Remember the Dictaphone?

Salt Lake Desk Exchange

This 1936 photo of the Salt Lake Desk Exchange (advertising dictaphones) is courtesy of the Salt Lake County Archives.

Rulon and Bessie Davis were the first residents of 1784 Harvard Avenue. You don’t see guys like Rulon around here anymore. I mean, when was the last time you bumped into a dictaphone salesman on your block? Rulon was a distributor and the branch manager for The Dictaphone Sales Corporation. He lived here in the mid 1930’s. Multiple SLC companies sold dictaphones.

Old newspaper ads for LDS Business College often pictured a woman with a dictaphone. Besides dictaphones, the school offered classes on telegraphy, calculating machines, shorthand, and bookkeeping. “Business is calling for thousands of qualified workers.”

One of my favorite dictaphone ads was placed by The Columbia Stores Co, 221 S West Temple. Even though his wife disapproved, the ad writer said he loved smoking his old pipe. And when he went down to the front office smoking his pipe at work, he noticed the “operators’ noses take an elevation of about 45 degrees.” But he didn’t have to choose between the stenographers and his pipe. He could have them both because they used (drum roll) DICTAPHONES! “We shoot it through the speaking tube to a good wax record. The boy simply leaves the cylinders up in front… We don’t disturb them, and they don’t disturb us.” Ha! What a great business tool.

But dictaphones had other uses as well. Like in cases of espionage!

You can read about one case in the June 18, 1918 edition of the Salt Lake Telegram. A Pocatello crime was foiled because a detective planted a dictaphone in the room of two men plotting to rob and kill the proprietor of a certain store. Officers with their revolvers ready hid at the store and nabbed the Brigham City man and his cohort before they could commit their crimes and escape on the 10 o’clock train to Salt Lake City.

I can’t imagine not noticing a “planted” dictaphone. It must’ve been a messy room. I wonder how much recording time you get with one of those too. Lucky timing and great detective work, I guess.

Writing this makes me think of my old neighbor friend again. Once I stopped by while she was watching a movie with a switchboard scene. My eyes were on her TV when I heard her say sarcastically, “I suppose you don’t remember those days?” There’s a lot I wasn’t here for, but I love that I can still look at Rulon’s house and many other homes in Yalecrest and think about the people in our neighborhood and Salt Lake City’s History.


Rulon (the dictaphone salesman) and Bessie Davis once lived here.

—Kelly Marinan


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