From a 2010 news article:

Obama noted that Medvedev had opened a Twitter account while visiting the company's headquarters in California.

"I have one, as well, so we may be able to finally throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long," he said to laughter, referring to the Cold War-era direct hotline between U.S. and Kremlin leaders.

Wikipedia has a picture of Jimmy Carter's "Red Phone":

Jimmy Carter's phone

But according to this CNN article:

Contrary to popular myth and Hollywood portrayal, the hot line has never been a pair of red telephones, one in a drawer in the Oval Office, the other in the Kremlin.

At first it was a set of teletypes with messages punched in at a rate of about one page every three minutes. That system was replaced in the late 1970s with two satellite systems, as well as an undersea cable link.

Crypto Machines also says:

Many people believe that a red telephone was part of the Washington-Moscow Hotline (WMH). There were NO phones at all on the hotline, let alone red ones.

The so-called "RED HOTLINE" between Washington and Moscow was actually a secure TELETYPE link.


My question:
Is it just a myth that the U.S. President has/had a phone that is actually red?
If yes, what's the explanation for Jimmy Carter's red phone?

  • 13
    To your last question: The bat phone, obviously.
    – Lagerbaer
    Jun 3, 2011 at 21:53
  • 3
    @Lagerbaer: That link syntax does not work for comments. Instead, use [text](link) to hyperlink text in comments. I fixed your comment above to display like you intended.
    – Borror0
    Jun 3, 2011 at 22:21
  • 2
    the "phone" you show for Carter is an obvious fake. Looks like a block of wood crudely shaped into something resembling an old model telphone and painted red.
    – jwenting
    Jun 8, 2011 at 13:28
  • 4
    "Yeah, it's obviously wood-shopped, I can tell from the splinters." :-) I simply do not agree with @jwenting that it is obviously faked. And surely anyone going to fake it would simply get a real-live off-the-shelf phone and fake its provenance, rather than putting a wooden item on display that any visitor could "obviously" see, and could be proven in 3 seconds by picking up the receiver. (Am I missing the irony? Is there a hook in my cheek?)
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 10, 2011 at 23:49
  • 7
    If you wanted to call the Soviets, what else would you use but the Red Phone?
    – Simon
    Nov 15, 2011 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


I did some research about the Washington-Moscow Hotline and I can also say that there was NEVER a phone on that link. People who worked at the Hotline until as late as 2008 confirm in interviews that the hotline never had a voice capability. The Hotline first used teletype equipment, since 1988 facsimile units and since 2008 the messages are exchanged by e-mail.

For more info and sources check my article: http://electrospaces.blogspot.nl/2012/10/the-washington-moscow-hot-line.html

The red phone of Jimmy Carter is not fake, but was used for a different purpose. It was most likely used as part of the Defense Red Switch Network, linking the president, the secretary of defense and all the major command centers. So not for international, but for internal use, that is the chain of command for the US defense system.

  • 9
    I wonder if they used emoticons to tone down the rhetoric -- "We will bury you in the ash-heap of history! ;-) " Nov 19, 2012 at 20:02
  • 3
    If you put some of the relevant links of your article in your answer (so that your sources show up here directly) I'll mark it as accepted.
    – Oliver_C
    Nov 21, 2012 at 9:07

From the very same Wikipedia article that you cite, the discrepancy is made clear:

The first generation of the hot line had no voice element at all; the memorandum called for a full-time duplex wire telegraph circuit, based on the idea that spontaneous verbal communications could lead to miscommunications and misperceptions.
In September 1971, it was decided to upgrade the system with better technology. [...] A phone was installed, and the main telegraph line was complemented by two new satellite communication lines, one formed by two US Intelsat satellites and the other composed of two Soviet Molniya II satellites. This phase of upgrade lasted from 1971–1978, and in the process the Washington-Tangier-Moscow radio line was eliminated. [...]

For reference, Jimmy Carter was president 1977–1981, overlapping the late stages of the implementation.

  • 1
    I'm not sure how reliable Wiki is in this case, since they also have that (fake?) picture of Jimmy Carter's phone (according to the description it's from the "Jimmy Carter Library and Museum")
    – Oliver_C
    Jun 9, 2011 at 23:23
  • @Oliver_C, I don't see any inconsistency. From 1967 until 1971, NO PHONE. 1971-78, PHONE GETS INSTALLED (slowly!). 1977-1981, Carter is president, with shiny red phone.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 10, 2011 at 1:15
  • 3
    Wiki never states that the phone was actually red, and the CNN article says the hot line has never been a pair of red telephones.
    – Oliver_C
    Jun 10, 2011 at 23:16

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