The Rest-a-Phone shoulder rest is a product invented by Lyle H. Van Dyke, Sr., to help hold the phone on his shoulder while working. He made it to save his life, literally. It was designed from necessity and has gone on to help others. When your daily activity requires you to use a phone handset for extended periods, this shoulder rest can prevent or relieve neck strains, back problems or simply free your hands for other activities while you're on the phone.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of the Rest-a-Phone, read on ...
It's the early 1940s and Lyle H. Van Dyke Sr. is 30 years old. He is the top division salesman for an aluminum manufacturer, which means he always has a phone on his shoulder. Of course, the phones at this time are much different from what we have today. The handset weighs nearly two pounds and more with the bulky wire. Lyle is constantly holding a “brick” on his shoulder all day, that leads to a serious medical scare. Lyle passes out on his desk after a long sales call!
Through two days of extensive medical tests, Lyle's doctor is perplexed as to the cause of his heart attack. He digs deeper. As Lyle relays a detail account of his daily activity, the doctor stops him when he hears that Lyle holds a phone to his ear for nearly five hours a day. The doctor explains that bending an arm to your shoulder to hold a phone creates “nearly a perfect tourniquet”. This creates back pressure in the blood stream, and hanging up the phone releases this pressure. In Lyle's case, holding the phone created a clot in his arm and hanging up released it to his heart. As necessity is the mother of invention, this life-threatening situation motivates Lyle to invent.
The doctor suggests he gets a headset, but Lyle reminds him that, “A war is on and they are not available.” He recommends that Lyle get something to hold the phone on his shoulder. Lyle purchases a rubberized heart-shaped wedge from J. K. Gill Company. He uses it for awhile, pinching it with his neck but it slips off with the slightest head movement. After a number of divots in his new desk from dropping the phone, Lyle bends a coat hanger and applies adhesive tape, turning the rubber wedge into a real phone rest.
A couple weeks pass, and a couple more dents in his desk, Lyle creates the final version. After careful study, he fashions a foot made from balsa wood. This completes what he eventually calls the 3-point suspension system. With this new invention, he no longer needs to bend his arm to hold the phone or pinch it with his neck bent.
Lyle's “Rube Goldberg” phone rest works great and he uses it for some time. He moves on from the aluminum company, because with the war on, “there's nothing in aluminum available to sell” He takes a job selling ladies tailor-made suits. A customer, Mrs. Leita Smith, drops by his office to pick up her purchases. Lyle is on the phone, turns his head and asks her to have a seat, all without the handset falling off his shoulder. Mrs. Smith doesn't sit down; she just stands staring at him. When he is finished with his call, she says, “Mr. Van Dyke, do you have a patent on that phone rest?” He replies no. She advises, “If I were you, I would tear that to pieces and never let another person see it, because that is the most terrific piece of equipment I have ever seen!” Lyle takes her advice, takes it apart, and continues using the wedge until he patents and manufactures what becomes known as “REST-A-PHONE, the only telephone rest in the world with a 3-point suspension.”
While preparing to launch his new product, Lyle meets Myrtle Whitham. Myrtle is a purchasing agent for the Kaiser Steel, supplying steel plating to build Liberty ships for the war effort. She learns about Lyle's phone rest and knows immediately that it will be a huge success. As a purchasing agent, she often gets requests from the engineers to find something to support their phones, yet nothing on the market works. Excited about Lyle's new invention, Myrtle helps fund the development. When the new phone rest is ready, Myrtle uses her connections with the major office suppliers to launch into the market. Lyle and Myrtle make a great team and she becomes Mrs. Van Dyke.
Making Rest-a-Phone a successful product requires pushing the plastics technology of the time. Like the heavy phones, most plastic products are made from a synthetic putty-like mixture called Bakelite. New plastic resins are being created, but injecting them into complex molds is still in the early stages. To achieve the desired phone rest, Lyle assembles the necessary equipment, processing and expertise. The equipment and knowledge becomes the foundation for the Van Dykes that goes on to produce numerous patented office products.
By the early 1970s, Rest-a-Phone and the other office products are sold all over the world. Together Lyle and Myrtle built a successful plastics molding company specializing in new product research and development. Lyle passed away in 1991. Myrtle continued running the business for another 24 years, until she finally retired in 2015 at the youthful age of 97. Now their grandchildren and great-grandchildren carry on producing the world's only phone rest with a 3-point suspension.