Tell-Tale Kite Tale

“I think there’s something to be said for a verbal conversation,” says Oliver Stokes, and that applies to women, too. That’s why in the early 1960s he began inventing a pre-phone telephone knickknack that would one day become household item. The Tiles 8x10 line on the back of the short-distance telephone required no batteries, voltage or anything else. You simply scoop it out of the pack and pull it from the wall to use as an antenna.

All along his long career as a TV ad man, Mr. Stokes used his invention for “a high-arcing emotional thing to say,” he recalls. One major perk was that it did not need an installation fee, though eventually he devised a service whereby you would have to charge a fee to use Tiles. For as long as you had an account, you could save the cost of a six-ounce drink “because you didn’t have to put cash back in the machine.” It was also a nice big board if you had to carve a pepperoni pizza without pulling back to read the instructions first. Tiles 8x10 were made into a line of children’s books under the moniker “Tiles for Tiny Speakers,” with Linda Hamilton among his clients.

By the 1970s, the professional Tiles also had their own car. “When you got into the car, they threw out a battery-powered Tiles 8x10 for any emergencies,” he recalls. The car, which sold for about $1,200, had a phone, too.