In early 1959, twenty five students attempted something nobody had ever tried before. The South African students of Durban tried to see if all twenty five people could fit into a phone booth. They succeeded and submitted their achievement to the Guinness Book of World Records. Soon, others heard about the bizarre stunt and attempts at phone booth stuffing (or cramming) began all over the world.
In the spring of 1959, the phone booth stuffing craze took off in California and slowly spread eastward during the summer of that same year. At UCLA, seventeen men squeezed into a seven foot high phone booth. Shortly after, eighteen men crammed into a phone booth at St. Mary’s University in Moraga, California. MIT students managed to stuff nineteen students into a booth. The bizarre fad was featured in newspapers and newscasts throughout the country while the general public scratched their heads in amusement.
At Modesto Junior College the phone booth stuffing record set by the South African students of Durban was smashed. Modesto students managed to fit thirty four students into a phone booth. Shortly thereafter, the record was smashed again after a Canadian school stuffed forty into a booth. Eyebrows raised and an investigation was launched to see if they cheated.
After the investigation, the record was thrown out when as suspected, it was discovered that an extra large phone booth had been used and it had been turned on its side to make it easier to stack people into the booth. As a result, official rules were created that specified the phone booth had to be a standard sized booth and had to remain upright. In addition, it was ruled that a person only counted if at least half of their body was inside the booth. In England, the rules were expanded and it was required that an actual phone call was placed or received from inside the stuffed phone booth.
The fad continued to gain steam with students skipping classes to plan their phone booth stuffing event. Some phone booth stuffers dieted beforehand and some worked on various stacking techniques (such as the “crosshatch” stacking method that was used to set the St. Mary’s College record).
As quickly as the fad took off, it disappeared, ending in the summer of 1959. The South African record of twenty five people stuffed into a booth has never been broken.