Telephone Booth Stuffing: An Extreme Fad That Took The 1950s by Storm

I used to think those strange silly fads such as planking, the mannequin, running man challenges, and all those crazy movements Millenials participated in were a fangled concept. Turns out there really isn’t anything new under the sun. People have been doing silly things just for the fun of it way before we had the technology to instantly document and share it.

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Prior fads included flagpole sittinggoldfish swallowing, and panty raids -the precedent to modern-day streaking. Another one of these peculiar fads involved a telephone booth and cramming as many bodies as possible into it. This was ‘booth stuffing’.

What is telephone booth stuffing?

The goal of telephone booth stuffing is just that, stuffing. The point was to cram as many people until there was either no more space or no more people to stuff. Safe to say telephone booth stuffing or phone booth cramming was the thing to do on any given day.

It started when twenty-five college students from a South African university sent a photo of themselves to the Guinness Book of World Records. They were declared to have set the record on March 20, 1959. When the news broke, a booth stuffing craze spread from South Africa to the rest of the globe.

From UCLA to St. Mary’s College and MIT, college students everywhere were phone booth stuffing. They skipped class, dieted, recruited freshmen, and even incorporated methods such as “crosshatching”. Since there were no set rules, some even turned to cheating by turning the booth on its side like a canoe. Others tried incorporating their geometry studies using calculations for optimizing space and angles.

What is the world record?

Many universities have tried to touch the record. A group of college kids from the UK came close when their “telephone booth squash” totaled nineteen people in one booth. UCLA counted 17 men in one booth, and 18 men made it in one round at St. Mary’s College on the west coast. Unfortunately, since universities were mostly attended by men at the time, none of these records included women. However, In 1984, St. Mary’s celebrated the 25th anniversary of the event with a re-enactment with two booths to include women in the event. Rare videos have popped up online of students in 2009 stuffing themselves for the fiftieth anniversary as well.

These shenanigans were covered by newspapers far and wide. There was even a LIFE magazine report on it. An iconic photo of twenty-two students stacked into a booth trying to beat the record was snapped by Joe Munroe in 1959. The phone booth stuffing craze lived and died within one year. But, it reached a peak when college students were participating worldwide from the United States to Southern Rhodesia, Canada, and Durban. By the end of the year, the next trend was taking over. It would make it’s final comeback later when people started cramming into Volkswagen Beetles called….”car stuffing”.

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What do you think?

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