record books, the fad began and made its way to England. In the United Kingdom they called it “Telephone booth squash” and a group of students managed to get 19 people into a photo booth.

The craze made its way through Europe and then by spring of 1959 the fad of stuffing a bunch of people into a phone booth got to California before slowly spreading eastward through the United States during the summer of 1959.

Different groups and colleges had different rules for the challenge. Some places claimed that everybody must be totally inside the booth while other places allowed for arms and legs to stick out. Some groups in England had a rule that stated that once the phone booth was fully occupied, somebody had to be able to make a successful phone call.

Some students went all out for this challenge by fasting to make sure they could fit into smaller spaces or by recruiting as many people on the smaller size, especially freshman, to help them reach their goal of fitting as many people as possible. They all tried new techniques to fit too, some people tried laying down horizontally and piling on top of each other one by one instead of squeezing into the space upright.

Stakes got higher so some students cut class in order to attempt the activity on their own. One group that claimed to have broken the record knocked a phone booth over and piled into it as if the phone booth were a boat.

For a short period of time during this fad, there was a rumor going around that a school in Canada managed to fit 40 students inside of a phone booth to take over as the new reigning champs in the Guinness Book of World Records. However, that rumor was unfounded when people learned that they didn’t cram inside of a phone booth, they had all squished themselves inside a fraternity’s phone room. The rest of the world basically disqualified them after learning that.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, overall this fad was short lived. By the end of 1959 the idea of cramming yourself into a tiny space with your fellow classmates wasn’t cool anymore. It did end up having a minor resurgence several years later in a slightly different way as a precursor for a bunch of students trying to stuff themselves in a Volkswagen Beetle.

Suddenly some of today’s fads don’t seem as strange anymore, do they?