Fifties History          

Telephone Booth Cramming

by Jodi M. Webb
So, how many South African college students does it take to fill a telephone booth? If you’re waiting for the punch line stop. In early 1959 someone asked this question and started a fad that swept several countries.

After students in South Africa crammed 25 students into a telephone booth (a record that still stands today) the craze spread to England where students at London University managed a booth busting 19 students.
By March, the telephone box squash—as it was known in England—had jumped the Atlantic Ocean and coeds all over the United States and Canada were skipping classes in favor of cramming themselves into telephone booths. A junior college in Modesto,

California thought they had broken the record with 34 people and were challenged by 40 Canadian frat-boys.
That’s when the telephone booth cramming world started laying down some ground rules.

First, although the door could remain open, a person only counted if at least half of their body was within the telephone booth.

Second, the booth had to be standard size, not the extra-large fraternity hall booth that those frat-boys had used.

Third, the booth had to be upright not lying on its side like the California booth.

England’s additional rule: the group had to be able to either place or answer a phone call was abandoned by the rest of the world.

The students of Fresno College may not have crammed the most students into a booth but they secured a place in cramming history with their unique spin on the fad. Seven male students did a telephone booth cram underwater!

Female students met the challenge by cramming eight co-eds into a booth dropped into the Fresno Hacienda Motel Pool.

Telephone booth cramming evolved as more and more people became involved. Although ‘cramming’ suggests a herd of people just squeezing into a booth, for many groups the cram involved a lot of prior planning.

Several different methods of cramming were developed.

Ryerson Tech in Toronto claims to have created the ‘sandwich style’ cram while schools such as MIT veered toward a more scientific approach.

It was with the crosshatch stacking technique that 22 (or 23 according to different accounts) male students at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California set the record for United States cramming.
When students returned to campus in the fall of 1959 phone booth cramming was a thing of the past. Students had moved on to crazier and sillier stunts to amuse themselves and the world.

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Phone Booth Stuffing

Photo Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.

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