To: history
From: Dean Esmay 
Subject: CM> Captain Crunch and Phone Phreaking

Sender: Dean Esmay 
Subject: Captain Crunch and Phone Phreaking

>All this talk of "Phone Phreaking" has reminded me of stories back in the
>late '60's, early '70's, of people who could fake out the phone company
>billing system on long distance calls by playing the appropriate tones that
>the phone company used for billing on an Oscar Meyer Wiener Whistle.  Has
>anyone heard of this, or was I just being set up?

There was never an Oscar Meyer Weiner whistle that I can recall, but there
was a Captain Crunch whistle.

What happened here is that in the late '60s or early '70s (I can't recall
exactly when), someone discovered that a cheap toy whistle given away as a
little prize in boxes of Captain Crunch breakfast cereal in America would
blow at a tone of just about exactly 2600 hz.  Thus you could blow the
whistle into the phone, trick the phone company into thinking you'd hung
up, and start dialing and playing all kinds of other things without being

This was totally on accident of course.  The Captain Crunch people, and
whoever actually made the whistles, did not intentionally create such a
whistle.  It just happened that that was the frequency the whistle created
when blown.

On the old phone system, everything was controlled by simple tones.  2600
hz was the tone your phone sent to the system whenever you hung up.  Thus,
if you generated that tone without hanging up, you were effectively on the
system without anyone knowing it.  You could make free phone calls to
anywhere, and if you had a way of generating other tones, you could do even
more to play with the system.

The Captain Crunch whistle was very limited; other much more sophisticated
tone generators were used by many phreakers.  I even read at one time about
a blind gentleman with perfect pitch who could blow 2600 and all kinds of
other tones just by whistling--which may sound like a legend, but is
actually QUITE believable.  The old phone system did EVERYTHING with just a
few simple tones, and none of them were difficult to duplicate.

The whistle was more of an item of amusement for the "phreaking" community
than anything else I think.

By the way, all of this is more or less irrelevent now; most of the world
is now on electronic, digital switching, and those old tones don't do
anything anymore.

I shouldn't be considered a 'primary source' on any of this, though for a
while there I did used to do a lot of phreaking, back when I was under 18.
But that was in the '80s, and near the end of the big era of pirating phone
usage.  But I did read a whole lot of the underground literature of that
day, and did do some playing myself...

Dean Esmay,                         (313) 359-1704
Syndicomm Inc. Online Management   
            Posted by David S. Bennahum ( 
                    Moderator: Community Memory
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To: history
From: "John K. Taber"