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The Western Electric 318-W 'Chau-phone' or Chauffeur Phone, from 1914, was an early single button carbon microphone, the element was the same as that of the WE telephone microphones of that time.

The housing consisted of a metal front plate, a blackened metal back, a short metal stem and a bakelite handle, to hold the microphone in hand. A small push to talk lever completed the design.

The patents on the back are for the telephone element (1913) and the design of the casing (1914).

The microphone was part of a communication system for luxury automobiles, where the passengers were sitting in a comfortable cabin, while the chauffeur was outside, in front behind the steering wheel. He was not shielded against the elements, and therefor often clad in thick clothing, plus a cap and goggles.

The system was for one-way communication: the passengers could instruct the driver, who had a loudspeaker close to his ear. The 'push to talk' system prohibited the driver from eavesdropping on his 'superiors', and since it was a time when personnel was not supposed to talk back to their masters, it was enough for the driver to acknowledge his orders by using hand signs or perhaps just a nod.

The complete system included the 318-W microphone, a loudspeaker and a 6 volt battery.

Microphones of that time were not of great quality, but the system was more than good enough for this purpose: who cared about some hiss in the signal, as long as the driver understood the message. According to the ad, it was unnecessary to raise one's voice, when using the Chau-phone, even in situations with loud traffic.

Western Electric brought out the same system as 'Shawphone', for paging purposes.

This sort of microphones is almost indestructible, which is proven in the attached sound clip: the mic still works after more than a hundred years, so all hail to Western Electric and its employees.

I have several of this type of microphones in my collection, they all still work. They may all have been used as chauffeur phones, but they may also have been used for deluxe versions of dictographs.
Anyway, they are very elegantly styled.

Rolls Royce outfitted their Silver Ghost model with a silver chauffeur phone, after all it had to be as luxurious as the car. The chauffeur's loudspeaker was probably a more modest design.

These and many more types feature in my book Witnesses of Words. More information about that can be found at

wow cover


WE 318-W Chau-phone
Chau-phone back

Top: the elegant Chau-phone and back

Below: sound, element, ad and luxury car with chauffeur, speaker is visible next to his head

Listen to the sound of the Chau-phone

Chau-phone element
Chau-phone ad
chauffeur car