Phone Booth Stuffing!


Joe Munroe, [Twenty-two students cramming into a telephone booth to try and establish a stacking record, St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California], 1959 (1241.2005)

Phone booth stuffing, or the act of cramming as many people as possible into a phone booth, began as a popular fad in the late 1950s. It all started in 1959 in Durban, South Africa, when a group of twenty-five students crammed into a phone booth and sent a picture to the Guinness Book of World Records. The fun, lighthearted competition quickly spread to Britain, Canada, and eventually, America’s West Coast. This picture, perhaps the best-known image of the activity, was taken at St. Mary’s College, by LIFE photographer Joe Munroe. Although the students failed to beat the South African record, there was no set of shared rules. LIFE reported (March 30, 1959):

The competitive squeeze started to sweep the U.S., with each college playing by its own rules. Some used roomy phone cubicles in fraternity houses. Others upended booths and piled into them like boats. Others took the easier approach that permits legs to dangle on the outside. Competitors agree that the best phone-boothing technique is to round up undersize undergraduates, preferably freshmen, and put them under the supervision of a tough master crammer.

In 1984, for the silver anniversary of the day the photograph was taken, St. Mary’s re-enacted the event, this time with two phone booths, to signify the integration of women into the once all-male student body.

Again in 2009, St. Mary’s held a fiftieth anniversary of the event, again re-staging the event, only this time the iPhone-prone students perhaps had never seen or used a phone booth. Who says you need to download apps to provide entertainment?

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