The Speaking Tube

Chicago Auger


When you need the attention of someone in your house, how do you get it? Yell at them? Text them? Call them? In the Victorian era, in a house like Dalnavert, yelling wasn’t acceptable, and of course, they didn’t have cell phones. So what was the Victorian equivalent of texting or yelling, “SUPPER!”?

Before cell phones and intercoms, the solution for this dilemma was : voice pipes. In houses, they were referred to as “speaking tubes.” The very first production of the voice pipe consisted of two cones of wood or metal, one end shaped to fit the speaker’s mouth, connected to the other which flared to amplify the sound. For certain models, the ends of tubes were flexible for the user’s convenience. Think of it as a rudimentary phone cord…


The Macdonalds’ had a speaking tube, which is still there – and it still works! The mouthpiece is not original, but is true to the period. It is a very discreet model, no longer than four inches, no wider than one inch, and only a subtle inch off the wall. This type of speaking tube is also known as a whistling tube, because in order to obtain the attention on the other end, you blew into your end, and it produced a whistling sound at the other. Dalnavert’s speaking tube connects the kitchen to Lady MacDonald’s bathroom. We imagine that Lady Macdonald would have used it to ask her servants for things such as tea, warmer bath water, etc.

I became very concerned with our beloved speaking tube earlier this summer when I found the mouthpiece was no longer attached to the pipe! Of course, we repaired it fairly quickly, but it prompted me to do more research on the artifact.

To stop the continuous cries of “MOMMMMMMM” throughout your home, maybe consider installing your very own speaking tube.